Practice: the word we would rather live without, except we can’t.
I have always felt a particular loathing for anything that sounds like practice, whether in music or writing or just day-to-day life. The instant that horrifying suggestion enters my mind, every particle of me shrieks in protest and tries to drag me in the opposite direction, pelting my memory with any decent excuse at hand.
After all, it is so much easier to complain about one’s shortcomings than to remedy them. It’s so comfortable to blame one’s ignorance on hectic schedules and lack of teachers and personal shortage of gumption. All these excuses look respectable until one considers people like George Washington Carver, Abraham Lincoln, Marie Curie, Elizabeth Blackwell, and Ben Carson—people who cared enough about their ambitions to work for them with all their might. That’s what the Bible says to do, isn’t it?
Ecclesiastes 9:10 “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”
Practice is essential to learning. I used to wonder why school required homework, until I skipped it for awhile—and couldn’t remember concepts because I had not used them. We have to use what we learn to retain it. You can be shown how to ride a bike, but until you get on that bike and try it yourself, you will only know information. Getting on that bike can be scary—what if I fail? What if I get hurt? What if I am not good enough? The Bible says in Romans 5:3-5, “But we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed…” You will never know success if you refuse to take that first step and endure hardness until experience can give you hope.
I have a confession. I will be 20 years old next month, and I do not have a drivers license. Why? Well, that’s a long story, but the dregs of the matter is—I have not practiced enough. Life has a habit of getting in the way, especially when one is a missionary kid who rarely rides in a vehicle, much less has the chance to drive one. Now that I am in the States, I have practiced a handful of times. And the first few attempts almost landed me in the hospital for nervous hysteria. Ask my mom. I was scared to death to use so many motor skills at once and have so many radars tuned to all directions and learn new coordination skills. I frequently forgot which pedal was the brake. I got headaches from concentrating so intently. But by the second week of practice I was adjusting to the thought that I might escape ending up as roadkill, and was actually beginning to enjoy driving. The advantages of learning to drive were now overpowering the risks of imminent death and disaster.
And that’s what practice does. It gives you the opportunity to eat the elephant one bite at a time. With frequent use, even the most impossible of tools becomes familiar. The more you write, the better writer you become. The more you share the Gospel, the easier it becomes. The more you exercise, the more fit you become and your endurance lengthens. Problem is, most of us want a shortcut solution to everything. We want the status of being blow-your-socks-off amazing without working for it.
Proverbs 14:23 “In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.”
In the poem “The Ladder of St. Augustine,” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow said,
The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.
Those who succeed are those who practice. Talent gives us a head-start, but talent is not everything. As students, as musicians, as writers, as artists, as Christians, as human beings given precious time to use to the best of our ability, we cannot afford to dismiss the importance of practice.
2 Timothy 2:15 “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”