I spent 7 precious, warm, spring hours of daylight yesterday sitting in our TV room walking through the 2nd day of 4Mat Training, capped off by having to work through the 4Mat Wheel model of preparing a lesson, convenient enough for me given the fact that this coming Tuesday night is my turn on the teaching rotation at 3rd Place, a part of the ongoing series in core spiritual formation concepts I’ve been slowly working through this year with my friends at this young, creative Afrikaner church (This week: ‘The Sanctification Gap’).
The training proved surprisingly powerful and relevant to me, but in a super unexpected way. (Most) pride aside, I consider myself a fairly capable teacher, and have received affirmation and confirmation throughout the years that my ability to teach is a gift I have from God and should share with the world. In large measure I have done just that, seeking to share what I have learned with anyone I have opportunity to. This even culminated these past few years in my role as Chaplain and Bible teacher at Eastside Christian Schools, where I taught daily in a variety of settings for the past 5 years. All that to say, I (somewhat arrogantly, albeit in a subconscious way for the most part) am a pretty good teacher.
Working through the 4Mat Wheel, I realized that I am deeply biased towards the dispensing of information regarding spiritual formation and the journey of the heart, as well as a belief that people are almost immediately able to make the leap across the chasm of information to actual life transformation, which is a HUGE assumption that I often fail to make myself. I literally couldn’t modify my teaching for this upcoming Tuesday at 3rd Place to fit this model! Frustrated and embarrassed, I returned to ‘share’ my pitiful attempt, proverbial tail between my legs.
As I began to share, something unexpected happened. I remembered something about Tiger Woods of all people. Exploding onto the PGA golf scene in the late 1990’s, he won 4 straight major titles from 2000-2001, amassed more money than anyone else, and was the #1 ranked golfer by a long mile. In fact, there was a point where he didn’t miss a cut for seven straight years, spanning 142 tournaments all around the world! In the shock of a missed cut, golf pundits realized that Wood’s missed cut likely stemmed from the fact that Tiger deliberately began experimenting with making his already perfect golf swing even better. Woods commented on this, saying “I felt like I could get better. People thought it was asinine for me to change my swing after I won the Masters by 12 shots. … Why would you want to change that? Well, I thought I could become better.”
A Time magazine article written at this period wrote about this curious decision, concluding with the following fascinating insight regarding Woods:
“What is most remarkable about Woods,” the article continues, “is his restless drive for what the Japanese call kaizen, or continuous improvement. Toyota engineers will push a perfectly good assembly line until it breaks down. They’ll find and fix the flaw and push the system again. That’s kaizen. That’s Tiger.”
As I recalled this about Woods, I realized something simple, humbling, and yet profound: I desire to be Tiger Woods, at least in this way. I never want to settle into a belief that I have reached my potential or achieved ‘greatness’ in a particular life issue simply because I often receive praise for what I am offering to others. There is a dangerous complacency in settling into the line of thinking that says that I have arrived and cannot get better. Even Kelly Slater, widely agreed upon as the greatest surfer of all time, and 9x world champion, is tinkering greatly with his surfing equipment this year, in an attempt to rise to an even higher level of performance.
In no manner does my teaching ability resemble the likes of Tiger Woods holding a 9-iron, or Kelly Slater riding a potato-chip shortboard to glory at J-Bay. However, I desire to become better with the ruthlessness that they display.
May this be so, Lord.