Everything takes practice, right?

It takes practice to learn how to ride a bike. We have to practice to learn how to play a musical instrument or a backyard sport. We had to practice in order to be able to recite our math facts, or eat an ice cream cone without wearing it.

Practically everything in life, we struggle and wrestle with because we are not born with a natural talent for it.

For some reason, though, faith has escaped that fundamental idea, that it takes practice. 

I think we assume that a bolt of spiritual lightning hits our brains and we then have faith. We believe. And we can be tested to see if we are true believers.

Maybe that was true when we were children. We believed what the adults told us.We believed in Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Maybe most awesomely, we believed in ourselves. We believed that we were awesome at everything. There are no three year olds who have body image issues (compared to something like 90% of grown women). There are no three year olds who do not believe that they can “do it themselves.”

But the older we got, the harder everything else became. It was not enough to clumsily throw objects across the room. We had to sharpen and hone our bodies in order to throw accurately. And we could no longer take everything the adults said at face value. We had to learn how to discern important things…like sarcasm. And maybe the hardest of all, we were confronted by this contradiction that God seems to love us, but on the other hand we know what we are. It became harder and harder for us to believe in ourselves, believe we are lovable, acceptable or worthy. Belief in ourselves is like some reflex that we are born with, but lose as we grow up.

One of my favorite departed Christians, Madeline L’Engle wrote in A Wrinkle In Time that believing was like anything else. It takes practice. And I wonder how many times in my life I have avoided stretching and straining my “belief” muscles, either by exercising my cynicism, or just by taking things at face value and forgetting them.

believing

This week, I think I’m gonna stretch my belief muscles. I’m going to try to believe that I’m good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God has made me good enough. I’m gonna try to believe that God finds me worthy.

Because if I can’t practice believing those things, then the rest is all up for grabs.

What’s up everyone? Another week down of summer. With the punishing heat, I retreated back to my classroom and stayed inside when I could. That’s a good thing, because there was a lot on my reading docket this week!

In My Blog Reader

Two posts that caught my eye this week dealt with poverty in very different ways. Of course, we all know that we live in a land of plenty and it can be hard to figure out why Providence has declared that we should be born in a place with much while so many have little. This story from Kenya from Kristen Welch is a great answer to that question. On the other hand, though we have much, it can still be easy for all that we have to be wiped out with just a medical crisis or loss of employment. I had never considered this, but the stigma of the “new poor” is a terrible, humiliating thing. Take a read of How Poor Could They Be? from Caryn Rivadeneira.

Are you a lover or a fighter? It’s hard for me to say. But it sure seems like we have become a nation of fighters. The problem that Sarah Markley points out is that there are few situations in life where the choice is either/or. And maybe accepting that is the key to reconciliation.

I especially enjoyed this post No Wonder We Hate Buying Cars from Tim Challies just because my wife and I just bought a car, the first time we purchased a car together, with an eerily similar experience. After we were grilled on the extended warranty, we retreated to a quiet corner to whisper to each other “This is where they get you!”

Two final posts caught my attention. Paul Angone Why I Hope We Never Make It is a refreshing take on the lifelong ambition to “coast.” I don’t know where my fabled “plateau” is that I am searching for, but maybe it’s better that I don’t find it. And finally, Micah Murray writes a kind of open letter To the One Losing Her Faith. Remember that there are many things in life worth questioning and letting go of. Jesus constantly tried to get his disciples to shed their assumptions about faith in order that they would have new growth.

That’s it for me! I’m gonna huddle in the basement while this heat wave passes. I might emerge again next week in time for the next cold front.

 

What did you want to be when you grew up?sandlot-01

When I was in school, I was fascinated with outer space. I thought I wanted to be a scientist and work for NASA. Over time, I discovered more about my natural gifts and inclinations, not to mention limitations and so I quietly gave up this ambition without any real fanfare.

I was unusual in my boyhood ambitions. Many boys do not dream about going to work for NASA. On the contrary, it is no secret that many boys, a majority, harbor hopes and dreams of being professional athletes. I know this because I am a teacher and talk regularly to children about what they want to be when they grow up.

A teacher.

A veterinarian.

A doctor.

Those youthful ambitions are almost exclusively held by the female students. The boys on the other hand, by a wide margin, tell me that they want to play for a living. They want to be soccer players, baseball or basketball players. They want to be stars. They don’t dream of being writers or artists (though there are plenty of males in both of those fields.) The one widely acceptable career goal for boys is to throw, catch and hit a ball for a living.

