A few weeks ago our daughter brought home a flute. She is now a first-year band student with no previous flute experience (unless you count the recorder she brought home last year for music class). She excitedly told us all about the upcoming concerts–one in December, the other not till April.
On the first day of practicing being a flute player, she was already looking ahead to the performance. There is nothing wrong with her excitement about the concerts, but I gently reminded her that there are a lot of days between now and then and every one of them matters.
If she does not practice each day before, the concert will not be as meaningful.
I’m going to talk about baseball again.
Our team, the Cubs, made the playoffs again. Last year, as you might recall, they won the World Series, an achievement more than 100 years in the making. After last year’s win, there was a lot of talk and hope from Cubs fans about doing it again the next year. I understand the excitement and I, too, get swept up into the thrill of victory.
But when the baseball season opened this year, all teams started at the same place: zero wins, zero losses. Before the playoffs even begin, they have 162 games to play. Maybe every game doesn’t hold the same importance, but they still have to play every game to earn it. No team gets handed a trophy because they won last year or because they have the best fans. (I’m biased.)
To win it all, they still have to work for it every day, accumulating more wins than losses.
“A quick way to make life easier.”
The outside of the envelope blares an outright lie. Whatever it is they are selling, I’m not buying it. While it is tempting to believe there are quick ways to make our lives easier or better, these words are nothing more than a junk-mail promise. Whether it is on the outside of an envelope or blared via television or written online, this message deserves its place in the trash.
I know of few, if any, quick ways to make life easier and even fewer that don’t require work and commitment. And even if the whole rest of the world offered a quick-and-easy solution to life’s troubles, the church should be the last place to offer it.
I am thinking about all of these things because in October, I am teaching a class at my church. For the five Sundays of the month, I will be leading people on a journey toward incorporating spiritual practices into daily life. I’m calling it “Between Sundays” because I am a firm believer that what we do during the week has more lasting impact on our spiritual lives than what we do on Sundays.
Are Sundays important? Yes. Can attending church on Sundays be the sum total of our spiritual lives? I’m going with “no.”
Whether we’re learning to play flute, trying to win a baseball championship, or striving to be a better person, it takes practice. Spiritual transformation is not just going to be handed to us. We are not naturally inclined to love people we’d rather hate, to serve when no one is looking, to give until it hurts, to rest in God’s love for us, to stop trying to earn our salvation.
It is a mystery to me, sometimes, this idea that we cannot work for our salvation but we must work for our transformation. To me, the spiritual practices are not about earning our spots in heaven but learning to live as redeemed people here on earth. That is what takes work.
It is like God has handed us a musical instrument, capable of creating a beautiful sound, but first, we must learn how to play.
And it will not be immediately perfect. The first few practice days for our flute player were at times wince-worthy. But just this week, she played an entire song–“Hot Cross Buns”– that sounded like music. She has a long way to go, but she is on her way.
It will be the same with spiritual practices. It will be awkward and messy and imperfect. We will get it wrong, especially at first. We might not see any improvement.
This is no reason to quit.
It is all the more reason to keep practicing.
Maybe we are not “there” yet but we are on our way.