The tips of my mother’s fingers were engraved by the marks of practicing her violin. Most people knew her as a talented musician. I knew what that meant, a lifetime of continual practice, and the permanent indentations to prove it.
In a recent Wall Street Journal article (“Practice Makes Perfect – And Not Just for Jocks and Musicians”), author Doug LeMov states what my mom knew all along: “Practice lets us execute a task while using less and less active brain processing. It makes things automatic… What drives mastery is encoding success – performing an action the right way over and over.”
When applied to actual work situations, such as customer service for example, LeMov recommends immersing employees in “irate customer” scenarios with other employees posing as actors. This allows the employees to practice a calm demeanor in difficult mock situations, so that skill is ready in place for the real thing. “The result,” LeMov notes, “employees not only would be more unflappable but also could reserve more of their brain-processing capacity for troubleshooting. They would succeed not by thinking about having the right tone but by not thinking about it.” Just as when my mom practiced a passage. She knew what to do.
But God calls us to do the same, to practice and to train ourselves in that which is good and right. Just as highly technical passages did not come naturally to my mom, so we must practice our responses and actions to difficult situations and relationships, wearing a groove into our hearts, encoding what God intends.
- Practice grace in the midst of turmoil.
- Practice contentment among those who grumble.
- Practice kindness, praising others instead of demeaning them.
- Practice joy.
- Practice love.
It is not a matter of “becoming a better person,” but letting your relationship with God logically impact what you do every day: how you handle negotiations, how you treat an irritating client, how you view your work, how you love others on your path, no matter their position or disposition. A stressful board meeting may be only a thinly disguised opportunity to practice redemption.
A few weeks ago, when I found myself heading into a highly charged situation, I remembered the Wall Street Journal article about practice. Even before I started to freak out over it, before I gathered my verbal ammunition and prepared my defenses, God impressed upon my thoughts: “Practice grace in this.” So I did. I approached the situation with a recalibrated mindset and a different vision. I practiced something new. And God transformed a difficulty into an opportunity.
I know of an eleven year old budding violinist who has set an alarm on her iPod to remind her to practice an hour a day. How different would I be if I reminded myself to practice grace an hour a day? No matter where, no matter when, no matter what, and yes, even with that co-worker, manifesting to others a life of quiet courage, compassion, and a strong sense of God’s Presence.
But instead, what do I practice? Dismay? Selfishness? Criticism? What do I put into action, set in motion, apply, and fall back upon? Replace the usual dirge with a new song. Work and pray a godly response over and over again, so when the impossible passages come, ahhhh, I already know that part, engraved by the marks of practice.
Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. (1 Timothy 4:15)