This past Friday afternoon, after two full days of New Faculty Orientation, I took a long walk around the Mars Hill University campus. I thought about—and prayed for—students soon-to-return (or coming for the first time) to campus, and of the hopes and fears they will bring with them; staff and administrators who are scrambling to make sure that the students feel hospitably welcomed; and faculty—among them “newbies” like me—who are settling into offices and gearing up for the adventure of teaching.
My walk took me past the football stadium where the university’s team was practicing in the baking late-afternoon sun. In my imagination I traveled quickly back more than forty years to the rough practice field on which I endured and enjoyed “two-a-day” practices in the steamy, sweltering heat of late-summer Georgia. Morning and afternoon, my teammates and I sweated through drill, scrimmages, and, more than anything else, wind-sprints—endless wind-sprints. We ran until we couldn’t, and then we somehow summoned the energy to run just a little more (the iron-willed and badgering insistence of our coaches provided “external motivation” when we couldn’t find our own).
The point of all the drilling, scrimmaging, and running was to prepare us for game nights—to make it possible for us to do under the lights what we couldn’t possibly have done had we not practiced under the blistering sun.
Playing football taught me a lot about myself and about life. Some of what I learned about myself was sobering. For instance, the permitted violence of competition was not good for someone who already didn’t know what to do with his brooding, adolescent anger. As a consequence, later on, I had to pay close attention to what it would mean for me to be able, as the Apostle Paul put it, “to be angry and sin not”—not to use anger in ways that hurt other people.
Most of what I learned was positive and helpful. I realize it’s a commonplace observation, but I really did learn how a team can achieve more together, in the synergies of dynamic cooperation, than the individuals on their own could achieve, no matter how hard they each worked. There’s an alchemy of encouragement and accomplishment which comes from a shared spirit and common goals.
I learned about the importance of being challenged to be and do more than we thought possible by people who believe in us. To this day, I can hear the voices of one of my crustiest coaches telling me to “dig deep, find what it takes, and keep moving.” His voice helps me.
Mainly, though, I learned about the indispensable contribution which practice makes—regular (daily, if possible), steady, and focused doing of those things which are essential to our work and identity. We need to review and repeat and repeat again the basic components of what we hope to do and who we hope to be.
We’re in Faculty Workshop for most of today (Monday), Tuesday, and Wednesday. There are syllabi to complete, more detailed lesson plans to develop, and lectures to review or rewrite (or write for the first time). Though these things aren’t happening in the hot sun, I am thinking of these days as “faculty two-a-days.” The season starts soon, and I am grateful.