I was in training last week. As a (small) part of it, we had to introduce ourselves and share one thing that supports our personal well-being. As we went around the room, there weren’t many surprising responses — spouses, kids, sports, religion, and hobbies were all mentioned. What did strike me was that only two of us answered the question in terms of an action. Many had mentioned their wife as a source of well-being before it was my turn, but I said, “My wife and I take a walk together every night.” Not a huge difference, but then again, there is a difference.¹
The contrast was reinforced within the training.² Instead of talking about how we would say something, we were encouraged to actually respond as if we were in the situation. This played out repeatedly in exchanges like, “I would probably say something like…,” to which the facilitator would respond, “Try saying it like you would to the person.” It was a week with a lot of “Yes, but how?” feedback and I think my experience in the introductions was similar. When someone says, “My wife is a source of strength for me,” I can imagine the facilitator asking, “What do you do with her that is a source of strength?”
When they answered, the others may have had several things in mind like taking walks, but I suspect some may not. Some may just be operating on a vague notion that this relationship is important and is (or should be) a source of strength. That is a significant difference. In addition, there was very little I, as a fellow-participant, could take away from that exercise to apply to my own life. If I was realizing a need for more life-affirming behaviors in my own life, I would have come away with very little.
This principle applies across many facets of life — relationships, religion, fitness, self-development. We need to move from accepting a principle to creating a practice to support it. Often, multiple practices.
Nowhere have I seen this more powerfully demonstrated in my own life than in the power of liturgy. “Read your Bible and pray,” is the cornerstone of advice for spiritual growth, and not without good reason, but I struggled with it for years as I felt the burden of figuring out how to implement it in my life.
Read through the lectionary readings. Pray the Daily Offices. That is concrete practice. In having concrete actions to take, I have found enduring practice. It is no longer up to me to create and evaluate, merely to do. The enduring practice has enriched and deepened my walk with God.
In many areas of life, I still have to decide what to do, and that’s okay. But having been formed in the power of doing has made a difference throughout my life. I want to continue giving concrete actions that others can replicate, because I appreciate it when they do that for me.
¹ I readily acknowledge I am over-thinking a simple 10 minute time of introductions, but the contrast struck me, so I’m trying to figure out what it is and its significance.
² Suicide Intervention Training