The wind whipped the snow across the dark highway as I crept along at 35 mph. Once in a while I could see the yellow center line or the outside white line. They became a source of comfort letting me know I was at least still on the road. When I left Blair at 5:00 Sun. Jan 22nd it was still warm enough that I stayed comfortable giving a two-hour private lesson outdoors.  After hitting the snow storm on the west side of Dodge, I decided to try to make it to Humphrey where I could get a motel room. I didn’t think I would ever get there.  It wouldn’t be the first time I have had to stay there in my winter travels to Omaha and Lincoln to give lessons with my regular students.

I arrived at the motel about 7:30 pm which gave me the evening to reflect about the lessons I had given over the weekend. One thing kept standing out in my mind:  The kind of practice a student has been doing since I last saw them at the end of October makes a big difference in where they are now. I am reminded that only pertinent and deliberate practice which is consistent produces positive progress.

I observed two extremes of practice as I worked with students and their horses. We will call student one IIP (Inappropriate, Inconsistent, Practice). We will call student two PDP (Pertinent, Deliberate, Practice).  Then there are some people in-between these two extremes, and there is also those who don’t practice at all. Maybe worst of all are those who make practice become a drill. However, we won’t focus on those. I would like to explain a little more about IIP and PDP.

An IIP student comes to me with a problem. I give them some good solutions which are pertinent. I know if these solutions are deliberately practiced consistently over time without making it a drill, they will move toward the desired results of eliminating the problem. Instead of doing this an IIP doesn’t follow the instructions given. I often see them go back to what they have been doing. Maybe because it is comfortable to them. But obviously it hasn’t been working for them, and most likely it caused the problem to start with. The IIP may even try to put layers of bandages over the problem, which over time just creates a bigger problem.

Without mentioning any names, I did have some IIP students this weekend whose problem had actually gotten worse since I last saw them. When I asked if they had been doing the exercises I gave them last time, which I knew would help solve the problem. The IIP student not only admitted to not doing the exercises,  they could not even remember how. So we went back to the beginning and sure enough in two hours the horse had made some phenomenal positive progress.  However, I can promise any IIP student the problem will get worse again if they do not deliberately and consistently practice the things which are pertinent to the issues. Yes, it won’t be as fun, and it will take discipline and patience. But do you want to heal the problem for good or have to keep dealing with it in different forms?

Then I had an amazing lesson with a PDP student who had not only done her homework, she kept it up for two months before she even rode her horse again. The horse’s issue was not standing still for saddling or mounting. I mean he was very worried. Her assignment was to play the friendly game with all of the equipment (pads, saddle, ropes, mounting block) until he could stand still and relax while doing it. She did not even ride him until she accomplished this and more.

Then once he had truly accepted the equipment, she played the friendly game with her body (mounting the horse bareback). When he could not only accept this but enjoy it, then she moved on to mounting with the saddle from the mounting block. She was committed to her PDP for two months and it paid off with huge dividends. She was so excited to show me the results of her PDP.  The horse stood still and relaxed for saddling and mounting, in fact his leg was cocked and his head low. If I hadn’t seen the before I would not have believed the horse had any issue being saddled or mounted.  She had a wonderful riding lesson with me which was what she wanted to do the last time. I am so proud we were not willing to just push through to get what we wanted at the last lesson instead of doing what was best for the horse. I am so happy for both of them now and I know the partnership they will have from here on will continue to blossom because the human is willing to only practice deliberately that which is pertinent.

Practice defined in the dictionary  is the act of rehearsing a behavior over and over, or engaging in an activity again and again, for the purpose of improving or mastering it, as in the phrase “practice makes perfect”. But I will add that only perfect practice makes perfect.

How well one improves with practice depends on several factors, such as the frequency it is engaged in, the type of feedback that is available for improvement and how pertinent the practice is. Practice should be scheduled, to ensure enough of it is performed to reach one’s training objectives. How much practice is required depends upon the nature of the activity, and upon both the level of the horse and the rider. Some people or horses improve on a particular activity faster than others.

How expert one becomes at a skill has more to do with how one practices than with merely performing a skill a large number of times. An expert breaks down the skills that are required to be expert and focuses on improving those skill chunks during practice. Skills fade with non-use. The phenomenon is often referred to as being “out of practice”. Practice is therefore performed (on a regular basis) to keep skills and abilities honed.

Deliberate practice lies in continually practicing a skill at more challenging levels with the intention of mastering it. Deliberate practice is successful when supported by rewards for excellent performance.

How can we apply all this talk about practice to our spiritual lives?

James 1:22 says “Do not merely listen to the word and deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

I think it is clear this scripture is telling us to get out there and do our homework like the PDP student above did. Become a person who practices what the word preaches.

I was reading about a guy who came to church late. He walked in right near the end of the service. He said to an usher, “Is the sermon done yet?” The usher answered wisely. He said, “The sermon has been preached, but it has yet to be done.”

That slick reply pretty much sums up the message of the book of James. The word of God is not just meant to be preached. It’s meant to be practiced. We must not only hear the word. We must heed the word.

Today, what kind of person are you? Are you a hearer only; or are you also a doer of the word?

In no way are we trying to say we can earn our way to heaven. Salvation is a free gift from God. It is not something  we earn, but rather it is something we receive. However,  after we receive the free gift of salvation we are called to be practicing Christians which includes applying the word of God to our lives with actions.

It took discipline and patience for the above student to deliberately practice the pertinent exercises which helped solve the issues her horse was having. Spiritual disciplines are patterns of behavior that, when practiced faithfully and regularly, draw you closer to the will of God and facilitate spiritual growth.

Are you drawing closer to the will of God and growing spiritually as a result of your faithful and regular practice of being a doer of the word?


2 thoughts on “Practicing

  1. annsampson says:

    Beautiful beautiful summary Sherry.
    I can so relate and enjoyed it a bunch!
    Thank you!

  2. Sherry says:

    Thank you for responding Ann, it is always a challenge to practice what we preach, whether we are a parent, a teacher, a boss, or whatever.
    I am glad you enjoyed this message.

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