The Prize is in the Process

One of the things I like about the instruction I am doing right now is that we don’t give grades. We don’t design instruction to meet a finish line; instead, we celebrate every step of the process — every attempt, every mistake, every win. All day long, I cheer on my students (and my staff) for showing up, for trying hard things, for taking chances, and for participating in the process.

It’s scary to participate in a process that you have no guarantee of finishing or winning. Would you register for a 5K if you didn’t think you could at least finish? What if every time you have attempted a 5K you have collapsed before the first turn? Who of us would sign up for something that has — for us — repeatedly ended in failure?

That’s what my students do every day. Students typically come to Lindamood-Bell when other attempts at reading or comprehension or school in general have ended in failure or severe difficulty, and we ask them to work on the thing that is most difficult for them — five days a week, often two or more hours every day. Even showing up is difficult for most of our students, yet they do show up. So we celebrate even that. We greet them enthusiastically, and we clap and hooray when they try something — especially something that has seemed difficult. The instruction is more focused on the process than the product, and, unfailingly, each of us — the students and the teachers — are changed.

These kids have taught me that the prize is often in the process.

My friend, Marv Fox, says in his soon-to-be-released book, Become, that all things are necessary steps toward achieving our goal. He sees every challenge, every setback, as an opportunity to build muscle that will propel him forward. If he bombs at a public speaking engagement, he learns from that experience — he evaluates the steps he took in preparation and delivery and determines what he can tweak before the next opportunity he has to speak. He doesn’t stop speaking because he bombed; he sees the ‘bomb’ as an opportunity to learn and grow — to be changed by the process.

Marv is not alone in this belief, of course. Yesterday, I participated in a conference on prayer. One of the presenters, Connie Denninger, co-founder of Visual Faith Ministries, reminded participants that everything that happens in our lives is part of our spiritual formation. She said, “I wish I wouldn’t have had to go through some of the things that I have, but they have brought me to the place that I am.” Part of her story is that, as a pastor’s wife, she had never been comfortable praying. When Connie’s mother died at a relatively early age and Connie felt that she had lost her best prayer warrior, she was devastated. Who would pray for her now? In answer to her question, God put Connie on a journey toward a life of prayer that she now chronicles through her blog. In fact, this ministry, formed with friend, Pat Maier, now involves others in Visual Faith communities across the country. Connie and Pat have invited others to join them as they celebrate their process.

For the past several months, I have been reading and writing my way through a book called The Artist’s Way. Each chapter invites the reader to engage in a rhythm of writing every morning (the morning pages), and exploring activities that invite creativity (artist dates). I really did not want to read this book (in fact I wrote about it here), but committing to this process has been transformative. Each morning, as I show up, I find reason to celebrate. I am amazed at what I find myself writing on the pages and how my attitude shifts from the first line to the last. My morning pages have no goal. I have not determined that I will write for 30 days or 60 days or a year and then quit. I have just decided to enter the process of writing every morning and to watch and see what happens. The process alone has been the prize.

Several months ago, my husband was asked to help lead the prayer conference that I participated in yesterday. He is invited to all kinds of events, and I don’t always join him. I have to be judicious about what I say yes to; I always have to be mindful of how much gas I have in the tank. So, when he told me he was going to be part of the prayer conference, I didn’t initially intend to go. He was leaving on a Friday afternoon and would be gone until Saturday night. After a long work week — all that cheering and clapping and such — I knew I wouldn’t have gas in the tank to travel to Lansing and participate all day long on Saturday. I knew that for my weekend re-fuel, I would have to be on the couch.

However, a week or so ago, I discovered that the conference would be live- streamed! So, I sat in my pajamas, with my dog by my side, and joined the discussion of five individuals who have committed to the process of prayer. They shared what they’ve learned by choosing to make prayer — conversation with our Father — part of their everyday lives. They haven’t determined to try prayer for 30 days or 60 days or until their prayer gets answered. They have chosen to daily enter the process and see what happens.

None of the presenters said that they have discovered the key to prayer or that they have arrived at some destination in their prayer life. Rather, they celebrated the fact that they get to join in what God is doing because of the gift of prayer. They each acknowledged that they often have to overcome obstacles to continue in this commitment, but they all affirmed that the activity of prayer itself — the process — is transformative.

I won’t be able to share in one blog post everything I learned yesterday by sitting on my couch and joining others in listening, thinking, writing, and praying, but I will tell you that my choice to show up and invite the change that comes with entering a process was rewarded. I learned. I shifted. I grew.

Yes, commitment to the process takes time, but as I’ve learned from watching my students and from being a student, the process has power to create change. So I’ll continue to show up and to participate in yoga, in writing, in prayer, in life. I’ll sign up, even if I keep falling down, because the running, the falling down, and the getting back up are building muscle, preparing me for what’s next, and propelling me forward.

 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus,

Hebrews 12:1-2

all things

This week God has answered SO. MANY. PRAYERS.  I really can’t tell you about any of them, but trust me when I say He has been coming through BIG TIME!

So why am I sitting here on a Friday afternoon in a grumpy old funk?  Because I’m letting some ‘things of this earth’ cloud my view of my ‘treasures in heaven’.  It is really that simple.  Yet I can’t shake it.

And, truly, I’ve even been blessed this week by some of the ‘things of this earth’.  I am well-fed.  I’ve made it to the gym three times. I have worked with a half dozen students.  My husband made it across the state and back in the middle of this treacherous winter.  Our car continues to start even when the temperature is well below zero.

In fact, there are really just a couple little ‘things’ that are bumming me out.  Our tax man called to tell us the opposite of what I hoped he was going to tell us. (I’m telling you, God really wants me to learn this trust lesson right now.) And, we had to cancel a trip to see the grand baby because of a winter storm warning.  In the grand scheme of life, these are small potatoes.  I can’t tell you how many financial crises we have survived through the grace of God.  I can’t tell you how many trips to see family or friends we have had to postpone due to weather.  These things, too, shall pass.  So why am I letting them cloud the joy of all the answered prayers I have personally witnessed this week?

Because I am a selfish human being.  I want things all figured out.  I want what I expect.  I don’t like change.  I am still learning to be still and know that He is God and I am not.  I am such a slow learner.  Funny, I know.  The teacher struggles to learn.

Here’s what I am going to do.  I am going to give myself exactly sixty minutes to wallow in disappointment and self-pity.  I am going to feel totally horrible about the fact that we have to pay more money to the IRS.  I am going to mourn the fact that I am not going to get to hold ten pounds of sweet-smelling perfection this evening. Then, I am going to pick myself up, dust myself off, and fully celebrate.

Because I have so much to celebrate!  I have a team of friends that has been praying with me over a situation for about two weeks.  The strength of that team has bolstered me when I have felt like sagging and flagging and dragging.  They have asked, sought, and knocked with me.  They have been relentless.  Not only that, my favorite person in the world, my husband, has been walking with me hand-in-hand through the ‘all things’ of life.  He has been my confidante, my teammate, my partner, my encourager.  And most important of all, the Creator and Owner of all things, the Great Teacher, the Father of all, and the Commander of the Weather has promised to “work all things together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8: 28).

Can I trust that right now?  Can I trust that a tax bill and a cancelled trip can be knit into God’s plan for good for me and those that I love?  Why not? He has worked much greater and much lesser things into goodness in my life.  Why, oh why,  would He stop now?

Ok, maybe I won’t need the full sixty minutes.

Psalm 28:7

The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped;

my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to Him.