April 05, 2019 | by Gregg DeMey
There any number of things that I practice every day: I put in at least a few minutes of drills on the piano and play at least a little bit of Mozart. I vocalize to keep up the high notes of my tenor range. I pick up a golf club at some point each evening and try to rehearse a proper swinging motion. I prep for the day by performing a few stretches and basic yoga poses in the wee hours of the morning. While you could read this and think that I’m a reasonably disciplined person, I feel like I’m constantly slacking! This is may seem like an unfortunate personal problem, but I believe something deeper is at work here.
Famed Green Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said, “Practice does NOT make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” There’s the rub. I haven’t yet had a practice session at the piano or on the driving range or in my spiritual life where I have concluded, “Now THAT was perfect!”
Lent is the season of the church year in which many of us try out new or different spiritual practices as a way of keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. This year I am practicing the discipline of fasting on Wednesdays as a way of curbing my inclination toward self-sufficiency. It’s hard to be “strong” and feel “competent” when operating at a calorie deficit. But I can’t even fast perfectly! Sometimes I ignore the call to prayer that is supposed to correspond to the pangs of hunger. Sometimes I catch myself feeling proud of making it through a day with no food.
What a hilarious way to fail spiritually! My recognition of my failure inspires me to practice more and to practice more conscientiously; to grow and perhaps get a little closer to perfect.
That is the point of all the practice.
One Roman Catholic priest who was assigned to be the confessor to an order of particularly devout nuns once remarked that listening to their confessions of sin was like “being stoned to death by a million pebbles.” This priest points to a deep spiritual truth: the more practiced we become in any part of life, the more aware we become of our failures and imperfections. Among musicians, golfers, pastors, and “serious” Christians in my circles, I’ve noticed this principal at work: those who are the most accomplished continue to work the hardest because they are keenly aware of their weaknesses.
The more we excel in anything, the more aware we become of our inadequacies.
The more competent we become, the more obvious our need for grace. Thank God for grace!
Grace covers the imperfections. Grace fills the gaps. Grace patches the holes. Grace heals the wounds. Grace will lead us home. Music practice, track practice, yoga practice, Lenten practice, EVERY practice leads us to the cross, where the perfect Love of God in Jesus Christ is on full display for imperfect people like you and me.
May you have eyes to see and ears to hear this deep truth in the weeks to come,