I've heard it said that an authentic life is one in which what is preached is also practiced. Practice what you preach, right? An especially apropos idiom for those of us inclined toward the pastoral vocational track.
When it comes to practicing what I preach, I'm glad the suggested action is "practice" and not "master." Life, in so many ways, is about reoccurring opportunities to practice. To try and try and try again. There isn't much (if anything) I've mastered yet, but I've sure done a lot of practicing. Lately, even more so than usual.
I preach a lot about the importance of grace. Giving it and receiving it. From God and from others.
Recently, I got a chance to practice grace. The organization I work for hired a company to facilitate the sound engineering at an event. The technician we hired was late. It wasn't a huge deal, but as the clock ticked closer and closer to start time, I began to panic. The event visuals and audio fell under my responsibility area, and I didn't want to fail. When the sound technician arrived, I felt a large nudge of impatience within. "Full of grace" was not my inner emotional state.
Some little part of me wanted the tech to be sorry and apologetic about the tardiness and my ensuing worry-fest. But she wasn't. She said plainly and directly, "I was thinking it was an 8:45 a.m. start time instead of 8:15 a.m. Sorry." Then she went about her business. On the outside, I was pleasant. But on the inside, I wasn't very graceful. On in the inside, I was thinking, "Doesn't she know how worried and stressed I've been feeling for the past 30 minutes? Waaa. Boo-hoo. Poor me."
Needed more practice
Looking back, I can clearly see that the way she handled it was smart and mature. She didn't wallow in her mistake. She knew it wasn't a huge deal. Within two minutes of her arrival, she had everything set up and ready to go. No one even noticed the tardiness. She was really good at her job! While I got opportunities during the event to affirm and encourage her, I knew I had missed the grace mark right from the start with my impatient innards. I needed more practice.
That night I got another chance. I was at a restaurant with a crowd of friends. It was fun and the food was delicious. I love guacamole, and I also love scallops. Both were involved, so it was a good night. Then the waitress accidentally dropped a glass of water all over my lap. My first thought had nothing to do with my cold, wet dress or the glass on the floor. Instead, my first thought was, "Do-over time! Now's my chance to practice grace again. Let's see if inner-Emily can be a little more understanding this time."
Thanks be to God for practice. The water glass spillage was a chance to practice something I had just failed at a few hours prior. That felt good. I will need to keep practicing for the rest of my life.
Taking it hard
A few days later I got to practice what I preach again — this time about receiving feedback. I was talking to a fellow communications professional. She was sharing about how frustrating it can be when people direct and misdirect their feedback toward her. I was quick to talk about how important it is never to take comments and evaluations personally.
A few hours later: practice time. I overheard someone criticizing a particular project I worked on closely. It wasn't overtly offensive. It was just critical feedback. At first, I regressed into my default mode. I did precisely what I told my friend not to do. I took it personally: "OH NO! NO ONE LIKES ME. I STINK AT LIFE." Next thought: "When will I ever get it right? I've got to try harder and be more lovable."
Apparently I need more practice in the area of feedback receptivity. I recognized within about 30 minutes that my thought pattern was irrational. I needed to practice what I had preached to my friend: Step back from the source of the feedback, pull out what's constructive, learn from it, release the rest, and move forward. I'll be honest: I'm definitely going have to keep practicing!
God gives us daily opportunities to practice in all areas of our lives. Don't be afraid to admit to yourself and others when you miss the mark. It's normal. We're all on a daily quest of learning, messing up, and trying again. It's all about practice, and it's all about grace.