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Practicing the spiritual life

I learn a lot from my children. Of course, I don’t always admit that to them, but it’s true. They help remind me how to play, how to live in the moment, how to enjoy simple pleasures like bacon, how to laugh, how to do cartwheels and how to stop taking myself so seriously.

Over the weekend I learned a few things by watching Martha jump rope. She and her classmates are jumping rope in their P.E. class. Each of them has to “make up a routine,” which they choreograph and then present to the class. I think. I can’t quite get all the details straight, but I think that’s the gist of it.

Anyway, Martha’s been practicing. She came home one day last week, grabbed her jump rope and went outside. Since it was a nice afternoon, I sat outside with a book and cheered her on. At that point, she was able to jump once or twice in a row without tripping up. She got to where she could jump several times smoothly and then switched to jumping backwards.

Every day after school, she’d come inside, grab the jump rope and start jumping. It made her so happy, and she was always wanting me to watch her and count how many times she’d jumped. By the end of the weekend, she was jumping smoothly – forwards, backwards, on one foot, jogging down the driveway. She’s still working on the “crossing arms” move, but she’s getting better all the time.

All this practicing was happening around me this weekend as I was preparing the sermon for last Sunday. If you were in worship last Sunday, then you might remember hearing me talk about “Seven Spiritual Practices” for the season of Lent – prayer, reading scripture, giving, worshiping, being in covenant, serving and inviting. Sometimes we call these things “disciplines,” but I prefer to call them “practices.”

In some ways practicing the spiritual life is not unlike practicing the jump rope. We can’t expect to just wake up one morning and be an expert in centering prayer.  We can’t just decide that we’re going to read scripture and expect to understand the Book of Revelation on our first try (or even on our hundredth try!). It’s not easy to go from giving 1% of our income to 10% overnight. But we can practice. We can give these practices time every day. We can come to them again and again, knowing that we have more to learn but that the learning is part of the fun.

And, yes, I said “fun.” As I watched Martha run inside every day to get her jump rope, as I listened to her call out, “Mommy, watch me!”, and as I saw the joy on her face when she jumped without tripping, I realized that I’d like to feel that way about prayer and worship and reading the Bible. What if I jumped out of bed each morning, grabbed my Bible and started praying with joy? What if I didn’t worry about messing up or doing it wrong and simply kept at it? There’s a reason why Jesus liked to hang out with children. They have a lot to teach us.