Experienced runners know their bodies and how much to drink during a long race. One typically has to choose between water and sport drinks provided at the drink stations. In my early races, I would sloppily down sport drinks most of the course, crossing the finish line in a sweaty, sticky mess. The high amount of sugar in these drinks caused me to feel slightly light-headed and even gave me hallucinations (it is unlikely that I actually looked like Super Mario after touching a star – sprinting with a wake of electrolyte dust trailing me). After seeking the advice of fellow runners and practicing the cup grab, the water/sports drink balance was struck and I could expertly grab the cup without stopping, crease it, and down the liquid in two or three gulps. It looks effortless and shaves minutes off my time. Even tossing the cup on the street looks graceful.
Moving into the spiritual realm, have you ever observed an older person and thought that they pretty much act like an angel all the time? I meet elderly who pray, volunteer, and have such a cheery disposition that I marvel at their purity and innocence. Where did these people come from? How did they remain so unblemished by an angry and cynical society? They live in the same world that we all do and have seen wars, famine, terrorism, and hatred during their long lives. So why do they seem to be in the world but not of the world?
The fallacy is that they have always exuded sanctity; this simply is not true. Most put countless hours of practice into becoming that way, honing in on the important things in life. Perhaps they are like the boy at the end of book The Giving Tree who realized that he missed out on crucial aspects of life while chasing material goods. I doubt that “holiness” is their default position (it certainly isn’t mine), but they worked at it. By the time that they reach a ripe old age, they can do it with less effort. They avoid the pitfalls in their path and know that the cramps will pass. Unlike like in running, efforts in our spiritual life are more cumulative, as if we keep the foundation of good works perpetually. To paraphrase a lovely British lady that I once visited in her London nursing home, “My dear, I was once beautiful and ran around with a wild crowd, but now you can see me as an old and refined lady. Trust me, God loves us so much that He doesn’t let us stay the same. Thank God He changed me…too bad it took me 86 years, two wars, and three husbands to get the message!”