Deliberate Practice and the Art of Family


Geoff Colvin, in Talent is Overrated, talks about how “deliberate practice” is the method in which one can go from being good or acceptable to great in their field, whether it is sports, art, entertainment, or even business. The elite performers spend hours training and studying at their craft, which is the key to building neural pathways in the brain that allow them to perform at the highest levels. The brain, as it repeats the exercises and study, increases the protective sheath around the neurons, and speeds up those pathways so that they become more resilent and faster. This “deliberate practice” doesn’t just consist of repetition of the skills in which these individuals have already achieved high levels, but is an intentional focus on the areas that still require improvement. They go out and work on those areas over and over again in order to build themselves up.  

Colvin also, in his book, talks about “domain knowledge” as another way that individuals continue to grow to become the top in their field. Reqular study and understanding of the “How” and the “Why” in their field becomes another key element to their success. The best in any field is a “subject matter expert” at what they do. That experience gives them depth and insight beyond the rest, and allows them view the landscape to see what is coming next.  

There is a story of the how Wayne Gretzky’s father trained his young son to nearly see into the future. He would put Wayne onto the ice and have him follow the puck around as he made long passes. Wayne’s father would sling the puck off of the boards around the ice rink and make Wayne chase it until his lungs burned and his legs ached. The key to this practice, however, wasn’t to build speed; speed was a by-product. Wayne wouldn’t just follow the puck, he would go to where the puck would be in the future and catch it on the fly. Wayne looked ahead to see where the puck was going, and went there. He studied how the puck would bounce and became a subject matter expert, using deliberate practice to master his field.

Thinking about this, how are you committing to “deliberate practice” in your life? Are you spending time studying your job, or your favorite pastimes? Do you practice the skills that you have not yet mastered in order to attain that mastery? Each and every time you sit down to learn, what can you do to make sure that you’re improving?

These concepts, however, do not just limit themselves to business, physical endeavors, or the arts. Family requires “deliberate practice” as well. Spending time with your spouse, your children, and the others closest to you in your life can be another form of “deliberate practice.” Family isn’t easy, it isn’t quick, and NO ONE is an expert at it Day One. We learn about each other. We grow together. We have to constantly work on the areas that have fault and failure. For, without that work, we never learn how to overcome the struggles that inevitably are a part of life. Consistent, intentional, and focused “practice” is the key.  

Take time to work on the areas of your marriage or relationship that seem hard. If you struggle with engaging consistently throughout the day, make it a point to do three kind, selfless acts for that someone in your life in the morning, during the day, and in the evening. If you find that you have a hard time expressing yourself and your feelings, send three text messages throughout the day and let that other person know how much your care about them. Then, after a week, take one of those times and say it to them directly, face-to-face. Yes, it’s going to be hard; that’s why it’s called DELIBERATE practice. You’ll have to work at it to become great.  

Spend time and build the “domain knowledge” of that other person. Over coffee, or dinner, or while sitting together in the car, ask questions about their thoughts and mindsets on things. Work to understand how they think. Pray for them and with them. Become a “subject matter expert” on them. By connected with them on a deeper level, you will not only build your relationship, you’ll actually change your brain! You will find that they become your area of focused expertise. And that’s a skill you’ll never want to give up.

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Forgive the infant as Christ forgives you…

This evening my wife and I brought our new, infant son to church for Divine Service. We sat through the worship service, hearing God’s Word and receiving His gifts. When it came time for the Lord’s Supper, I carried my son to the Table and knelt at the rail with my wife and older boy. The pastor came down the line, passing out the bread and blessing the children. At my older son he said, “May God keep you in your baptismal grace.” At my newborn he stopped, looked down and forgave my 11-day-old of his sins by saying, “I forgive you your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Interestingly enough, he thought it appropriate and necessary to forgive a newborn of his sins. And he was right. In Romans the need for salvation is apparent.

