I've been pondering something for the last six weeks or so. I could not remember a time that just try harder wasn't my mantra. When I was trying to figure out when those words had become a part of my mind set, a childhood scene popped into my head. When I was 9, my parents were struggling in their marriage and brought us kids into the living room to tell us they were going to get a divorce. I remember crying and begging them to just try harder. They listened to us and they each took a short break from the family and each other and came back together and decided to try harder. And try they did. They managed to stay married until we were all out of the house.
In high school I tried hard at a lot of things and when I didn't feel like I did them well enough I would just try harder and harder. Whether I was drawing or writing or do schoolwork, it was not unusual for me to be up most of the night. It was during those years I developed an eating disorder. The way I tried to overcome the disorder was to confess it as sin and try harder. I spent years and years and years just trying harder. It didn't matter what phase I was in--the dieting/restricting phase, the binging phase, the compulsive exercising phase, or the self-condemning thoughts with which I struggled--trying harder was always my goal until I realized I was too exhausted to try anymore and that just trying harder and harder while doing the same thing over and over would never set me free.
There were also different areas of sin that I've dealt with over my lifetime and in the beginning my goal was again always to just try harder. And again, the trying harder didn't often get me freedom from besetting sins that tripped me up. The trying harder phase of life did not allow me to experience grace and give rise to consistent victory. And that increased shame, which often led back to sin.
And then there was my own relationship patterns that had plenty of bumps and bruises in them. I just tried harder as a wife, a mother, a friend, and ministry leader only to find myself exhausted and longing for better relationships, and yet doing and saying things that were detrimental to the relationships I valued. How I longed to be a blessing to others, not a burden; a giver, not a taker; an encourager, not a critic; a radical giver of love, not one sucking others dry; and a bold truth speaker, not a people pleaser, driven by fear.
As I was contemplating where the trying harder came from, the words from 1 Timothy 4:7b, 15 popped into my head, "Rather train yourself for godliness...practice these things immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. (I know I skipped a few verses here and encourage you to read the whole chapter.) What if we deleted the words "just try harder" from our vocabulary and looked at growth through a lens of training and practicing?
If one is training for a sport or a job, there are things she might do. She might read training materials, attend classes, employ a life, professional, or sports coach to work with. After gaining head knowledge, she would then begin to put that knowledge into practice under the guidance of a coach, who could help her set reasonable goals that would enable her to grow in her skills, while at the same time not setting herself up for failure. When she fails or stumbles, the coach helps her reevaluate what she did in the moment and what she could do differently to get a different outcome without getting disheartened. It is in this way an athlete can earn medals, a teacher can become a master teacher, or a public speaker can capture an audience. This is applying the principles of 1 Timonthy 4!
I realize now that when I sought help from a Christian therapist for my eating disorder, I started therapy with the just try harder mindset. Before long my therapist began to provide education, trauma therapy, practical tools that I could practice using, and helped me set reasonable goals that were doable and helped me quit doing the same thing over and over, hoping for a different outcome. In addition, she allowed me to experience both truth and grace, giving me a safe place to be totally honest when I stumbled and helped me learn from the failures and move forward more quickly. I continued to try hard because I wanted to gain freedom, but I also learned to try smarter by applying the principles of training and practicing that are found in 1 Timonthy 4. The eating disorder work wasn't so black and white or all or nothing for me anymore. The disorder was complex, and I leaned to look for growth in a lot of different areas not just in the ability to rigidly adhere to a diet.
When my parents were struggling in their marriage, there was not a lot of good materials on marriage and their generation was more private. So, they didn't have anyone other than their kids begging them to try harder. But I have realized my husband and I have had concepts of training and practice built into our marriage. We spent years in a fellowship group reading and discussing books on marriage with other people who valued marriage and wanted to learn how to have godly marriages. Then we spent some time in a counselor's office talking more specifically about the weaknesses in our marriage and were able to gain some valuable education and tools and see healthier communication demonstrated for us. In addition, we have been a part of a lay counseling ministry and at times have had the privilege of educating, giving tools and encouragement, and reminders of the importance of practicing over and over what at times feels foreign to the couple and if we are honest to us as well.
When I look back at the times that I was trying to overcome besetting sin and growing in godliness, I was more successful and grew more when I applied the principles of training and practicing. A part of the education was saturating my mind with God's word and the truth about who He is and who am in relationship to Him. I also educated myself on what I was dealing with at the time and put into place accountability, mentoring, counseling, or coaching, with someone who could see the big picture and help me set reasonable goals that help set me up for success.
I wish every young-in-the-faith believer were taught the concepts of training in godliness and practicing the things that promote growth, rather than focusing on a list of sins to avoid or things to do to be a "good" Christian.
I wish that parents would begin to teach their children to be godly friends by applying training and practicing. They need to be taught about relationships and practicing the skills they need to navigate them when their relationships become hard.
I wish that every young couple getting married would go into it with an understanding of God's beautiful design of marriage and then gain the training they need to begin to build a godly marriage and then practice the things they learn over and over until they become second nature to them. I love how God loves us and gives us what we need to grow in godliness.
But this gal is just trying harder no more, I am training and practicing.