Recursive Discipleship


I’m an adjunct at our university again this year, and I’m so glad to be back to teaching.  As an added blessing, I’m teaching two courses I hadn’t taught previously.  One of them is College Writing.

The topic of writing being recursive came to our attention yesterday and I asked my students to look up what recursive writing meant and come back Thursday with a definition for me.  Frankly, I knew what it meant, intuitively, but I hadn’t ever actually used the term, so I looked it up as well.

The term recursive “relates to or involves the repeated application of a rule, definition, or procedure to successive results(Google).” It’s used more extensively in math, linguistics, and computing.  Writing recursively has to do with going back over our writing and making changes, editing, adding to our original thoughts, revising, deleting some ideas, moving other ideas around, etc.  It can even mean that our conclusion might change and develop as we write, to the point that we go back and redirect our thesis.  We teach students to follow a 5-step process, though actual writers don’t necessarily follow a nice-neat process(writing is typically messy).  Regardless, whether following the process or writing more freely, success in writing happens through constant recursion, looking back and repeating steps, until a final draft is produced.

As I was thinking more on this yesterday, I went on to teach my other course that is new to me this year, Discipleship of the Christian Mind.  We were discussing what it means to be a disciple as our topic yesterday, which also covers discussing the meaning of discipleship and how practicing disciplines comes into play when one is a disciple.

A new idea suddenly dawned on me.  Discipleship is recursive.

We learn to be disciples when we first start following.  For the purposes of my course, we are referring to being Christ-followers, though people can be, and are, disciples/followers of many other people and things.  The Discipleship course is also attempting to instill in the students that developing their minds through their studies is a part of their discipleship to Christ.

However, in relationship to every person who is following Christ, I will say it again, discipleship is recursive.  From the time we first believe in Christ and accept Him into our lives, we begin to develop disciplines in our lives which help us be a faithful follower/disciple.  Many of us learn these because of a church, a Sunday School class, or a youth group we attend.  Some disciplines naturally grow within us once we start to sense the Spirit’s leading in our lives.

For me, when I first accepted Christ at age 11, the most noticeable difference one could see in my life was that I was reading the Bible all the time.  I turned to God’s Word with every question, every emotion, and every doubt in my young life.  In addition, I also took on the challenge to read the entire Bible.

Over the years of my life since then, I grew in the discipline of reading the Bible and delved into studying it more intently.  I became a Christian Education major in college so I took Bible courses, including Greek. I continue to read some Scripture every day, and I find a strength in it.  I post Bible verses around our home and use daily Scripture calendars to keep God’s Word always before me.  I don’t think I could make it through life without God’s Word.

Yet, that isn’t the only discipline that has kept me in a relationship with God.  Prayer has developed in my life since I was a child, even before I actually asked God to forgive me and accepted Christ.  Some of my earliest memories are my nightly prayers as a child.  Growing and maturing through all these years, I’ve tried countless ways to become more faithful in praying.  I followed one formula after another, giving up after trying a while, then going back to simple prayers, and so on… The most effective prayer discipline I’ve found in my life, for me, is writing my prayers in a journal.

Praying through writing keeps me focused and also allows my thoughts to develop as I write.  I pour out everything to God in my journals.  At times, my prayers are short, while other times, my prayers will go on for page after page.  I don’t write in it every day, though there are seasons of my life when I have written in it even more than once a day.  i currently am in a season when I’m trying to write in it as often as I can, several times a week.  There were times in the past when I only wrote in it sporadically.  For now, I find that when I’m journaling my prayers, I’m more faithful to talk with God consistently throughout each day, in my heart and head, and frankly, I’m more faithful to run to God with my “junk” when I’m writing to Him regularly(instead of running elsewhere, to someone else or to food or TV).

My point in all this is not to simply describe the disciplines in my life.  I want to demonstrate how we develop disciplines in our lives in a recursive manner.  We learn and grow and change.  We go back to try new ways of doing disciplines in our lives.  We repeat processes and steps; we refine them.  It’s all a part of being a disciple, and it’s individual.  Your discipleship probably doesn’t look exactly the same as anyone else’s, nor does mine.  We all start at different points in our discipleship (or, the act of being a disciple), and we develop differently, according to our personalities and experiences.

I want to share one final example from my life which I’ve only realized very recently.

I’ve struggled with my weight since I was a child, and much of my life, since becoming a Christian, I’ve wrestled with this issue as if it was a spiritual battle.  There was persecution and judgment from others in my past, as far back as elementary school, including shaming and bullying.  I was put on diets from 4th grade onward.  I learned early about calorie counting and proper nutrition as well as exercise.

Throughout my teen years, I dieted constantly.  I failed often, but there were some successful times. I even wrote several papers about overeating and such when I was in high school and college psychology classes, as well as reading just about every diet or exercise book that came on the market and buying into countless fad diets. I carried guilt constantly, feeling “less-than” and wondering why I couldn’t conquer this enemy.  My inner voice condemned me as being a failure, undisciplined, and sinful.

I’ve continued to fight this battle throughout my adult life, going so far as to have gastric bypass 15 years ago.  There has remained a constant inner voice of defeat in regards to this area of my life, especially when around healthy, fit people who seem to have the discipline in their lives to overcome.  Discipline, exactly what I’ve been convinced I didn’t have.

However, I’ve come to see that I am a disciplined person, even in this area of my life.  I’m still overweight. Yet, I’ve never given up trying to be healthy.  I have failed and fallen down, but I have always gotten back up and tried again or revised my plan to try something new.  I truly have sought to be a faithful disciple in this area of my life, for my own health’s sake (and yes, to try to look better), and also for the sake of being a steward of the life God has given me, as a spiritual discipline.

So, the physical dimension of my life has demonstrated recursive discipline….”wash, rinse, repeat”….”try, try again”….”fall off a horse, get right back on”…  I feel a new freedom from my inner condemnation and have a new vision on disciplines, in my life, and in others’ lives.  What works for others, won’t necessarily work for me or look the same in my life, and vice versa.  Yet, we are to keep on trying, keep holding each other up instead of tearing each other down; be patient and gracious, accepting of others.  We are all walking a hard road…”don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.”



About Tara Lea

I'm a mom and wife first and foremost. I offer Life Coaching as well as speaking for large and small groups, while writing and teaching as opportunities become available. Writing, speaking, teaching, and coaching are my means for fulfilling my life calling of helping others fit together the pieces of their lives so they can move closer to becoming all God means for them to be.

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