“As it is written:
‘None is righteous, no , not one;
no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
-Romans 3:10-12

We cannot save ourselves. We are not righteous, not a single one of us. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” says Romans 3:23. How then can even the child who is new to life outside the womb be saved? Through Christ Himself! The next verse in Romans 3 tells the sweet Gospel: “And are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”

The pastor granted to my child forgiveness by his Office, the Office instituted by Christ and given the power of forgiveness of sins. John 20:23, “If you forgive the sin of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”

My wife and I made the decision to bring our child to the Table to be forgiven. He has not yet been received into Christ’s Church through baptism, so we know that the pastor, in his Office, can and did grant our son the forgiveness of Christ. And for that I am truly grateful. Thank you, Pastor.

“For the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these…”

This weekend is Sanctity of Life Sunday. There are so many conversations to be had about the blessing of life which God grants to us:  birth and abortion, disease and comfort, aging and death. The Lord is the Giver of Life. He is the One Who Breathes the Breath the Life, as we read in Genesis 2:7.

Below is a statement from my wife, written about contraception and our human frailty and sinfulness with respect to the life of children in marriage and our culture. I find it to express fully my position on the subject.

“My opinions and beliefs on this topic are not held for the purpose of judging anyone for their family size or decisions. Everyone has their untold story and I have no business ever making assumptions. I have been on the receiving end of that judgment, having been questioned for not having more children at 32 years of age. It was directed from someone who had no idea of our infertility struggles in the past 5 years or the miscarriage 2 years ago; no idea of the agony of mourning that loss and desperately trying to understand why my body would no longer do what it was designed to do and why God would withhold the blessing of more children. It was quite a journey of learning to listen to His will over my own and trust His timing in all things.

Any “judgment” I have is purely directed at the cultural mindset regarding life and children – the mindset of “one and done” or “I have my girl and my boy, so I’m done now.” The fact that we try to plan children around the lifestyle we want to maintain. Not wanting to have more than 2 because that would mean giving up the guest bedroom in order to not have to put 2 kids in a room. Or that more children means no more fancy vacations or having to put limits on career growth in order to raise a family; the idea that we shouldn’t have to sacrifice for our children. It’s the mindset that children are a choice in every sense of the word; the cultural view of children as a consequence or burden if they show up at the “wrong” time. Birth control allowed our society to go against natural law, as created by God himself, in order to accommodate our own desires – it compromised the value of children. It is the classic battle of our own sinful will vs. God’s will for us. It is this same mindset that allows our culture to let hundreds of thousands of kids in our own country and millions around the world to be without families – to be desperately waiting to be rescued by a loving family and wondering why they aren’t good enough for that. It’s the same mindset that has allowed us, in spite of the evidence God has shown us through science and technology, to question the validity of a child in utero and to be willing as a society to destroy millions of lives in their most vulnerable state. Children have become disposable in our culture. They have become a choice in every sense of the word and subjects of our own selfish agendas. They have become political pawns as we’ve seen unveiled already this year in this horrid issue between US and Russia. My judgment is on this entire mindset. I can’t sit there and say that abortion is wrong or try to advocate for adoption and not also recognize that children are already set up for these fates by the culture which decided they are optional to begin with, thus something to be prevented.

I’m not so naïve to think that getting rid of contraception would fix this problem. Our culture has gone too far over the edge in regards to this topic to just completely pull the rug out from beneath it all. I’m more concerned with the silence over the last 50 years or so from our churches on this subject. With exception to the Catholic church, which is the only one I’m aware of that has maintained a voice on the subject of birth control in regards to affirming life, the Christian church at large allowed itself to be overcome by the culture in this regard. Pastors are now held captive to fear of their members if they dare speak out about God’s truth regarding marriage, sexuality, and children. No one wants to be “judged” and they have convinced themselves that the church is the last place where they should be judged. That the church is love and love means tolerance and tolerance means no judgment. It is such a great lie that has taken over in our Christian churches and feels like an impossible battle for our pastors to fight. What good is the gospel if we are not convicted of our sins and recognize our need for a Savior? Thankfully, I am hearing more and more pastors braving the waters of these subjects, though most are treading slowly and carefully. It can’t stop there though. If we want children to be valued again, if we want life to be protected in all stages, if we want the church to rise up and give homes to those children without one, then we have to make life important again, starting at the point of the mere possibility of life, to the point of conception and then birth, and then see it through as children are abandoned for whatever reason by bringing them into our own homes. We can’t leave it to only our pastors to teach this. We have to have these conversations within our Christian friendships. We have to be strong enough to talk about this with anyone who will listen. And we most importantly have to teach this to our own children, because they will direct the future of these issues.”

