If asked to describe their favorite type of student, most seasoned teachers will not name the “smartest” or “worst” student, but those that are the most teachable. There is something endearing about a person who yearns to learn. They are receptive to new concepts and seem to perpetually hunger for improvement. It is easy to envision them picking up new hobbies throughout their lives. They hustle and constantly inspire long the way.
While coaching track many years ago, I met a young man who epitomized that restless energy to improve. He was a short kid with stubby legs who, quite frankly, was a mediocre, mid-pack runner. He neither helped nor hurt the team in points but was dependable for showing up at every practice and giving his best. We pushed him hard towards the end of the season and in his last meet of grade school, he ran his first sub 6:00 mile. It was a huge personal accomplishment for him.
He called the following spring and asked if the other long distance coach and I could come watch one of his high school meets. At the meet, this young man shocked us by running his first lap in 52 seconds. As we glanced nervously down at our watches, we speculated that the freshman had gone out too fast and would burn out before by the third lap. He continued strong and as the gun went off, signaling that the lead runner had started the final lap, this spirited young man kicked it in, finishing second with a time of 4:57! I’ll never forget the other coach and I looking at each other in joyous disbelief at seeing him break the 5:00 mile. We then started jumping up and down uncontrollably. All the long, tedious practices had paid off. We were so proud of him.
People often tell me of their frustration with their growth in the spiritual life. They don’t feel any different so they give up trying. In the spiritual realm, hustling can be difficult because we can’t measure progress easily and the effort is more marathon than sprint. In fact, since we should strive to constantly improve throughout our entire lives, the path to holiness could be technically defined as a death march! We shouldn’t let the nebulous nature of spirituality daunt us. Sometimes I ask God not to make me holy but increase my desire to become holy. “Help me want to be holy, O Lord.” In a sense, I am merely asking God to open me to His Spirit and guidance so I can be a life-long learner. In modern parlance, “Keep me connected Lord so that I can get updates and upgrades! I want to be Me 2.0, Me 2.3, Me 3.1…” We do our utmost and leave it to God. Like the spirited runner, let us desire to have the lifelong, steady hustle, constantly driving to improve, so we cross the line and make Him proud.