New Spiritual Disciplines: No.2 – The discipline of Flakelessness

Be honest, how many times have you chosen to cancel on a friend at the last minute in favour of slumping in front of the TV?Reuters

Each day this week, we're looking at a new spiritual discipline for the modern world. Inspired by Richard Foster's classic book Celebration of Discipline, we've created a list of additional practices and attitudes which – when brought before God – could powerfully and prophetically impact our culture, our community and our selves. Read, reflect, think and pray through the article and the questions at the end. You might want to start with article no. 1, which includes a longer introduction.

It's just too easy to flake. It's been a long day; you're tired and the new series of your favourite TV show just came on to Netflix. You've got a long-standing commitment to meet a friend for dinner, but now all you can see is two expensive cab rides, the rain outside your window and the inevitability that you'll wake up tired for work tomorrow. All it'll take to be liberated from all this difficulty is a single text message:

"So sorry friend, think I'm coming down with something. Can we rearrange?"

...and the deed is done. A late-night Netflix marathon and a delicious ready-meal await (ironically, you'll still wake tomorrow feeling too tired for work). You're a very modern-day friendship phenomenon. You're a flake.

A combination of the busyness of daily life, the attractiveness of home entertainment and the faceless ease of modern communication is turning generations of us into big, lousy flakes. With our lives over-stuffed with things to do and enjoy, we naturally feel the need to cut things from our daily schedule, and a culture where cancelling plans has become an accepted part of life means friendship is usually the first thing to make way.

Except of course, it hurts to be flaked on. Occasionally those cancellation messages are received with relief, but most of the time they just feel like low-level rejection. If a friend cancels at the last minute, it's hard not to be disappointed. What's more, flaking can damage our relationships by trivialising the idea of meeting in the first place - as this famous article points out, those messages are always sent with a level of earnest self-deprecation. "I'm sorry, I'm useless / I'm awful / I'm the worst friend in the world," we flake, and in doing so we offer neediness instead of genuine apology.

To make matters worse, many of us flake at the latest possible opportunity, giving our friends no chance to make other plans and find other more reliable people to spend their evening with. All of which feels a little bit ugly, unfair and symptomatic of a dysfunctional culture, and doesn't sound particularly resonant with the Biblical imperative to "simply let your yes be yes, and your no, no" (Matthew 5 v 37).

If a corrective is needed then, it's going to involve self-discipline. In fact, to become someone who is committed to not flaking, or if you will, to practicing flakelessness, takes superhuman effort for those of us who've been conditioned to cancel by the modern world. That's why I think becoming people who don't flake is actually a spiritual discipline; an attitude and ability for which we should be praying.

In a world that struggles with commitment, flakelessness is a signal both of integrity and genuine care for one another. When we cancel plans at the last minute, we show the people close to us that they're not really important, and that we can't quite keep our promises. Not cancelling proves that we prioritise our relationships, and perhaps indicate that we're worth knowing as a result.

How do we do that? Through practicing the more ancient art of simplicity, which naturally means we take on less in the first place, and live in a way that is less cluttered by modern distraction. Through resisting the urge to send that text, even when it's so easy. And through being wise in our initial plan-making; thinking ahead to when we might naturally be too tired or busy, and being realistic in our social promises to one another.

Let's be people of our word, who are prepared to commit to what we promise and show people they're worth coming out for on a rainy night, however compelling the call of Netflix.

Questions for reflection

1. Is flakiness something that you're familiar with? Are you more likely to flake, or be flaked on? How do either make you feel?

2. Ask those simplicity questions of yourself. Where do you do too much already? Where could you make more time and space in the busyness of your life?

3. What strategies could you put in place to try to ensure you don't flake on your friends?

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. You can follow him on Twitter: @martinsaunders