“Worthy are you, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:11

Come, Lord Jesus!  Amen!

Viva La Revolution!

Dear Christian Friends,

Many evenings in our household consist of the same routine. Bed-time is announced, which is immediately followed by the first attempted coup d’etat. This is subsequently quashed by the state police (a.k.a. Dad), and then The Resistance is punished with Chinese Water Torture (or, more commonly, a shower). Towel drying then commences (Mom has banned the use of her hair-drier), teeth are brushed (The Second Revolution Rises!), and then the government (a.k.a. Mom) declares a national curfew with the phrase, “Bed-time will be earlier from now on!” Off to the prison cell of a bedroom where the child is locked away under covers and a stuffed bulldog from IKEA. Tales of other failed rebellions are read, (or Charlotte’s Web…whatever is handy), and a hymn is sung by Dad after prayers. Just like any other household, right?

You may have stopped at the hymn. A hymn? Really? But why, one may ask? Is it for the soothing melody? The peaceful music?

I would say that “Water, Blood, and Spirit Crying” or “Onward, Christian Soldiers” are hardly lullabies. But the intent is not to coax the child off to sleep. It’s to teach.

Yes, it’s true. Lessons are learned at all times of day. And what better way to teach the Word of God than through music? Luther said, “Next to theology, I accord to music the highest place and the greatest honor.” He understood the importance of teaching in any way possible. Luther wrote a number of hymns, both to uplift the mind and spirit, and to direct our hearts toward Jesus Christ, the “Valiant One” who fights for us, as “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” proclaims.

And these songs are not just written to sell well, or have a catchy tune that makes the Christian Top 40. They come directly from the Word of God. The liturgical hymn, “Create in Me” is Psalm 51:10-12.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Sharing the hymns of the church with my children is something that I do because I know that through them I can teach them about Christ Jesus. It’s a blessing to have another way that I can give them the Gospel of our Lord.

And if it helps them to fall asleep, then I guess it’s another indication of how the Lord blesses us in many ways!

Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow!

Grace, Mercy, and Peace be to you from our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear Christian Friends,

Blessings are wonderful, aren’t they? Warm, sunny days in the summer when the wind is just light enough to touch the sweat off your brow. The smile and heart-felt cheer of good friends and family as they surround you in the loving embrace of togetherness. Victory via new fencing over that long-suffered rabbit who keeps getting into the vegetable patch and stealing the carrots.

Our Lord blesses us in so many ways, undeserved and, many times, unfortunately, under-appreciated. But I can think of one blessing as I sit here that the Lord chooses to grant us that gives more wonder, hope, and love than all the others: children.

God chooses to bless us with children so that He can teach us and build our faithfulness. Luke 18:16b-17, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Jesus used the imagery of children to guide us toward faithfulness. It is not by the power of our own minds or the desire of our hearts that we receive His grace. Instead, by the simple faith of a child, an undeterred belief, placed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit through God’s Word, we know our Savior Jesus Christ.

He preaches His Word to us through the memory verses and prayers our children recite to us, giving us the ability to hear the Gospel even from those we are instructed to teach. Romans 10:17a, “So faith comes from hearing.” And not just our own children. God grants children to His congregation and to the world for the same purpose, to provide another outlet for His Word.

It is our vocation, as parents and guardians of children, both ours and our neighbors’, to protect them, reborn into the Spirit through Baptism, newly born into this world through the pains of childbearing, or as yet unborn from the womb but existing, for our Father knows them all. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,” Jeremiah 1:5.