Ronaldinho’s juggling, particularly his play off the crossbar, demonstrates incredible skill, mastery with the ball, and evidence of consistent, steady, diligent, and focused practice. I showed this clip to my kids and we talked about how one comes to possess such mastery in sport and in other arenas of life.
If you watch the entire Ronaldinho highlight package, you will see a player who demonstrates freedom on the pitch, the kind of freedom that arises from command and discipline over skills and competencies that he has come to possess through the means and modalities of training.
I once heard Dallas Willard say that there is much we can learn about spiritual formation from sport, particularly when an athlete is seen to perform at the highest level. Any person who displays such grace, creativity, fluidity, and effortlessness, any person who delivers in a clutch moment or who displays brilliance does so largely because they have been well prepared by training, practice, and the exercise of various disciplines that have become part and parcel of their chosen sport.
There is natural ability, of course, and intelligence. But that natural ability has been harnessed, refined, and channeled toward particularly ends, which the occasion of a game creates space to then reveal.
So it is with the spiritual life. I don’t know what the equivalent of playing with the crossbar might be. But there is a parallel.
Mature people, who in their spiritual lives have grown in likeness to Christ, awe us not because they appear to work so hard, but because they make it look fluid, natural, easy. They are free, free in their spirit to respond freely to the Spirit. Their mastery stems from being mastered by the Master, schooled in holiness by Jesus himself, who freely gave himself so that we might be redeemed.
Nothing about this reality comes without great cost. The Christian claim that we can live lives that are pleasing to God is not rooted in human potential, but rather a divine act, a work of God, and the operations of grace. Humans respond. God has enacted the reality that we can receive and enter. The transformation that results is driven by the Spirit’s action.
In pastoral experience, and in personal experience, I’ve come to see that this transformation takes place over time. And even as one grows, as one matures, there are missteps and mistakes, failures and outright rebellions. But as one continues to trust Christ, as one continues to grow in their knowledge of him, they come to see that it is undeniably true that if it is the Son who has set you free, you will be free indeed.