Thursday, March 28, 2013

Practice Makes Perfect

Our house has been on the market for almost three weeks. Three weeks of keeping it immaculate, which is no easy challenge, three weeks of frantically dragging the child and dog out of the house minutes before an agent arrives to show it, of baking 2 cookies at a time in the oven before a showing to overpower the scent of lemon pledge and then not being able to eat them because I am sugar-free, of wiping away every sign that people actually live here in any kind of normal state, of waiting for that call that tells us someone else loves our home as much as we do.

Three more weeks in our lives of uncertainty and waiting. Right. 

The dictionary defines practice as repeated performance or systematic exercise for the purpose of acquiring skill or proficiency. And it is widely accepted that the more we practice, the better we will get: practice makes perfect, right? But what becomes perfect- that object that is practiced or that person who is the practitioner? What's the real point of practicing to the point of fatigue? If this adage is true, my husband and I should be experts at waiting. We should perfectly know how to handle uncertainty, to deal with the unknown. Having our house on the market should be barely a blip on our radar screen. More waiting? Whatever. We know how to do this. 

The thing is, though, practice doesn't always make perfect. We are not experts at the actual waiting, we are just experts at the experience of waiting. There's a pretty big difference. We aren't waiting because we want to get better at it, we aren't inviting the uncertain into our lives to acquire new skill levels in hope and patience. We aren't, most of the time, thankful for the opportunity to practice and become better at this. I wish I could say we were that noble. I'd be lying. Waiting all the time is pretty darn hard.


Just this past weekend, my Fireballs had the first game of their spring season. Their fifth season together. How far they have come - from a cat-like herd of chaos to a group of kids who know the rules, are starting to understand the concepts of spreading out, passing and calling for the ball, of dribbling around the big crowd rather than straight into it, of not touching the ball with their hands. All this has come of practice, practice and more practice. Are they experts? No, and unlikely ever to be. But those moments when a kid who could barely dribble last year suddenly does, gets around the defenders, shoots and scores? Those moments are when that practice has paid off. No one has seen a grin like a kid scoring her first goal.  Or, for that matter, the reaction of her parents on the sidelines.

 The thing about practice is that it's never really finished. Once we've mastered one skill we get a new challenge to tackle. And every challenge, every game, every note of music practiced is different- so the practice isn't about making those pieces perfect, it's about our own change, our own skills sharpening, our own ability to meet each piece, each game, each wait, with deeper commitment, skill, patience and wisdom.

I have been struck again and again, though, what the difference is between the practice of waiting for Something and waiting on Someone. Practice increases our familiarity with the thing on which we wait, it sets our mind on that thing, it pulls our mind away from other, possibly lesser, worries. It shows us our weaknesses, those areas in which we constantly falter and it gives us the chance to rejoice when we push through and master a new, tricky part. If I am constantly waiting on that something and that something doesn't come, my practice seems fruitless and my hope fades. If however, I spend that practice of waiting not on the outcome but on Who is with me in the waiting, well, that is a whole different ballgame. That time that could feel wasted or frustrated becomes fruitful. Because that Someone, God, on whom I wait, is reassuring me that my dreams are good, that the wait won't be forever and that He is with me when the practice gets difficult and I falter.  

I am constantly comforted by the many waits that God's people have had to endure through the ages and, indeed, the waiting God himself does constantly on us, without faltering. One verse comes to mind today that reminds me that this God on whom I wait, in whom I seek to dwell, is even more hopeful than I am that these dreams will come true and who stands beside me and strengthens me as we find ourselves waiting again.

"Have you not known? Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. 
He gives power to the faint and to him who has no might he increases strength. 
Even youths shall faint and be weary
and young men shall fall exhausted; 
but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; 
they shall mount up with wings like eagles, 
they shall run and not be weary; 
they shall walk and not faint." Isaiah 40:28-31

So, we will keep on practicing, we will walk and not grow faint. We will keep on waiting, keep on living with a lot of unknowns in our lives for now. We will not wait for the solving of those questions to somehow complete the story but understand that the practice is just as important as the outcome. 

Indeed, the outcome will be all the richer for the many hours of practice that has come before it. 

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