Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cross Training

“For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly and devoutly in this age…” Titus 2: 11-12

Recently I went to an aquarium. It was pretty cool to see all the different kinds of fish and other sea creatures. But what was really cool was the dolphin show. A dolphin show at an aquarium is much different than at an amusement park, because at an aquarium, they use the show not just to show all the tricks the dolphins have learned, but also to teach all the humans in attendance about dolphins and the oceans and how we can contribute to the health or decline of the seas and these majestic creatures. The dolphins are fed very good food and they are treated with respect and are mainly used for research. And other than the fact that they are being held in captivity, they are pretty well-off as far as prisoners go.

What I found most interesting is how they train the dolphins though. It normally takes anywhere from 2-4 years before a dolphin is full trained. And the same 2-3 trainers work with each dolphin everyday during that time. And they use positive reinforcement to get the dolphins to “remember” what they are supposed to do. So eventually, after years of training, all the trainer has to do is blow a high pitched whistle and either make a hand motion or slap the water and the dolphin will immediately do whatever it is they are supposed to do in order to get a fish to eat. The dolphins were able to swim upside down, wave their fins, “talk”, jump and even do flips underwater all by command. It was pretty remarkable.

And so I was thinking about the patience it must take to be a dolphin trainer. They must see a lot of failure before they begin to see results. Then I was thinking about how we expect so much of ourselves in our spiritual life and how frustrated we get when we fail. But I think our God is patient with us because He loves us. Obviously we are more than dolphins and God is not trying to train us to simply do His commands on cue like dolphins in a show. But in many ways progress in our spiritual lives resembles the dedication, repetition and patience that it takes to train a dolphin.

First of all, we often need to initially be taken out of the culture of our world and be surrounded by people and circumstances that will help get us to heaven. Secondly, we need people to walk with us and teach us who are more mature in the Faith to help us along the way. People like holy priests, our bishops, Pope Benedict XVI and the Saints all come to mind. But it might even be people like our parents, Confirmation sponsors, catechists or youth ministers, too. Then we need to immerse ourselves in prayer and the Scriptures every day. We need to keep our eyes on the prize and trust in God that He is leading us to Himself deeper and deeper each day. Finally, we need to be patient with ourselves, as God is, when we fail or when we do not make as much progress as we hope.

God wants us to be happy. We are not His prisoners, forced into captivity to be researched and trained for the entertainment and education of others. We are created in the image and likeness of our Lord and He wants to train us in His ways so we can be like Him and we can find fulfillment and peace. But we have to allow Him to lead us and mold us and be patient and humble throughout the process. Ultimately, His training leads us to the cross and from there to resurrection and new life.

Dear Jesus, I want to be trained by You. I want to be everything You know I can be. Please grant me patience when I fail or do not achieve as much as I would like in my spiritual growth. Amen.

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