‘Please don’t pick me,” I thought. I looked down and away. I tried to shrink out of his line of sight. Then the Chief said, “Cal, why don’t you and Bob grab the high-rise pack and practice what we just went over.” There were lots of experienced firefighters in the room. They had probably done this drill 100 times before. So why me? Because I needed the practice?
We ran the drill. I surprised myself with how much I remembered. Yet, it is hard to do something with 15 sets of eyes looking on. You become self-conscious. It is easy to become overly critical of your performance. You know that you didn’t get it 100% right. You only hope that those watching will extend a bit of grace to you.
The fact that he made me do it a second time, with another member, might have been a clue as to how I did the first time. The second time around I completed the assignment with more confidence. It felt more natural. One firefighter even told me that I looked the part as I grabbed the hose and put it over my shoulder. I have to say it made me smile.
Over the last six months I have learned that there is nothing like hands-on training to excel at new things. It may feel awkward at first, but the more you do something, the more natural it feels. People talk about muscle memory. There is something to it. The repetition helps your body embrace the action so that it becomes part of your repertoire.
There is a saying in the fire safety course: “Make every day a training day ... so that everyone goes home.” In other words, practice like you mean it. There is little room for error when it comes to public safety. Everything has to be second nature because you may find yourself, or those with you, in a life-or-death situation.
Hall of Fame basketball player Michael Jordan used to treat practice like a competition. He went all-out at practice, every day. He often said people thought he had all kinds of natural talent. That’s only part of it, he’d be quick to add. He’d say. “When you practice hard, you play harder.”
The same is true in our faith life. It is hard to stay focused on Christ when you only think of him on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning. If you only pray when life takes a turn for the worse, your prayers may feel clumsy and ineffective. You’ve got to practice your faith every day. You’ve got to develop that muscle memory with your devotional life.
So pick up the Bible and let it become a part of you. Wake up each day and start it with a prayer of thanksgiving. Exercise your faith by inviting God to walk with you through the day. Practice intentional acts of kindness and generosity and let God’s grace flow through you. Then you won’t just look the part. You will be living the Christian life. Like they say, “Practice makes perfect!” May the perfect love of God flow through you into the world around you.
The Rev. Cal Lord is pastor of Central Baptist Church in Westerly.