I did not always think this was a big deal. Who cares, they are just silly childhood dreams, right? But the more I think about it, especially now that I’m going to be a dad, I have to wonder why so many boys dream of lives of athletic conquest, if we as adults are encouraging this fantasy, and if it is even a healthy dream to begin with.

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You know, we might have been wrong in how we pegged the millennial generation.

It’s now a known cliche that every generation complains about young people, calling them selfish, rude, lazy, and all the other adjectives that otherwise illustrate how young folks don’t measure up.

I’m on the front edge of the millennial generation, and from what I can see, there is certainly a lot of ambition. There is a lot of passion and energy to not just live or survive, but to do great work. In many ways, people today are just as driven and ambitious as people have always been.

You might know that last week, Elaine Stritch passed away at age 89. She was about as far from a “millennial” as anyone can be, from a completely different generation. She spent her life on the stage and screen with her brassy, even caustic sense of humor. Of course, people my age probably only know her from 30 Rock. 

Sure, Stritch had plenty of struggles and none of them were ever hidden. But by any measure, she had a very long and successful career, something that would make any young millennial happy to dream about.

Yet, at the end of her life, when she could look back on all of her achievements and all of the laughs and ovations she received, she did not think much of it. She loved her work, but her success never made her feel secure. Her stage work never gave her any self esteem. She was eternally tied to her work. But at the end of her life, she seemed to know something that many of us do not: that success is not nearly what we imagine it to be.

photo

When we are old and looking back on our lives, I wonder if we will fondly reminisce about the hours we spent trying to be successful. I wonder if we will realize that there is more to our lives than making our names known and our careers great. I wonder if we will realize that our security and self-worth is not necessarily defined by our success.

It’s Friday, and a beautiful one at that, thank you “polar vortex.”

I hope it’s been as nice in your neck of the woods as it has been here in Kansas City. While it’s actually been cool enough in the house to cook, I got this crazy idea to cook a whole bunch of food and stick it in the deep freeze to save for winter. Not too shabby getting something like twenty dinners made from about the same number of ingredients.

Yeah, it’s been a busy week full of writing, working and trying to enjoy a couple more weeks of summer before we head back to school for teacher in-service. Oh, and the tallest water slide in the world just opened up here, so I’m gonna have to make time for that too.

So, what fueled me this week?

On My Radio

I don’t listen to NPR all the time, but on the select occasions that I do, I usually find something to enjoy. Their series on manhood in America has been fantastic, especially this entry about the three scariest words a boy can hear. We were all told at one time or another to “be a man” and “being a man” is usually defined in pretty narrow terms.

In My Blog Reader

What a fantastic post from Sharon Hodde Miller at Christianity Today. Have you ever heard a sermon about body image? I cannot say that I have. We sure talk about it plenty here in blog-land. What would happen if we actually had some pulpit space reserved for the topic? Do pastors think they can’t talk about bodies since body image is usually a “women’s” issue? I don’t know.

We are a culture obsessed with leadership. I bet everyone can name five “leadership” traits right now. Stuff like communication, critical thinking, vision. Those are all the things that we want in leaders. This post from Chris at No Superheroes is a fantastic antidote, the most overlooked leadership traits.

A fantastic post from Mary DeMuth on her burning out for Jesus. How many of us are teetering on the edge? We are meant to burn for Jesus, not burn out. Mary doesn’t offer any answers on burnout, just empathy. And that’s great, because most of us who have burned out feel like we are alone.

Finally, this fun little list of pictures from Zack Hunt just made my day. What does it mean to be a “oh by the way” church?

Yep, those are the things that fueled me this week. What about you?

By the time our little one come into the world, Cheri and I will have been married almost nine years.

No, this is not the new kid's room. I just hacked my wife's Pinterest account.

No, this is not the new kid’s room. I just hacked my wife’s Pinterest account.

About half of that time was spent as quasi-newlyweds. And then the other half was spent trying to have kids.

I know what you might be thinking. You might be thinking that after that long, we are going to be in for a big surprise. This kid is going to wreck all of our habits and routines that we hold so precious. And you’d be right. But we are not going to be surprised when it happens.

Here’s the thing: we have gotten really good at not having kids. I don’t mean we are locked into our comfortable little childless rut. What I mean is that trying – and not having – kids for over four years has given us a lot of insight into what it means to have children, and what it does not mean.

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