Practice, Football Deflation, and A Soft Heart

My Holy Yoga teacher last week asked a very interesting question. She asked us to think about what we had been practicing that week. She said that she had been practicing anger and was finding that she was becoming really good at it.
Yoga is called a practice. I think it is because you practice doing things in yoga so that you can do them in life—stuff like taking deep breaths, breathing through discomfort, standing tall. So when she asked me that question it took me by surprise because usually when I think of practice I think of it as practicing for something you WANT to be doing. But it is amazing how often we practice doing things we don’t want to do.
Like practicing being negative. Practicing holding grudges. Practicing over-eating chocolate. Cheating.
It has been interesting to follow the sporting world in the wake of what happened to the New England Patriots. They had 12 footballs they were given for the game and when they were inspected before the game, they were within regulation. After the game, 11 of the 12 footballs were found to be significantly underinflated. Apparently this makes them easier to throw and catch.
I have heard all kinds of things. And interestingly most have been along the lines of: Everybody does it. You’re not trying if you’re not cheating. And folks are just jealous of the Patriots’ success [that’s what the Patriots say, anyway].
I have to say this bothers me. I might be naïve as I’m sure I would be surprised to find out all the ways teams and players bend the rules in the name of getting whatever advantage they can in order to win. Dare I say, even the Seahawks do this??? And even though the rules are black and white, there are grey areas, and it looks like Belichick [the Pats coach] spends a lot of time practicing using those gray areas.
I can’t help but think about some things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew. One of them was that you have heard it said you shall not commit adultery, but I say if you even look at a woman with lust you have already committed adultery with her in your mind. Now, I know Jesus was really pushing the law to the max to show us how ALL of us fall short and can’t follow the law, but I also think he was cautioning us about those gray areas and how sneaky they are.
How many have justified adultery when it started out with just making contact online, “we never actually DID anything!” But this is a slippery slope. Because you do a few things, then other things get easier. Like that practice. The more you practice sort of cheating, the easier cheating for real becomes.
So I guess what bothers me is the mindset that if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. I just don’t want that to be true. But when I was asked about what I’m practicing by my teacher, I have to ask myself in what ways I’m practicing cheating myself and others.
Tom Brady, one of the great quarterbacks, and Bill Belichick, one of the great coaches, will likely always have doubt about what they REALLY accomplished because people will wonder if they could have done it without cheating, even if it might have been “legal.”
On Sunday, we start the Sermon on the Mount by reading the Beatitudes. One of them says that the blessed ones are the ones with a pure heart. And that made me think of one of our 90 plus year old shut-ins. She is an amazing woman and has such a strong faith. As our visit was coming to a close, I asked her if there were any things in particular she wanted me to pray about with her. She told me, “well, I always pray that I will have a soft heart.”
I told her it was sure working. She is so faithful and kind and pleasant. I also told her I’m going to start praying for a soft heart too. Because this is what I want to be practicing.
It really is too bad that all the sports world can talk about is cheating, but I suppose it is not surprising. If you are practicing winning at all costs, that is what you are going to start to get good at doing.
So I want to challenge myself and you to think about what we are practicing. And then to pray for hearts that seek what God wants. Hearts that are soft and open and on the side of their neighbor. Because neighbors seek each other’s welfare, not harm. And they don’t cheat, even if they can get away with it.


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