Love and Discipline – From the Road Less Traveled

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M. Scott Peck’s Wisdom from the Road Less Traveled is a modern-day classic and almost every page has captivating, pithy ‘secret’ messages to assist the living of life. Some of these are rather hard to swallow, but they are nevertheless true. One of his twists of wisdom is the linkage of love and discipline. There’s more than meets the eye…

Firstly on self-love: I always remember resisting aspersions with my peers that I might ‘love myself’ as a child growing up–it was definitely frowned upon; well it appears this was all wrong:

“We’re incapable of loving another unless we love ourselves, just as we are incapable of teaching our children self-discipline unless we ourselves are self-disciplined.”[1]

Here Peck nails congruence. We can’t expect to reap when we don’t sow. We cannot get away from the fact that if we want to lead we must practice what we preach. ‘Do as I say and not as I do’ never works, neither in love nor discipline.

Paul concurs in Ephesians 5:33 that a man must first love himself before he can love his wife. Yet, how many of us have learned the hard way–that loving ourselves is not as simple as we first thought?

Surely in truly loving and accepting ourselves we must truly love and accept God, and, at the core, allow him to love us. I ponder rhetorically… is this fervent love of God conditional to self-love? Relationship with God is a necessary means to an effective relationship with ourselves. And he is our true strength, our source.

“We cannot be a source of strength unless we nurture our own strength.”[2]

If we build our house i.e. our spiritual strength on sand, it provides us little strength alone, and yet even less strength for others. We’re unsteady and crumble too easily. If we, however, build a firm base, training ourselves in God, others (including loved ones) have a basis in us, via our basis in God. (See Matthew 7:24-27)

It is perhaps seen as a selfish aim to love one’s self; but it’s a necessary precursor before we can truly and unconditionally love others, for we are at once free from the predominate selfish burden. At least the scales of the balance are weighed in favour of our other relationships, because our needs and desires are sated. We’re not bothered as much when we don’t get our own way. Suddenly it’s less important; it makes way for things of eternal importance. Self-love is hence self-strength contingent on a cogent relationship with God.

“If being loved is your goal, you will fail to achieve it. The only way to be assured of being loved is to be a person worthy of love, and you cannot be a person worthy of love when your primary goal in life is to passively be loved.”[3]

To be ‘a person worthy of love’ requires strength all our own; this is paradoxically a weakness of our own resources but knowing how to gain strength through God–through constant, unconditional, ruthless surrender to the Spirit of God.

Paul’s Second Corinthians talks all about strength in weakness. In fact, all his theology and manifest behaviour seems underpinned in weakness. It is so intrinsic to Christian faith.

Being loved by people is an important by-product of our loving action toward people; it’s not the main product of being alive. It comes after the thing we offer; a person easy to love by virtue of a light burden we place on others. We cannot rely on others, only on God. There’s nothing truer. People can only ever disappoint us–God, on the other hand, can never disappoint, only people can.

“Love and discipline go hand in hand, so that unloving, uncaring parents are people lacking in discipline, and when they fail to provide their children with a sense of being loved, they also fail to provide them with the capacity for self-discipline.”[4]

This above is a great example of the remarkability of Peck’s work. Such punchy statements of spiritual and psychological fact are marvellous and so profound.

I know the very times I’ve failed dismally as a parent I’ve been lazy and undisciplined. At those times I’ve been patently unloving–self-centred. Linked to the earlier quote relating to self-discipline, there is an incontrovertible association between love and discipline.

So, is it as simple as saying that to be a loving parent, we need the discipline of balanced, daily self-discipline? When we’re disciplined we can decide to love, and we can do this easily, effortlessly, joyously.

“The person who truly loves does so because of a decision to love… whether or not the love feeling is present.”[5]

This ‘love feeling’ enhances the act, but it doesn’t change the act per se. The will is involved in love every bit, and more, as feeling is. Duty or devotion; the act is the same. This is shown in no better way than in the sixty year marriage of an elderly couple as they dance to applause on their Diamond anniversary. Commitment, in one word, has fused their love together long after the consistency of early romantic passion wore off. And in a strange way such dutiful commitment generates joy through the bond of deep trust.

And what form does love take? What makes it tangible? What makes it work?

“The principal form that the work of love takes is attention.”[6] We give people we love attention. When we blow someone off, the moment we do it, we’ve failed to love them. This is the difficulty of the true Christian lifestyle; we’re not allowed to not love people, to paraphrase Rick Warren.

Attention all. It is only when we ‘attend’ to our most important relationships that we demonstrate our love, for love is not a noun, it is a verb. And this requires discipline.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.


[1] M. Scott Peck, Wisdom from the Road Less Traveled (Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing / Ariel Books, 2001), p. 70.

[2] Peck, Ibid, p. 71.

[3] Peck, Ibid, p. 75.

[4] Peck, Ibid, pp. 75-76.

[5] Peck, Ibid, pp. 85-86.

[6] Peck, Ibid, p. 87.


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