Muscle Memory

During the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, gold medal-winning Olympian and sports broadcaster Dominique Dawes made a comment as the USA women’s gymnastics team was warming up. “These girls could do their routines in their sleep”, she said, addressing the question of why we see gymnasts meditating on, or walking through the motions of their routine before their performance. It’s not that these athletes might forget what comes next in their dance, Dawes was getting at, it’s simply something to keep them focused—and to keep them from thinking about other things that might psyche themselves out of a top-performing mentality.

Dawes’ first sentence resonated in my head, prompting a signature reaction of mine, which is to gaze out a window, unblinking, mouth breathing (the same manner in which my girls sat mesmerized during their first and last viewing of “Barney”), and begin a slow-motion hair twirl, completely stoned on the naturally ensuing question in my mind… “what routine am I doing in my sleep?” I pondered and contemplated, me and my dry teeth, missing the whole tumbling performance. I don’t exactly remember when I came-to. Maybe football season.

While there are also some certain differences, the parallels have been drawn many times before between athletes and the Christian life. As all athletes do, these girls had set their sights on a prize (in their case, Olympic Gold) long ago. An appropriate routine was created, and through practice among other things, the prize was now before them.

So I considered my own current routine with (and without) the Prize of Christ; and also, I wistfully imagined a time when my oneness with Him would yield a continual Christ-like “routine” that would be so natural I could do it in my sleep—eyes open or closed—resting or working. And this was where I started, thanks to the 2012 Olympics, but it lead to two bigger questions.

The first one: As Christians, do we know our Prize? More than just stating it, do we truly actually intimately know Him, whom are calling our Prize?

If I truly knew that my Prize is The Redeemer who spared (already done and doing) no expense to be with me, then why am I still trying to earn Him? Am I instead ascribing to a false list of “oughts”, or maybe to the esteem of having an admirably spotless record?

If I actually believed that God is the only all-powerful, all-important reality, then why am I still trying to impress Him with my own strength, or spearhead any sort of agenda that is not His?

If God is love, why do I do things out of fear or guilt?

If God is perfect completion and infinite value, then why am I searching for it instead at the bottom of my to-do list or in my perceived ability as a mother?

If I understood that God’s desire was to unite His goodness with His creation, why do I make my business about delineating and dividing?

If we really knew The Prize, would our daily routine look any different that it is right now?

The second question: What sort of prize is my current routine illuminating?

Have you ever set out to be a good steward of a resource in a way that honors Christ, only to discover that you have enthroned the resource itself, or something like control or security or ego instead? (Color me guilty).

Have you ever spent your entire prayer time centering on a request, and not at all on Christ, and then wondered why you felt even more hopeless or uncertain?

Here’s a sick fact: I have experienced being healed of a thought pattern—a craving—only to resume the behavior leading up to and indulging in this thought simply because I didn’t know how to fill up my day without those motions. I didn’t know how to (or want to?) live in an unfamiliar territory of freedom, and soon enough, the old behaviors lead to a renewed craving for the very thing I’d been healed of. I simply couldn’t imagine a lifestyle where my old habit wasn’t dictating my course. My habit was my prize; and my routine reinforced it.

But we can exploit the flipside of that human facet and find its blessing. Sometimes participating in an act of God’s, like an act of unselfishness or compassion, can serve as a catalyst which generates a craving for an Eternal Prize, not a temporal one.

This segment of our eternal life on earth is partly intended to train for the life to come which includes a routing of finding our need and our fill in Christ. As we train our muscle memory with Christ, to make a routine out of denying ourselves of bitterness, dejection, greed, pride, etc., God-in-us is offered room to increase.

What is our part in becoming more truthfully aligned with what is real eternally? Ought we to change our routine, or change our goal? God is omni-present enough to inhabit both paths, and both are part of my on-going redemption story. Today I’m convicted to start with Christ and abstain from my usual diversions. But whatever we do, let’s choose it for the purpose of self-emptying and Christ-filling, knowing that we can’t rightly do either one without our eye on an ever-clearer Prize.

Help us, God. Awaken us to the True Prize. Help us see and believe the Truth of who you are. Show us what we are really doing in our sleep. Reveal to us what isn’t real, and give us the courage and will to part with it.

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