don’t hate me because I’m dutiful

I talk a lot about my own personal struggle with the perfect invisible version of myself. Through books and blog posts, I’ve documented my journey of understanding that my identity and security are not based on my performance but are in Christ.

Because for so long I misunderstood the role of discipline and work in the life of the believer, I write as one wounded by impossible expectation. And so my story is laced with warning to the list-makers, rule-keepers and high-achievers, reminders that God is not looking for products, he longs for people.

One of my great fears in writing these things out is that I’ve somehow communicated that discipline, work, excellence, and determination are negative things.

They aren’t negative unless they become your god.

Discipline became god without my realizing it. It took years to tease out the truth, like Peeta after the Capital brainwashed him, I had to constantly weigh my own perception of God against scripture and ask, real or not real? 

This wasn’t a one-time, bright-light conversion moment. It was gradual, is gradual. I still ask those questions a lot.

Over the past several years, I have been walking up to discipline with cautious steps and loose grips, with the timidity of an addict approaching the street where she took her first drink. The old patterns whisper, habits circle around and nudge my hands to pick them up and wield them as weapons as I once did – to protect myself from other people, God, myself.

But grace speaks louder, is a solid place to lean.

I am becoming reacquainted with the spiritual disciplines and the meeting is sweet. Practices that I once saw as scorecards are now becoming to me sacred. There is sometimes a sense of confusion and questioning. Other times, there is peace and assurance. Christ brings answers but also mystery. We don’t get to know everything.

Once, that was terrifying. Now, it mostly brings comfort.

There is a certain beauty in repetition, in the breathing prayer, in the memorization of scripture. Maybe I’m just getting old, or maybe I’m experiencing more freedom. Probably both.

Two weeks from today, the book I wrote for high school girls will officially release. It’s leaking out in bookstores and there may even be some in stock already on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites (What?! I know.) Graceful was hard to write, mainly because of who it’s for. I sense the weight of responsibility to walk beside the next generation. I also sense all the ways I fall short in being able to do that well.

But there’s a whole book of my attempts and it’s coming to a bookstore near you. I hope it will be a good resource for you as you walk beside young women in your life. And if you haven’t yet read my first book, Grace for the Good Girl, it’s still half-off at LifeWay.


  1. says

    A very good word here, Emily.

    Discipline — when not idolized — can be one very good way to honor God. Our Lord brings order out of chaos, and that is a very large blinking signal that he appreciates order and thoughtful planning. We should be good stewards of this beautiful (dutiful?) life He’s given us.

    You’ve been a good steward, Emily — unzipping your heart, exposing your flaws, as a way to show the rest of us where the pitfalls hide. But if you weren’t disciplined and a bit ordered in life, most of us out here on the Internet (and I venture to guess, in your everyday life) would not be gifted with your beautiful words and photos on a regular basis. Or your books! I say, well done, sister! Thank you for fighting for balance!

    I know that we can make any number of things an idol: discipline, food, exercise, compliments, etc. Any one of those things is not inherently bad, until I bend the knee to them. And I’ve bent a knee to every one of them. Like a friend of mine often says, “The line between good and evil is sometimes very thin.”

  2. Dorothy says

    First off, I LOVE your Hunger Games reference! I found the books so thoughtful that it’s nice to have references thrown out. Secondly, thank you for framing your struggle with discipline the way you do. It allows room for those of us who struggle with the opposite struggles with discipline to still relate. You say, “identity and security are not based on my performance but are in Christ.” I would add “or lack of performance”. Freedom comes through humility, and humility is the truth: not thinking more or less of yourself than is true. That’s when God can really take us to the next level in our walk with Him!

  3. says

    Hi Emily,
    last week,Dave and I got to hear Ruth Haley Barton speak. One thing she said during the Q and A was that whenever we use the word SHOULD in realation to spiritual disciplines (I should read my Bible, I should pray etc.) … we are out of balance. I am still thinking on this … but I bet you would agree.


