Almost eight years ago, the beginning of the summer of 2005. I had just gotten my lifeguarding certification that spring, with the attendant oxygen administration and first aid/CPR certifications. I remember being in line for food at a huge picnic, when not ten feet away from me a woman started screaming. “Help! My baby’s choking!” My first instinct was to go over to her and tell her that I could help, when all of the sudden I froze. Agonizing seconds ticked by. That baby is choking! I said to myself. But I don’t remember what to do! Eventually someone else stepped in to help, and the baby was fine. But I was shaken up. My heart was pounding, adrenaline was coursing through my veins, and I felt like a failure.
Last night at work I was standing in at the front desk when a coworker came out of the break room and ran toward me in a panic, making the universal sign for choking. I positioned myself behind her and began performing abdominal thrusts until the food was dislodged. After she recovered, I realized that my heart rate hadn’t even gone up. In fact, I hadn’t even stopped to think about what to do; I just did it.
It’s amazing the difference between those two events. Years of training and countless calls on the ambulance have drilled certain skill-sets into my head. I think there’s a lesson there. If I had to go back and talk to 15-year old Dan Stanley, I would tell him that though the stakes were high that day, he should be comforted by the fact that it takes time to develop automatic responses. I would encourage him to keep on training, because someday the training would pay off.
I think the Christian faith is like that. We who trust in Christ are, right now, becoming what we will someday be (1 John 3:2-3). We are weak yet, but God is working in us that which is pleasing to him, namely, our growth in all things into Christ, who is our Head (Ephesians 4:15). We aren’t perfect in holiness yet. But we are being perfected. And the more that we follow the Spirit in denying the flesh, the more accustomed we will be to following the Spirit and denying the flesh.
So today’s little acts of holiness amid a sea of failure do count. It’s not in vain to deny the flesh this afternoon, even if you do give in tonight. You’re growing up. And that should be encouraging.