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There is a phrase floating around now that sums up the basic tenets of modern culture:

YOLO–You Only Live Once. 

This phrase implies that, because you only have one life to live, you should seize the opportunity to do that which pleases you in the moment; to eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow may not come. There might be certain opportunities that never come again, so indulge yourself, eat your ice cream first, and be happy.


Dinner (Photo credit: floorvan)

There is, however, a very dark side to this maxim…you do only live once.

Given that most of the choices in a YOLO decision involve rationalizing doing something you might not do otherwise (“I’m going to try this because, hey, you only live once!”), the very premise of this philosophy carries with it an implied set of consequences and risks that are ultimately self-destructive.

What the relative hedonist must come to grips with “the morning after” is this:

You do only live once, and one decision can carry with it a lifetime of ripple effects.

Socrates is famous for saying, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I agree, but I have come to find that the “undisciplined life” is not worth living either.

Those who espouse the YOLO philosophy crave unfettered, unrestricted freedom; the freedom to do, act and be whatever suits them in their momentary desire for pleasure.

Like the stray dog, who might say he enjoys the freedom to roam, eat, and act however he so chooses while answering to no one, the undisciplined life leaves one cold, hungry, lonely, mangy, ill, and much more bestial compared to the dog enjoying a nice nap curled up in its owner’s lap.

mangy dog

mangy dog

Dog in owner’s lap

What, then, is discipline? To quote Eugene Peterson,

It is a long obedience in the same direction.

 It is believing that a life well lived does not happen by accident. It is recognizing that yielding the gratification of my short-term desires enables me to satisfy my deeper longings. It is living intentionally.  It is engaging in the more rigorous, yet rewarding work of pursuing wisdom and virtue rather than pleasure and indulgence.

“In an ego-centered culture, the self exists to be explored, indulged, and expressed but not disciplined or restrained” Cornelius Plantinga

I have come, by the long, hard road, to the realization that you do only live once; therefore, I must be careful to guard that which is most valuable to me lest I risk losing it all. The great tragedy played out in all-too-many tragedies (Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, John Edwards, etc.) is that this one precious gift of life given to us can be lost so quickly, over such avoidable decisions, made at such great cost.

The truth, of course, is that not one of us is free. We each choose that which we will serve, and, by not choosing to be mastered by discipline, we choose instead to be enslaved to our appetite, our pocketbook, our pleasures, our comfort, our urges, etc.

The beauty of discipline is that it provides us with the only rudder by which our ship may be steered; indeed, discipline is the only thing that provides true freedom and, in the end, full human flourishing.

You Only Live Once…so live wisely.

“A man by his sin may waste himself, which is to waste that which on earth is most like God. This is man’s greatest tragedy and God’s heaviest grief.” A.W. Tozer

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