I picked up a copy of the Times Ed Supplement resting on the coffee table. There was an article about teachers (only to be expected) and the way in which the first three years of a teaching career is a flurry of learning and trying new things. After three years, it would appear, teachers lose the ability to learn new things and fall into a rut. Twenty years or more experience isn’t really twenty years at all – just three years, and then the rest of the time is repeating those first few years over and over again.
The article went on to contrast the life of a teacher with chess players who become Grand Masters and violin players who become professionals. What makes them the Master or the professional is “practice”. What makes the difference between the good players and the best players is down to 40% more practice and practising things they didn’t know. They weren’t necessarily things that they found enjoyable to do, or fun to do, and they were hard work to do – but that’s what they did.
It’s easy enough, I suppose, to triumph in your safety zone – but to push yourself out of it and do something you have never done before is a lot more challenging.
As a teacher I couldn’t help but reflect a little on whether that description applied to me - three years learning to teach and then repeating it over again and again for the next twenty to thirty years or more. Did that describe my career? Not entirely! I can’t say that every year brings a flurry of new ideas and trying new things because that would not be true. But neither are the things I am doing now, the same things I was doing thirty or more years ago. I see it more as a series of jumps or hops – a flurry of activity and a time of rut-time, followed by another flurry and another period of rut-time. Rut-time is the wrong expression. If an activity has gone well it gets repeated, tweaked a little here and there. If the car isn’t broken, don’t take it to the garage to get it fixed.
More recently I am not in rut-time, but in full flurry.
As I was reading the article what came to mind is whether the stuff written about teachers could equally apply to Christians. I can’t think of any Christian that would not look back on the opening years of their life in Christ and see a flurry learning and activity as they explore the new relationship they have come into. Is there are time when what happens next is simply a rehash of those first experiences? Do we reach a time in our Christian lives when we have stepped over a line as it were, and we are safe, and as long as we keep going to church, reading our Bibles and praying, we have done our part. We triumph in our safety zones and perfect our moves.
Does this in anyway describe my Christian life? Again, I have to say, not entirely. As much as I would like, not just every year, but every day, every moment to be a flurry of trying new things – actually I am not sure I would like my Christian life to be like that, or whether God would want it that way either. There shouldn’t be any rut-time – but rut-time and rest time are very different things. Just looking outside, trees are resting right now. There are not leaves as yet, but I can see branches puckering and swelling, making way for a bud to explode as soon as the warm weather comes. The trees are resting in readiness for activity that’s on the way.
As regards my Christian life I am sure I am not in rut-time, I may have been in rest time but I am sure I am in bud time.
It is the 40% more practice that challenges me – that and practising the things that I don’t know. I know how to study the Bible, and how to pray. I know how to go to church every week. I am learning how to use what I have learnt to bring my life into line with how God says I should live. I am beginning to love my enemies and pray for those who hurt me. There are other things that I haven’t even begun to learn to do, but I am going to start to learn to do them.