While coaching my daughter’s soccer team a few years back, I invited Katherine, an accomplished high school soccer player, to work with my ten-year-old girls for one practice. After teaching them a trap-and-kick exercise, she gathered the team together and told the girls, “You have to keep practicing this drill, but you must realize that practice doesn’t make perfect.” Several kids raised their hands and replied, “My mom said if I practice my violin, I’ll play my piece perfectly,” or “If I practice my dance steps, I will become perfect…”
Katherine looked at them and said that what they have been told was a lie. I held my breath waiting for this sixteenyear-old girl’s explanation. She boldly said, “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.” That bit of wisdom resonated within my heart and is an important model for our spiritual lives. Practice makes permanent! Indeed, our patterns and behavior will set into motion the direction of our lives. The way we pray and prioritize our spiritual life, the way we speak, the way we love, the way we respond to conflict; all have been consciously or unconsciously practiced over the years and have become a permanent part of our life.
We often find ourselves practicing what the world tells us is important, as found with the daily bombardment of commercials, music, news, self-help books, fad diets, products and ideas that can present a treasury of empty promises. We are told we will be happy, sexy, rich or successful if we simply purchase a certain product, take an energy supplement, read a particular book, subscribe to a tested financial plan or try the next exciting “special offer.”
Our life then becomes a continuous search for the next thing that will fulfill us—the next thing that will bring us happiness. What are we practicing and making permanent? Is it a cycle of false hopes, wishes and worries? Or are we practicing patience, compassion and love?
Jesus tells us that the eye is the lamp of the body and our body will be full of light if our eye is clear (Matthew 6:22). Our eyes and ears are the gateway to the soul. Just as the practice of eating healthy food helps nourish a healthy body, what we practice receiving with our eyes and ears affects the health of our souls. How are we engaging with our family? What are we watching? What music are we listening to? What conversations are we having that help strengthen our relationship with God and one another?
The information we digest will impact and shape us, whether we know it or not. As Orthodox Christians, we must be vigilant and watchful of the messages we receive and careful of the words that we speak to one another. All have a vital influence upon our souls. We must be intentionally mindful of what actually feeds the soul—resisting words, images and conversations that distract us from living a life of true holiness.
The Church implores us to be selective about what we see, hear and do, as we strive to make choices that edify our souls. We are invited to examine what we practice in our lives, to see where we devote our time, energy and thoughts. We need to take a hard look at our daily schedule. Are we spending enough uninterrupted time with our families? Are we eating meals on the run? Are we taking time in prayer to be still with God? Are we reaching out to others who are in need?
St. Paul encourages us to wake up! He says, “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep…The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light” (Romans 13:11–12). To wake up is to turn off the TV and have a conversation with your spouse and children. To wake up may prompt you to hand an apple and a smile to a homeless person. To wake up will motivate you to attend Divine Liturgy on time and with full awareness that you are in the presence of God. To wake up is to re-examine your life and seek confession and forgiveness. Let us not go through life asleep, falling into habits of laziness and complacency. Rather, let us live intentionally seeking Christ and all that is holy and good. Every day, we are given the chance to be transformed and made anew.
This week, make it a point to notice what you look at, what you listen to, what you read and what you say. St. Basil says, “We should not be deceived by the corrupting delights of this world, but rather become strengthened in the desire to attain the treasures of the world to come.” Consider practicing and making permanent the action of love, the gift of compassion and the practice of being truly alive.
Our Lord constantly reminds us that He wants to help us write a new story of life centered in His love, His will and His purpose. God transforms our relationships and He promises to restore us and help redirect our path to a new way of living. Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).
He is speaking to each one us. He offers us transformation from old to new, from broken to whole, from sorrow to joy, and from death to life. May we “show up” and “wake up” so we can become renewed people living out this promise as we practice loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27).
Mother Maria of Paris said, “No amount of thought will ever result in any greater formulation than the three words, ‘Love one another,’ so long as it is love to the end and without exceptions. And then the whole of life is illumined…” (Essential Writings, page 19).
Remember: Practice makes permanent!
Rev. Fr. Tom Tsagalakis serves as the priest of Holy Apostles Orthodox Greek Orthodox Church in Shoreline, WA. He is also an adjunct professor at Seattle Pacific University and maintains a private practice as a Marriage and Family Therapist in Seattle. Fr. Tom is an iconographer who learned from Kosta Tsiltsividis of blessed memory from Thessalonike, Greece. He and his wife, Presvytera Pat, have two adult children, Nicholas and Maria Sophia. This article is adapted from its original, which appeared in the July/August 2007 Orthodox Observer.