by Aaron Charles
If you’re like me, the word “practice” always brings to mind Allen Iverson. If you don’t know, Iverson was the MVP-winning point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers. He famously ranted about practice in an interview that has been played countless times since. He made it clear that he wasn’t talking about a game, he was just talking about…practice.
Practice is an interesting word. As a noun it means a particular way of doing something. As a verb it means taking habitual action to stay on top of a particular craft. But, in both of those scenarios, different people can bring different levels of effort to practice. You could view practice as a “trial run” of sorts. Just take it easy until the reps really count. Or you could take the view of my high school basketball coach who always said – “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.”
But, before I start rivaling Iverson for using the word practice so much in such a short period of time, let me move to a different word – one that has even more baggage. We hear it and instantly think of the punishment we faced for acting out as kids. That word is “discipline” and it can sometimes be used interchangeably with “practice”.
I think we need to reclaim both words.
I love my wife. Our relationship is the tightest bond either of us will ever have on this earth. We’ve only been married 5 years now, but in that time I’ve realized that a bond like that doesn’t just happen. Your wedding day isn’t a set-it-and-forget-it event. There’s a day-in-and-day-out recommitment that takes place. It’s work, but it’s work that I love. I make it my practice and my discipline to continue working at my marriage. Some days I’m better at it than others, but the goal is to keep getting better.
I’m taking my cue here from the Bible, as it often uses marriage as a metaphor. I think it works here too, but if you aren’t married, take anything that you really love doing. If you love someone or something, you aren’t going to just let that relationship sit and decay. You’ll make a practice, a discipline, or a habit out of working at it.
This reclaiming I’m talking about is to celebrate that kind of work, that kind of practice, and that kind of discipline. There is joy in that. The joy comes from putting in the time that no one sees to bear fruit that impacts others. Here again, I’m using a metaphor found in Scripture. That’s because there is no better playing field for this new way of looking at practice than in our spiritual life.
Just as with sports or marriage, we can’t just let our spiritual life sit. Daily Bible reading, prayer, and other spiritual practices can feel like chores at first. Listen, I get it. I went to a Baptist school for 12 years before I graduated high school. While I still have a deep love for the people there and everything I learned in that time, I was certainly given some baggage for how I looked at spiritual disciplines or practices. These aren’t check boxes we’re supposed to mark every day. These are the ways we work at our craft – in this case, growing ever deeper in our love for God.
If practice still sounds like a dirty word to you, that’s okay. Can I encourage you to find one practice that you’ll try for the first time? It doesn’t have to be what everyone tells you it has to be. One practice I regularly follow is getting out into nature to listen to God. Prayer and reading your Bible are vital, and I certainly work at deepening those habits. But if you’re just starting out, it’s okay to try things out and see what works. The importance is about working to learn more about who God is and how He loves you. Oh, and remember that it’s a journey. You won’t build habits in a day.
While we’re reclaiming narratives, let me go back to Allen Iverson as we close. Players as good as Iverson don’t get to their level without committing themselves to the work of practice. ESPN recently put out a great piece that reframed the “practice rant” in a new light. Things aren’t always as they seem on the surface, and practice doesn’t have to be dirty word.