    • says

      I would love to hear Ruth Haley Barton in person one day. She is one of the main people God has used in my life to re-introduce me to the spiritual disciplines in a healthy way.

  4. says

    Practices that I once saw as scorecards are now becoming to me sacred – you say things so well. I am here too, being okay with the mystery and not having answers for everything. It’s a much less tiring place to live don’t you think?

  5. Loren says

    Hi Emily – I loved Grace for the Good Girl and pre-ordered your new book for my daughter a few months ago. Amazon just notified me that it’s supposed to arrive tomorrow. Can’t wait to share it with her! Loved the line about Christ bringing mystery and us not getting to know everything. Even though we think we want and could handle all the answers, I sometimes find myself grateful that we don’t know them. Just like you said, it brings comfort.

  6. says

    Looking forward to bringing your words into my world, into my hands, before my eyes. Knowing they will be words of truth for my 16 year old. Grateful.

    And your words here, I am right there, the stutter on my lips. The balance of discipline and routine and repetition with loosely holding on. And always the spirit check to see if they are held too high up and too white-knuckled proud.

    Thank you, again.

  7. says

    I am a list-lover and constant-comparer-with-others. Trouble is, I compare my worst with everyone else’s best. I am awaiting your new book (but maybe I can already grab it?!) because I have daughters, really really great ones who are prone to my weaknesses, and we can grow together in this grace of just being His. Thank you for sharing vulnerable stuff. It’s good company, here.

  8. says

    Thank you for the excellent timing on your book release! My baby sister starts her senior year of high school next week and I have been searching for the perfect “back to school” present – ordered Graceful 2 minutes ago from Amazon and it will arrive Friday, just in time.

    I read Grace for the Good Girl and it was a refresh button on my spiritual journey. As always, thank you for sharing your heart in such an eloquent way.

  9. says

    I really resonate with this Emily. Like you, I feel like I threw a lot of spiritual disciplines out with the bathwater, mistaking the baby…and in so doing deprived myself of deep and sacred comfort. As they are slipping back into my life, the peace is palpable, and as you so lucidly pointed out- it’s because it’s not god anymore. God is God, directing the steps. The Holy Spirit has room to breathe.

  10. says

    Thank you for this post. I struggle in the same battle, of constantly reaffirming to myself that I am enough through Jesus, not through how clean my house looks or how often I blowdry my hair. I have been learning to question myself why and to whom I am doing things. When the answer is to serve, and for Jesus, I go ahead. When not, I shift my priorities. However, it’s oh so easy to get trapped without realizing it…

  11. says

    Hi, Emily,

    I love this post. I fell off the spiritual disciplines wagon about a year ago while going through a very dark period. I just didn’t want to think about how I “should” journal or how I “should” memorize Scripture. I didn’t have the energy. I didn’t have the energy to try to be the “perfect” Christian.

    It’s only now that I want to establish a routine again, not because I have to, but because I want to. I want to make time with the Lord the best and the most important part of my day.

  12. says

    Love the title of this post. : ) Yours is a familiar tightrope walk for me as well. Sometimes grace and discipline can seem mutually exclusive when you’re a recovering good girl. I recently ordered a book you referenced at some point, Sacred Rhythms, and I hope to start it in a few weeks. Though it’s been a haphazard summer, I sense the importance and beauty of sacred rhythms; I think I’m finally at a point where they can simply feels like means of grace instead of striving.

    I’m so excited about the book. My girl started middle school today; Graceful is feeling increasingly relevant.

  13. says

    We just finished up a series in Proverbs at church and the last two sermons were all about work and how laziness sometimes comes from us rejecting the demands of love on us. Like you mention here, sometimes we run from legalism only to find ourselves on the other side of the pendulum. Some other notes from the message…. Bad practices at work: Workaholism. Perfectionism, Work/rest imbalance. Work to earn love. Right ideas about work: We were made to create. Work came before the fall. We co-labor with Him. He gives us a calling and we are to stay with it. And I loved the quotes from Dorothy Sayers’ essay on work: “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables…. No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.”

