I was told “Practice makes perfect,” so my defiant younger self quipped, “Practice makes perfect, but no one’s perfect, so why practice?” That was a) to hide my fear of being imperfect, b) to distract people from seeing all the practicing I was doing and c) to excuse myself in case that practice didn’t work. (and maybe d) to discourage my competition from practicing too much)
Later I was told, “Practice makes permanent,” so my capable young adult self thought, “Watch what you practice because you’ll be stuck with it.” That set me on course to a) get things right, b) do them a lot and c) not enter any contests until I was good and ready.
Lately I have been learning that “Practice makes patterned.” The more we do something, the more likely we are to do it again the same way. Now to those of us in the sports skills business, that’s a no-brainer. Muscle memory has been gospel for forever, as far as I know. Brain science is now showing us how that happens: electrical signaling sensitizes the pathways encouraging it to happen again the same way.
So, since practice doesn’t make you perfect, nor does it strand you in permanent but instead creates patterns, then if we could just practice perfectly, we would be all set. Put us on autopilot and off we’d go to perfection. But that’s not the way it goes. My practice doesn’t achieve perfect. In fact often it makes me more aware of my imperfections and my inability to conquer them.
Here’s where Lent comes in: Lent is the season to practice denial. Not just giving up sweets or cutting down on Starbucks beverages, but actually denying myself something for the good of another. Giving up something good, in honor of something better. Leaving a space where I had been crammed full.
And here’s what I learned. It’s not the denial that matters, it’s practicing the denial. Actually telling myself, “No, you may not do that. No, you may not say that. You may not even think that, about yourself or others. You may have gotten used to that, but it’s a bad habit. Quit it!” It seems that I had gotten out of practice of denying what didn’t belong.
Though practicing denial, like practicing other skills, makes it neither perfect nor permanent, it does help us create a pattern. And patterns, well designed and well worn, are there when we need them. They’re worth the practice. In fact they may be the reason to practice, so that when the pressure is on, the opponents are jeering, and everything is on the line, we can swing freely and send that beautifully arching nine iron shot sailing straight toward the pin. Because we have denied our need to perform, our desire to perfect and our demand for admiration.
Hoping and imagining it won’t achieve it, and even practicing it perfectly won’t guarantee it, but we have to perform when it counts. That happens best when we deny ourselves and let ‘er rip. A good reason to practice. A good reason to discipline our practice. A good reason to practice the discipline of denial.
What we practice, we pattern. And ultimately, that’s what we put into play.
No one could have seen it coming. The stoppage time own-goal scored by England’s Laura Bassett which sealed her team’s doom and ushered Japan into the final of the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
Some would say, “it’s just a game.” And it is. But moments like this are way more than the game. They are, at once, thrilling and sensational, heartbreaking and debilitating. And something compels us to watch and weep. This poor girl. Thank goodness her teammates and coach are there to rally around her, because I want to. I want to tell her it’s okay. You’ll play another day. Your team and your country will forgive you. They are proud of you. Nothing has changed.
I love that her mother says, “Laura will bounce back.” She has raised a girl who has experienced hardship and come through it. She will again.
As moved as I always am by images of thrilling victory, I’m not sure they compare with this. We may love a winner, but we feel with a loser. We feel with the one who gave her all and died trying. Because, while we haven’t all experienced the thrill of victory, we’ve all felt the agony of defeat. It draws us in a way that splays our hearts and lays us bare.
Death gone to willingly, not falling on our own sword as a coward, but arrived at suddenly in the heat of battle, boldly and confidently. Chosen, but not expected. This kind of death doesn’t kill, it inspires. In a way no victory could.
Imagine the ovation Laura Bassett will receive as she takes the field in the third place match, the ‘consolation’ round of the World Cup, and not just from England fans but from footballing fans around the world. Together, we celebrate the spirit of this young woman whose agony flashed in a moment on our screens, but in whose resilience we are invested. That’s who we want to be. One who dies and lives again.
The world may love winning, but there’s no arguing that victory divides us. Suffering and death, on the other hand, unites us in way that no victor can. Amazing.
There’s nothing quite like playing a game with a kid. Pull out the equipment, explain the rules and you’re off!
When they’re small, you may need to correct them, re-route them, or help them a bit. As they grow, you may show them a few tricks and, every now and then, have to caution them when they get too rough or bend the rules in their favor. But somewhere along the way, if you’ve played your cards right, they start teaching you new ways to play the game. That’s when the game becomes theirs.
Two years ago our church experienced a terrible tragedy in the death of 14 year old Bennett Rill. Two weeks ago we christened a basketball court in his memory. Of course, you don’t christen a basketball court with a bottle of champagne, you cut the ribbons and play 3 on 3, as hard as you can, then shake hands, and go have some refreshments.
A bunch of us sat on the hillside to watch and cheer the competitors. Benny t-shirts were everywhere. Derick, Bennett’s Dad, was working the crowd, shaking hands and slapping high fives while Mom Carolyn was receiving congratulations and thanks for a day of community basketball that was truly a celebration of their son.
I’m wondering how this family does it. They have experienced something no one should ever have to go through, and they’re honest about how it’s going. “Bennett is still gone and our pain remains as sharp as ever,” Derick offered in his opening remarks.
Each day is hard and it isn’t getting any easier. They’re not pretending otherwise. Thank God! This family is living their mourning among us in order to help us all deal with this loss. Most especially the young friends of Bennett’s as well as his teachers, neighbors, and teammates.
The Rills, in their great compassion, have created a living, working, playing place where they can gather and remember Bennett in the way he would have wanted. By playing the game he so loved, in the way he loved to play it — as hard as you can until you’re completely spent and then go have a cold drink and remember the three-pointers you drained, and the lay-ups you can’t believe you missed.
The court was built with some of the funds donated to the Bennett Rill Memorial Fund for Student Ministries, the rest of which will support 6th – 12th graders at Floris to bring in speakers, sponsor events, send them on trips, and support them in mission work. But the court speaks fellowship. It beckons kids of all ages to come play on it, come enjoy each other’s company, and come get to know why it was built in the shadow of a church.
That’s the thing about a game. It invites you to play.
This court, with the number “21” painted in the far corner, memorializing Bennett’s favorite spot to shoot three-pointers, isn’t a sad place to remember loss, it’s forever game day, to remember victory and a remarkable young man who left us way, way too soon. But not before he showed us his love for God, family and friends and his fearlessness to share that. He was the “real deal.”
As I watch Derick and Colin cut the ribbons that bar the entry to that court and welcome it’s first “official” competitors to the championship game with high fives all around, there’s no sadness on any face, just pure delight. They’re here to play “Holy Hoops,” as Derick would say. He has opened the gate.
The Rill family hopes that court will get lots of use in the days to come and become a place for kids to congregate, get to know each other and themselves better. They’ll play some games of “H-O-R-S-E,” which on this court is re-named, “J-E-S-U-S,” and in the process they’ll come to know Him in fun, fellowship and the spirit of competition.
I can just imagine Bennett, who’s spirit is surely more alive here than ever, asking his buddies if they want to come shoot some hoops over at his house and giving them the church address to meet up. Bennett would probably greet them in the parking lot, usher them down the hill to this treasure of a court and then beat them with a shot from “his” 21-spot at the imaginary buzzer.
After they’d exchanged high fives, Bennett would smile and wait for the inevitable question. “So, Benny, where’s your house?”
“Right there,” he’d say. “That’s my Father’s house. Wanna come in for a drink?”
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love
his faithfulness continues
through all generations.
~ Psalm 100: 4-5