Yesterday was a full day which started with something that struck me, and ended the same way. The two things couldn’t be more disparate, but I found an odd correlation.
In the morning, we went to the church building to help clean. I heard music coming from the chapel, and wandered in to see who it was. A lady from our ward, (I’ll call her Emily, because her name is Emily) was playing the organ. Better said, she was working on playing the organ.
I approached her and said to her, “I’m amazed to see you practicing, because I thought you already knew everything there was to know about music.” (Emily is wildly musically talented, as in her entire family.) She laughed and told me that she had a lot of work to do to master the organ, because she “wasn’t an organist.”
I was impressed.
Next: Last night, the fam went bowling together. It was a good time. “Back in the day” I was a decent bowler. (I’ve tossed scores upwards of 200.)
Having not gone bowling for some years, I figured I could still knock down a few pins. And I did. 98 of them. I failed to break 100. Had I not developed incredible emotional security over the years, I would have been humiliated.
But 98 pins? How ridiculous. I was terrible. My form was bad, my body didn’t want to do what I was asking it to do, and by the time I got a handle on it, we were done.
What is the linkage I noticed between playing the organ and bowling? They both take practice.
Even though she is an excellent pianist, Emily knew that developing another talent – the organ – would take some work. So there she was, on Saturday morning, practicing.
I, on the other hand, knew that since I used to be a good bowler, all I needed to do was strap on the scary shoes and dust off my skills.
One of us was right.
As I go through life, I notice ebbs and flows where “practice” is a regular thing, and sometimes not so regular. This includes my spiritual skillset.
It is no coincidence that we use the term “practice our religion”, because we never really “arrive,” but always need to improve. This ties in directly with the idea of “Spiritual Gifts,” because many of the spiritual gifts that are available to us come to us by way of practice – not just dumped on us without any preparation or effort.
For example, the Gift of Tongues is sometimes manifest as miraculous, sudden events, but for most of us, the Gift of Tongues requires a lot of work to embrace and develop, and even more to maintain. (Hey returned missionaries – how is your foreign language holding up?)
Elder Juan Pablo Villar said this:
“Thanks to the Restoration of the gospel, we can come to understand how our Heavenly Father helps us develop spiritual gifts. It is more likely that He will give us opportunities to develop those gifts rather than just granting them to us without spiritual and physical effort. If we are in tune with His Spirit, we will learn to identify those opportunities and then act upon them.
If we seek more patience, we may find ourselves needing to practice it while waiting for a response. If we want to have more love for our neighbor, we can foster it by sitting next to a new face at church. With faith it is similar: when doubts come to our minds, trusting in the Lord’s promises will be required to move forward. In this way, we are exercising spiritual muscles and developing them into sources of strength in our lives.” (link)
I think this requirement to expend effort to even maintain a skill, or sustain a level of spirituality illustrates an embedded mortal weakness in all of us.
As Moroni wrote, “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27)
Please note that Moroni did not say God gave us “weaknesses.” It is singular. He gave us “weakness.” Weakness is systemic. The Lord is willing to help us become strong, but it is not without humility, faith and effort on our part.
Which brings us back to practice. Practice is a sign of faith. I can hope to be able to play the organ all I want, but until I actually demonstrate some faith by practicing, it will never become a talent – or a strength – to me.
As the years race by, there seem to be occasional opportunities granted to slack off. Depending on our family situations, our callings, our wards, it can be easy to just relax and put our feet up fer a spell. The danger there is that it can become a habit, and those skills, including our spirituality can be fleeting. Without continual practice, they fade – and they can fade quickly.
I think fighting that inclination to coast, or relax, is a fundamental part of “enduring to the end.” We need to keep at it. Keep growing, keep learning, keep serving, and keep practicing our religion.
For about 30 years I have been saying the same thing to anyone who will listen (and it is mostly aimed at myself): If we are practicing our religion the same way that we were a year ago, and haven’t improved, we are missing the point and purpose of that religion.
Time flies on wings of lightning;
We cannot call it back.
It comes, then passes forward
Along its onward track.
And if we are not mindful,
The chance will fade away,
For life is quick in passing.
‘Tis as a single day. (link)
Whether it be bowling, playing the organ, being spiritually in tune, or any other skill, practice will help us grow and develop – making us stronger. Slacking off will lead to the decay and eventual fading of those same skills.
A 98? Yup. A well-deserved 98.