Practice Makes Doesn't Make Perfect

The acrid smell of chlorine stung my nose as I peered through the damp air. Warm tendrils of steam rising from the churning surface of the pool obscured my view of the swimmers. From my perspective, all I could see were heads, arms, and an occasional foot rising above the water. 

Coach Irwin, however, could see it all. 

“Duck your head more.” He shouted to a struggling swimmer. “Push off hard with your feet. Count the number of strokes to the wall.” 

Sometimes he’d pull a swimmer from the water. 

“Turn your arm like this,” he’d say, demonstrating the stroke. “Now you try it.” 

“Everybody always says, ‘Practice makes perfect,’” he’d say to me in his clipped New York accent. “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. However they practice, that’s what will become permanent. This is why they’ve got to practice it right." 

Practice makes permanent. Coach Irwin’s wise words have returned to me many times in the 15 years since he coached my daughters’ swim team. Their application extends far beyond the swimming pool. 

Whatever habit we practice will become permanent, whether we intend it to or not. Take worry, for example. At 18, I had practiced worrying a lot. I worried about what had happened in the past, what was happening in the present, and what might happen in the future. I worried so much that if you checked the default setting on my life, you’d see the toggle button firmly set on WORRY. 

When I became a Christian, however, I learned worry isn’t just a personality trait, it’s a sin. YIKES.

“Do not be anxious about anything,” Philippians 4:6 commands.

Don’t be anxious? Don’t worry or fret? If I don’t stew and churn, how am I supposed to deal with the scary things that come into my life? “. . . but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” 

Pray instead of fret? Intercede instead of worry? Petition instead of stress?

The practice of worrying had become permanent in my life, but as a Christian, I knew this sin had to go. And the only way to break a bad habit is to replace it with a good habit. 

“Practice makes permanent,” Coach Irwin had said, and he was right. I needed to practice a new habit, a better habit, a helpful, healthy, God-sanctioned, permanent habit. 

Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” so that’s what I purposed to do. 

Health crisis? Pray. 

Economic uncertainty? Pray. 

Relationship difficulties? Pray. 

Heartbreak? Pray. Loneliness, fear, uncertainty? Pray. 

Psychologists say it takes 21 days to establish a new habit. Well I’ve been training for 21 years, and sometimes I still struggle. Just the other night, when I should have been sleeping, I was worrying instead. One fear fed another until my brain was whirling with scary pictures and dreadful possibilities. 

Then the sweet, soft voice of the Holy Spirit spoke truth into my troubled heart. “When I am afraid, I will trust in you (Psalm 56:3). I will lie down and sleep, for you, O Lord, cause me to dwell in safety (Psalm 4:8). Pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17).”

I still have a way to go before prayer becomes my default setting, but the more I exchange worry for prayer, the more permanent the habit will become. 

“Practice makes permanent,” Coach Irwin said. 

Which habit are you practicing today? Now it’s your turn. Do you struggle with worry? What do you do to combat it? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Note: I'm sad to say that Coach Irwin passed away recently. As my daughter said in a memorial post:

In my mind you'll always be stalking the pool deck with your booming voice and demand for perfection in every detail of practice. The world seems a little smaller and much too quiet tonight without you in it, Coach. Rest easy. #practicemakespermanent

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  1. Thank you so much for your transparency Lori. I too grew up a worrier, well into adulthood. Yes, let's pray, pray, pray

    1. Amen, Julie, amen. Prayer is the only path to peace. Thanks for reading today.


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