Helena’s violin teacher keeps a variety of books on parenting violin students in her “lesson room.” One of my favorites is titled- “Getting your child to practice without killing them.” I love its honesty! About a month ago, I picked up one of these books
while I sat during the lesson and was struck by this question: “Why do we practice?” It’s a simple enough question. Why do we practice? But I got it wrong. My answer was “to get better.” But the author didn’t say that. He wrote, “We practice so that playing becomes easier.” He then went on to explain that most of practice should actually be quite easy. You should review the songs you know, play scales and then only spend 1⁄4 of your time working on something that is challenging. The rest is to keep your skills up, but not to learn something new. This might not sound revolutionary to you, but it was to me. It totally made sense and it transcends violin or music in general. Why do we go to swim practice or sports practice? We might think, “so we can get better,” but it’s only partially true. We practice so it gets easier and so if we compete than we are in shape, it’s easy and then we can perform at our best.
As I have continued to think about this whole practice question I realize that this is true for our faith life. Why is it important to come regularly to worship, even when we maybe don’t feel like it? Why is it important for us to study the bible and learn about our faith in a community? Why is it important to pray regularly and give an offering? (These things worship, prayer, bible study, Christian fellowship and giving are faith practices.) Essentially why is it important to “practice” our faith? So we get better at it? I have been practicing my faith for as long as I can remember and I must admit I still have many of the same questions I had when I was 15 years old (I would argue I have more knowledge surrounding those questions now). I don’t know that I have gotten better at faith, but I do believe that through these practices faith has become easier. Let me explain:
I remember when I was in seminary and I was overwhelmed by doubt. This was the moment when I felt for sure that I wouldn’t be a pastor, and I even questioned if I would be a Christian in the long run. I had too many questions and too many doubts. I was going to seminary classes and educationally being challenged in faith but I wasn’t worshipping as regularly as I had once, or engaging in bible study or anything that really allowed me to practice my faith. Faith just seemed hard and overwhelming and I felt alone. However, about a year later when I had spent an entire year as an intern in a congregation where worship, prayer and Christian fellowship were all part of my regular daily life and life suddenly went into crisis, somehow my faith was stronger than it ever had been. I remember going to the hospital to visit our daughter who was born early with medical concerns and thinking how strange it was that my faith didn’t go into crisis along with this difficulty. Instead, I experienced the strength of the Christian community that surrounded me, I felt sustained in prayer and I even tried my best to continue to worship (this was the hardest part). Since then, I have come to realize that this is often true. When life becomes hard because of job transitions or family concerns usually my faith is the thing that sustains me. It is the one thing that I don’t find myself having to work at when the rest of the world is crashing down because it is something that I regularly “practice.” In essence: faith has become easier.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still have my moments of doubt. I still have my moments when I question everything. But usually that happens when my own life is running smoothly, it usually happens when I worry about other people and the greater world. It is usually when my life is easy that faith becomes more difficult.
We are still in the beginning of 2018: a time each year when many of us dedicate ourselves to change and resolutions. I wonder if one of the changes you might make involves your practice of faith. Are there ways for you to practice your faith more regularly through worship, prayer, fellowship and giving? How might you make faith easier for yourself through practice?
One of the faith practices I am undertaking is writing out what I really believe. I have taken the structure of the Apostles Creed and written in my own thoughts: what do I believe about God? Jesus? The Holy Spirit? Somehow engaging in this practice of actually putting my true beliefs in words has in someway helped me make sense of my faith in a way I haven’t completely thought of before. It has also helped me when my 14-year-old daughter asks me about my faith (and she does) to have an answer that is authentic and real. Maybe you could join me in writing your own creed or statement of faith? If you do I hope you will share it with me.
I would love to hear your stories about ways that you have practiced your faith and how it might have become easier. I’d love to hear what practices have enriched your life. If you dare to write your own creed, I would love to see it and I’ll even share mine with you too.