Practice makes perfect

April 13, 2011

That hill was a little easier today.

I am a cyclist by avocation, it’s what I do to try and keep my heart in shape, and wish that it kept the rest of me in shape. I don’t know that there are that many former interior linemen who are now cyclists. You sure don’t see that many guys in the Tour de France who look like they used to be a pulling guard, anyway. I was a runner for many years, but after having cartilage taken out of both knees, it became obvious that I needed a sport that was less damaging to the system. I became a cyclist.

After living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast for 10 years, where the only hill I ever climbed was the high-rise bridge over the Pascagoula River, I landed (again) in Atlanta, where the longest flat street is about 200 feet long, I think. Rolling hills, everywhere you go.

I typically ride at 5:30 in the morning, in part because I am a morning person, in part because if I don’t work out first thing in the morning (OK, second thing—prayers and Scripture at 4:30), something else will crowd it out. And, there are far fewer cars on the streets at 5:30 AM, and they are easy to see. Yes, I make certain that I am very visible with front and rear lights and plenty of reflective gear, so I am plenty safe.

Riding at 5:30 AM, particularly in the winter, is less than pleasant, so I spend much of the winter on my bike in the basement, with the bike on a gen trainer. In other words, I convert my road bike to a stationary bike, and watch a lot of movies all winter. But the weather has warmed up enough to get out on the streets finally, so last Friday I was on the Silver Comet Trail for a while. And today I went out on one of my usual rides through the streets of Atlanta.

At one point I was climbing a hill, and it suddenly occurred to me that the hill was a little easier today. Maybe not as compared to last fall (big difference riding indoors and then getting out on the streets), but compared to the first time I rode that hill after moving to Atlanta—it was easier.

What made the difference, I wondered. Then it hit me. Wax on, wax off.

It was Karate Kid all over again. The more you do something, the more you practice it, the better you get at it. Between my two bikes, I have logged around 20,000 miles. Yes, you read that right, 20,000 miles in about 8 years. I have well over 19,000 miles on my Cannondale, and just under 2,000 on the Trek Madone that IRONMEN gave me last Spring (guys, that is one SWEET ride!)

In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle suggests that it takes 10,000 hours of doing something to make one an expert at the craft, whatever that craft is. I just did some math, and while I don’t believe I got it right, if my figures are correct, I have less than 2,000 hours in the saddle.

I’m not an expert, but I am getting better. Just like the boy in The Karate Kid learning karate by developing muscle memory, I am getting stronger (even as I get older!) by continuing to ride.

In light of that, I have been a follower of Jesus for roughly 35 years. Fifty two Sundays a year, for 35 years, adds up to 1,820 days of worship. Add in all the days and minutes and hours of prayer, Scripture reading (how many times have I practiced the discipline of reading through the entire Bible in a year, or even just the Old Testament, or the New Testament—I can’t recall), the journaling, the reflecting, the added reading in my daily devotions—I hope they all add up to 10,000.

I’m not an expert, but I hope I am getting better. Martin Luther had a classic prayer that he called his “Sacristy Prayer,” that which he prayed each week before going to lead the people in worship. I updated the language, and use it not every Sunday, but every day: Dear Father, you have called me into your service as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. You alone know how unworthy and incapable I am to fulfill this monumental task and responsibility–and were it not for your forgiveness, intervention, and mercy, I would have failed and destroyed your church long ago. So I beg of you to help me. I will devote myself to you and your calling. I long to teach and lead your people, and want to give more of myself each day to you and your Word. So please, Father, claim me, forgive me, fill me with your Spirit, and use me as your agent of reconciliation. Whatever you do, Lord, please do not abandon me; for then I shall do nothing but hurt your church, which is the last thing I want. I ask this, humbly, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

I’m not an expert, but by God’s grace, I’m getting better. Not only on the hills, but I pray I’m getting better on my knees, as well. Or especially.

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