The eighth grade book report. We all had to do it. I’m sure the routine was relatively standard across all eighth grades everywhere: 3″X5″ notecards, 3 pages, 3-5 minute presentation, rough draft, final draft, two grades—one for presentation and one for content. The only wild card was whether you got to choose your own book or were forced to choose from a list. Fortunately for me, it wasn’t until my freshman year in high school that my options were limited to a list of pre-selected options. Given my love of baseball and the Big Red Machine I did what anybody would have done: I chose a biography on Pete Rose.
The grade I received in exchange for my work I don’t remember. And I’m sure Charlie Hustle was no more interesting then than he is now. The biography was your typical born here-went to high school here-did some cool things here structure. Regardless of your baseball IQ, surely everyone can appreciate the notion of The Slump. Among all professional sports baseball (no, golf is not a sport) is the most mentally challenging game. The proverbial “game of inches,” baseball players tend to be most superstitious and the most vulnerable to The Slump: the period a hitter periodically enters into during which he gets no breaks, constantly guesses wrong, forsakes mechanics, loses confidence, and can’t recapture what made him successful in the first place. There’s no obvious reason The Slump begins. And often there’s no clear reason The Slump ends. We all have slumps.
Baseball players have various methods for getting themselves out of a slump. Some burn bats. Some just swing themselves out of it. Some get rid of uniforms, batting gloves, helmets. Others seek professional counsel from clinical psychologists, old coaches, new coaches, and the specially trained. But Pete had a different manner for getting himself out of a hitting slump. When Pete found himself an ineffective hitter he would, during every at bat, just focus on hitting the ball directly back to the pitcher as hard as he could. Regardless of the circumstance or situation, he would zero in on the pitcher, seeing the ball, putting the bat on the ball, and hitting it straight back to the mound. See the ball, hit the ball. See the ball, hit the ball. Consequently, this discipline allowed him to block everything out but the pitcher and the ball—the basic elements of his craft.
Rose would employ this strategy until the fundamental element of seeing the ball/hitting the ball became a matter of muscle memory. Once his mind had become re-acquainted with the basic science of making contact, he could again begin taking into consideration the count, game situation, and how the pitcher was pitching to him. With everything going on during a baseball game, the tendency for Rose and maybe any other hitter in a slump would be to forget the original design and mission. In other words, a hitter begins to “think too much.”
I’ve always felt like the spiritual disciplines work the same way. Our tendency is to begin losing sight of our design and mission over time. We slip. With everything going on around us—all the decisions and distractions and obligations—we start to “think too much.” We lose our mechanics. We guess more than we think. What the spiritual disciplines ultimately do is (1) help us avoid The Slump (2) help us swing out of our slumps (3) help us gain clarity. The spiritual disciplines not only remind us of our mission, but afford us greater clarity in the “see the ball–hit the ball” structure for our days, weeks, and months. Ultimately the art of hitting isn’t, at its core, all that difficult.
Just last week we sent Fresh: Reviving Stale Faith by Kerry Shook to the printer. This small-group resource takes the spiritual disciplines of meditation, fasting, and silence and leads groups on a 6-week Bible study experience that will help them apply these basic principles to a disciple’s life. Among the disciplines, meditation, fasting, and silence are particularly suited for helping us avoid slumps as well as providing biblical tools for pulling out of them. Through these disciplines you and your group will gain see the ball–hit the ball clarity needed in order to become the most creative hitter you can be. Check it out by clicking here. We can never have too much discipline and clarity in our lives. I can’t help but think that this is even more true in the world we live in today.