Summer nights like tonight are the kind that inspire love songs and adventure stories. I love being from the South. Fireflies and tomato sandwiches, sweet tea and biscuits. Sign me up. Even as this week has been a stark reminder of how our terrible past still haunts us, I've been brought to a season of personal prayer and repentance. Prior to Jesus, my disdain for people was both universal and indiscriminate. I mostly thought everyone was an idiot, or maybe that was just a side effect of being a teenager. Either way, I am continually humbled by the intersection of grace and providence in my life that has taught me love and repentance.
My reading of 1 Samuel this month is well timed with the season. Song writing, sling toting shepherds defeating giants and psychologically unstable kings trying to hold on to power. These are stories for the back porch on a steamy summer night like tonight. The battle between selfishness and holiness in Saul, the first king of Israel, has always been one of the most terrifying stories of the Bible for me. Because he loses. He's anointed with the Spirit of the Lord, for crying out loud, and he still manages to descend into unimaginable selfishness and disobedience. That's way more terrifying than a fiery furnace, because it is way more possible for me. Saul chooses to listen to the voices of fear and insecurity, descending into insanity and unspeakable evil. Utterly terrifying.
I paired my reading of 1 Samuel with an unlikely book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. Despite the title it's not a religious book at all, rather it's a conglomeration of sociological and psychological studies artfully woven together in a series of compelling narratives. The premise of the book is that our fascination with underdog stories is often based on a poor reading of the text. From David and Goliath to the civil rights movement, Gladwell reframes the discussion to show that what we assume are unassailable strengths turn out to be great weakness, and often what appears as weakness may actually be strength.
Consider one of my favorite, though often overlooked parts of 1 Samuel 17. David finally makes it around to Saul, offering to fight Goliath. When Saul points out how small David is, David responds with quite the list of achievements, having killed both lions an bears while being a lowly shepherd. I find the plural here amusing. Either there was an abundance of lions and bears near David with a hankering for sheep, or God sent those animals specifically to prepare David for what lay ahead. In another of his books, Outliers, Gladwell explains the 10,000 hour rule. Study after study shows that perceived greatness in fields from composing to professional hockey to computer programming starts somewhere around the 10,000 hour mark. After 10,000 hours of practicing something, you start to get really good at it. In other words, there are no prodigies. David had clearly reached the 10,000 hour mark somewhere in the wilderness and now could sling stones at speeds several times that of a modern major league pitcher. Rightly understood, David had the clear advantage, not Goliath.
And that scares me too. David's battle with Goliath wasn't won on the battlefield that day. It wasn't a single act of faith. David's battle was won when he stood alone in the fields with only the sheep around, forcing himself to practice over and over and over. David's battle was won in the lonely 10,000 hours of faithful obedience when no one was looking. His triumph over self will was won by the daily disciplines for which he still receives no credit. Why isn't this the story we tell each other? Why do we persist in the illusion that divine providence was only in the throwing of the single stone and not in the 10,000 hours of practice? Why do we credit faith only in the large moments when those are merely the byproducts of 10,000 previous smaller acts of faith?
I spent most of the first 18 years of my life (way more than 10,000 hours, FYI) practicing hate by default because I was not actively loving. The damage those years did to people around me is probably more devastating than I can imagine. Did I contribute to the pain and suffering of others in such a way as to make them more hateful? Most likely.
Even in the 18 years I've known Christ, there are many days I feel more like Saul than David. Each tiny act of faithfulness threatened by fear, laziness, and selfishness. I can blame technology, other people, physical ailments... but truthfully it is a lack of faith that what I do right now, when no one is looking, is more important that what I do in front of others. I have been spiritually and emotionally destroyed by that truth recently because I do not always make good choices, and those bad choices have consequences. 10,000 hours of practicing selfishness can be as devastating in my life as it was in Saul's. It can be just as devastating in my son's life, in the lives of my friends and students, and in the lives of strangers I meet every day. That is scary.
So I have spent this week repenting and grieving the sins of my people, each and every large act of hate is mirrored in the unseen acts of selfishness in my own heart. Such tiny acts of unfaithfulness accumulated over generations and distances has allowed evil to ravage this world I love unchallenged like the giant Goliath. So I am praying for one more hour of faithfulness for today, and another for tomorrow, and the day after that, and so on because I still have a long way to go on my 10,000 hours. But maybe, just maybe, after a few more thousand hours, I will be ready to sling my stone at the darkness.