In North America, baseball's spring training is in full swing. In the Southern Hemisphere, teams are gearing up for another soccer or rugby season. And more and more training squads are bringing psychologists into the locker room to get the players mentally tough and motivated.
This prompted me to think about how much mental and spiritual training I'm doing to get fit for the daily challenges of work, service to my community, and meaningful recreation.
I turned to a "training manual" I've used since I was old enough to read. I have a well-worn marker in my Bible at the opening chapter of Second Peter, which has often given me reassurance at the start of a project: "Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God .... His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness..." (1:2-4). That impressed me - everything we need.
"For this very reason," it continues, "make every effort" to add to your faith several things - seven to be exact.
And we can be willing to allow God to effect whatever character changes this regimen requires.
I've devised my own training schedule based on these seven qualities.
First comes goodness. Goodness is the very nature of God. And it's the knowledge of God's pure goodness that gives me the mental balance to keep from being overwhelmed by or indifferent to the "corruption in the world." The main way I've found to renew my faith that goodness is also the nature of humanity is to make it my goal to express it and appreciate it in others. Make it a point to refuse to be idle, critical of others, greedy, irritable, envious, inconsiderate. If I'm focusing on goodness, those just don't fit in.
One form of goodness is self-control. Working on this has also brought balance into my life, keeping me from going over the top - overreacting (even when provoked), overspending, over-eating. Something that has helped me gain more self-control is yielding to God, who creates, sustains, and loves us beyond measure. When I give up my will about particular situations and listen for God's direction, I find it improves my judgment, helps me weigh my words, and give better counsel. The wheels of society would fall off without self-control. It's essential in family life, schoolrooms, workplaces, international affairs - and on the sports field!
I'm also learning that perseverance doesn't have to involve strenuous physical effort. What's essential is perseverance in prayer - never losing sight of spiritual goals.
I sometimes feel a bit intimidated by the awesome word godliness. But there's nothing wrong with a high goal, and I find a good question to ask myself is, "When people look at me, can they see even the tiniest glimmer of the nature of God expressed in what I say and do?"
This question relates to brotherly kindness, and I know one of the most important aspects of spiritual training to me is to be more alert to spot the predicaments in which I can help people without waiting to be asked. Sometimes, I've seen that the best help I can offer is prayer. I can always pray to help others feel God's presence in their lives.
Love may seem anomalous in training for highly competitive sports, but it sums up all the qualities mentioned, and more. It's patient, constructive, modest, well-mannered, unselfish, calm, joyful, enduring, trusting, hopeful, unfailing (see I Cor., chap. 13).
A magnificent seven. Just as good coaches constantly go through the basics with their teams, so anyone who wants to progress spiritually can benefit from a regular review of the fundamentals of faith-filled living. God provides everyone with the strength and ability to train cheerfully and with confidence, and there's nothing to compare with the learning and growing that happen in the process.
The ideas in this article are explored more fully in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of the Monitor.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor