Being someone who moves around—have since I was a kid who attended almost as many schools are there are grades up to grade 9—I have become accustomed to being a beginner, a newbie, uncomfortable and not sure where I belong. It may be hard because I am less rooted and don’t root well where I land. This can also serve one well sometimes, like in jobs that involve moving a few times or when one wants to start something new and the learning curve will be steep.
Recently I started swimming with a swim club in Ottawa. I was a bit nervous, I must admit, I cannot even do the fancy turn at the wall that most swimmers can handle easily, I haven’t swum competitively, I hate being last. I knew there would be ironman athletes and the like, and I hoped and trusted I would not be in their lane.
When I arrived, of course, the people were kind and generous, and warm and welcoming as we huddled out of the rain waiting for the clock to strike 5:55am when the staff would let us in. The coach was clear, excited to have so many folks out so early in the morning, there was a lot of laughter (especially for the time of day). In the pool things were fine and laughs were had and lanes were shared as we all found our place in the pecking order (the Ironman-superhuman club were off to the far right of the pool where the rest of wouldn’t get in their way).
The experience was a helpful reminder that for many starting something new, or approaching something new can be intimidating, and that comparing oneself to someone else further along the path may be helpful—if we find motivation in it—or it may be unhelpful—if we forget that we have not put in the work and time and effort others have and thus judge ourselves failures. I have written this before but I will write it again, spiritual disciplines are not about winners and losers, but about people on a journey, they are not about who is in from and who is behind, except insofar as we can be mentors, guides, helpers to each other. Part of the upside down kingdom of God is that those who are ahead are called only to serve those behind them, not to shame or take advantage of them somehow.
One motivational trick the coach used was he clearly expected all of us to be competent and to show up again ready to go and that we would find ourselves improving. He didn’t need to know our swim history, or about any of our failures or successes in the pool or in life to make these assumptions, he just gave us the benefit of the doubt, and knew that in doing so he would motivate us to reach for one more lap of the pool, or to get out of bed on the next cold morning we are scheduled to swim. He knows this because he has (I would guess) experienced it himself, has seen other athletes go through the process, and trusts that it will happen again.
I pray that I could somehow do that with you. No matter your life story God wants to connect with you. No matter your failures in past, personal, public, material, spiritual, I know that when the Holy Spirit takes hold of you (and you will know it when it happens) you will be ready to read one more verse, offer one more prayer, sit and listen to God for one more minute, welcome someone to your home, offer patience, gentleness, kindness, or exhibit self-control. I know this because I have experienced it myself, I have watched others do it, and I trust it will happen again.
So go ahead, pick up a new discipline, if it helps, talk to those more experienced in it, but if that scares you or hurts your motivation, forget those folks and just start and see what happens. Spirituality is big, there is plenty of room for you, grab a lane.