  14. says

    I got an email on Monday morning that my copy has shipped from Amazon already! This continuing struggle to express the deep, rich truth of God’s grace is so very worth it. Thank you, again.

  15. amanda says


    Christ brings answers but also mystery. We don’t get to know everything.

    Once, that was terrifying. Now, it mostly brings comfort.

    I’m so there with you on this piece. Thank you for your words, always lovely.

  16. says

    Sweet sweet post.

    It IS freeing to be embrace the true beauty and peace of things, people, or practices. I feel like I’ve only just begun this journey. Lately, prayer has been a sweet conversation instead of a prayer “to do” list. And instead of trying to manufacture my own healing in my marriage through my “good” works and words, I’m learning to shut-up. To listen and pray. To be still and know. It’s weird – but oh so good. It feels like I’ve finally started to live that whole “take my yoke upon you thing.” His burden IS light. Amazing – we can actually take God at his Word. Wow.

    Though there is much left to heal in my marriage, I am amazed at how much more freeing it is to talk to my husband. My filter is much more gracious. Instead of searching for hidden meanings or words that establish my worth (a flesh filter). I’m listening to what he’s actually saying, taking him at his word (hmmm, second time that’s come up). And sort of getting to know him again. Strange. But also freeing. Maybe that’s not so strange though. Getting to know someone through a clean filter of grace and mercy is an entirely different experience.

    Even if it’s not the ideal romantic conversation I think my heart needs, I can still hang up the phone whole. I know Who really defines me and Whose love is constant and perfect. Sure – I want to return to a romantic and sweet marriage, but that doesn’t really seem like the ultimate goal anymore. It’s not about getting my needs met. Jesus met them/meets them. Period.

    And can I just say you are my hero for using a reference from “Mockingjay.” Call me odd, but I thought that series was quite thought provoking. I kept thinking about the “masks” the citizens of the Capitol wore. How desensitized they had become and how they longed for something real. And how Katniss showed them grace instead of revenge.

  17. says

    First of all, I kind of love the title of this post. And second, I’m just so grateful for your words, for your laying your heart open and sharing the journey – the solid ground and the mysteries you’re holding in those open hands. This about disciplines and rediscovery, your thoughts on family and revisiting past… all your posts tucked into my email, read in the mid-morning lull here: they are a gift. Thank you, Emily.

  18. says

    “Experiencing more freedom”…yep, that’s what I’ve been thinking of my own life. We’ve lived longer and practiced trusting that freedom more. It’s a gift, this aging thing. :)

  19. chris says

    I received a copy of Graceful from Amazon yesterday 8/22. I bought it for my daughter; I read Grace for the Good Girl last year. I’m looking forward to reading through Graceful as my daughter reads through it.
    Thank you!

  20. says

    Dear Emily,
    Thank you.
    Your willingness to talk about the life of a good girl; to tell your secrets, your fears.
    For so long I, too, carried that heavy, demanding burden. I’ve been at a crossroads for some time now.
    Waiting to see what God wanted for me next. He sent your book full of His truth.
    He set me free.
    And now, I feel the struggle that you mentioned. The disciplines calling {and rightly so}, but fearful
    to fall into old patterns.
    Grateful for your obedience, as it has blessed my life,

  21. says

    I remember my wise husband discussing with me how the spiritual disciplines were not to be done to “prove” to God that I deserved his grace, but that they were to be done because they are (in part) the means by which He desires to communicate his grace to me. Just making that shift in perception was a huge help to me. Thanks for this post and the reminders it holds.

  22. says

    Real or not real about perception vs. truth – that’s powerful!

    I’ve recently realized that I learn EVERYTHING gradually, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

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