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.

The Very Stones…

563007_380173768681380_299594056739352_1195707_1022789384_n  I’ve been a musician almost my entire life. From singing in the children’s choirs at church and school and Sunday School, to attempting to learn and play guitar and banjo, to my time singing in the collegiate touring chamber group, I’ve enjoyed making and listening to excellent music. In that time also, I’ve spent much of it writing and reading, another of my favorite pastimes. So it should come as no surprise that I like to sing hymns from the hymnal. It’s a collection of wonderful, descriptive texts set to fulfilling music. I sing them to my children. I belt them out from the pew in church. I like to sit quietly and contemplate the words and the Scriptures behind the music.

One of the hymns that grabbed my attention earlier this year was “No Tramp of Soldiers’ Marching Feet,” LSB 444. It’s a particular passage in the second verse that I found myself especially proud to sing. “Or else the very stones would cry/‘Behold, behold your King!’”

This is, of course, a Holy Week hymn, set to be used during Palm Sunday, as we hear of our Lord’s Triumphant Entry into Jerusalem. The hymn’s text is from Luke 19:36-40, where Jesus’, as He rides on a colt into the city, is admonished by the Pharisees to have the people stop praising Him. The crowds had, as Jesus passed by, thrown down their cloaks, waved palm branches, and shouted, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” These were the same praises sung at the other bookend of His earthly life, as the heavenly hosts told the shepherds of His birth. Jesus knew, as we do now, that these crowds could not, would not, be silent. They had seen the Savior, the one spoken of by Simeon in the temple, when Jesus first traveled to Jerusalem as an infant. Here He is again, on His way to back Jerusalem, to the temple even, but this time, instead of a sacrifice by His parents for cleansing at His birth, He would be the sacrifice for the cleansing of all through our own rebirths by water and the Spirit.

It’s no wonder, then, that Jesus tells the Pharisees, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” And His words were proven true less than a week later. For you see, after that entry in triumph to the earthly city of Jerusalem, it was Christ’s eternal triumph over death and sin that caused those stones to cry out, to declare the majesty of the Son of God. Matthew 27:47b, “And the earth shook, and the rocks split.” The earth could not keep silent at the victory of Jesus and the crushing of the head of the serpent. And still, there was to be one final demonstrative act by the earth, as the stone was rolled away, and the great maw of the earth, the tomb entrance, was laid open as a mouth shouting out the resurrection of our Lord and the Last Words of Christ,

“It is finished!”

Amen.

The Researchers are Coming to Get You!

An article from the Life Issues Institute’s website (http://www.lifeissues.org/cloningstemcell/article.html) entitled “I’m Pro-Life and Oppose Embryonic Stem Cell Research” by J.C. Willke, M.D. describes in depth the growth pattern and process for a “fertilized egg” to the later stages of a fetus’ development.  The quote he made that stands out to me the most defines, I think, the discussion of when life begins.  “The biologic fact is that from day one, inside and then outside of the uterus, this is one continuous, uninterrupted period of growth and development.”  Effectively, he is saying that life begins when the mother and the father literally come together and form a living creature, even if it starts as a single-celled organism.

Using embryonic stem cells for research is like finding out that we can take required, vital organs out of a living, active person and use them to test ways to make our lives better.  I am not referring to the taking organs from people who are already dead, or have donated their bodies to science.  I’m talking about “researchers” walking into classrooms, or businesses, or libraries, or grocery stores and grabbing your teacher, or your boss, or even you, and cutting us open to find parts to use to treat others.  This is ESCR.  It is taking life from living creatures for “research.”

If we assume that the life of a single-celled version of a human being is not worthy of the same protection we give animals from product testing, we will reach a point where taking people who are less “important” or “productive” for testing will become a reality.  Life is precious and a gift, no matter how old or many-celled it is.

 

“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!

The Meaning of the Advent Wreath

We’ve all seen it, the wreath in the front of the church.  It’s brought out of the back or the downstairs storage closet every year right around Thanksgiving, dusted off, and put up by the pulpit.  The acolyte comes out and lights one or more candles throughout Advent, and it adds to the lighting and majesty of our preparations for the coming of Christmas.  But what do those four (or five) candles mean?  Why is a new one lit each week?  And what is up with the PINK ONE?!

From an lcms.org/faq document concerning questions about Worship/Congregational Life and the Church Year:

The traditional use of Advent candles (sometimes held in a wreath) originated in eastern Germany even prior to the Reformation. As this tradition came down to us by the beginning of this century, it involved three purple candles and one pink candle. The purple candles matched the purple paraments on the altar (purple for the royalty of the coming King). The pink candle was the third candle to be lit (not the fourth) on Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent. “Gaudete” means “Rejoice!” in Latin, which is taken from Philippians 4:4.  

(“Rejoice! . . . the Lord is near”). Hence a “pink” candle was used to signify “rejoicing.” Some also included a white “Christ candle” in the middle to be lit during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25-January 5).

We light a new candle each week to signify the coming of Christmas, and the excitement of Christ’s birth.  It’s a countdown of sorts, there to remind us that He, Christ Jesus,our Lord and King, came into the world.  He was a baby, born of woman, grew, learned, ate, breathed, walked, talked, worked, taught, suffered, died, rose again, and will return.  Until then, we can still partake in Him in the Holy Supper, receiving from Him the forgiveness of sins bought and paid for on the cross, when He took on the weight of the sins of all mankind.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.  Whoever believes in Him is not condemned,” John 3:16-18a.

Come, Lord Jesus!

I’m Pretty Sure the Mayans are Laughing at Us Now…

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Dear Christian Friends,

There’s certainly been a lot of talk as of late about the End of the World. When I will happen, what it will be like, and who’s going to get it first. The Mayans are getting more discussion as of late than during a seventh grade history lesson. The world is going to end on THIS day (December 21st), or THAT day (the 22nd), or at 11:11 (but which time zone?), or at 5:15 (AM or PM?). Every one is very worried that they’ll have to go to work on Friday morning, but that no one will get Christmas presents three days later. Or, my favorite, that the gravitational pull of the Earth will be reversed, in some cosmic, hilarious, twisting of every tested Law of Physics known to man about the attraction of objects, and all of the stuff not tied down will be blasted into space…I think I’ll just chuckle about that one and move on.

“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” -Mark 13:32

It seems silly to attempt to predict the end of the world. It is stated very plainly throughout Scripture that we won’t get to know when it’s coming. We can guess all we want, but it’s just a guess. The LORD will not reveal it to us. It makes us anxious because we, as sinful people, want to be in control. We try to know it all. We want to be in charge. We want to be like God. It’s First Commandment stuff here, people.

The words of Christ comfort us as we begin to fret about the end and our lack of control. In Luke 12:25-26 Christ says, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?” The end is not for our concern. We do not live by our anxiousness. “The righteous shall live by faith.” -Romans 1:17

We live in the knowledge that Christ died for us. He suffered on the cross, bore our sins, and is our Savior. He gives us life and salvation through His Word, and the faith that comes by His Sacraments, which are the means of grace through the elements and His Word. Because, in the end, it always comes back to Jesus and His Word.

The verse in Mark above is important about the day and hour of the end, but the verse immediately preceding holds all the truth we need about the end of days.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will not pass away.”

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!