|How do my fingers know which keys to strike when I'm writing?|
Taking Personal Typing during my junior year of high school, I had no clue it would be instrumental for my career as a journalist. All I knew was I needed to learn the “home row” and train my fingertips to type “ASDF-space” and all the other letters, without staring at the keys.
At the time I considered it preparation for writing papers in college. But my first class in news reporting showed me the genius behind learning to become proficient at the typewriter. (This was, of course, years before anyone had personal computers. Even electric typewriters!) I could pound out articles on deadline without time-consuming hunting and pecking for letters.
Over the years my keyboard proficiency increased dramatically. Secretaries and administrative assistants – whose jobs often revolved around typing skills – would marvel whenever they passed my office and heard my keys rapidly clicking away.
Today, decades after my high school typing class, the skills I began acquiring then continue to serve me well. What’s strange is if you asked me to locate a specific letter on the keyboard, I’d be hard-pressed to do so without looking. As the old Yellow Pages ads used to say, “my fingers do the walking.”
This trait is shared by many others – such as pianists and other musicians, craftsmen, surgeons, even video game aficionados. After years of practice and repetition, their hands and fingers move as quickly as their brains.
It’s called “muscle memory.” One definition describes it as “consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. When a movement is repeated over time, a long-term muscle memory is created for that task, eventually allowing it to be performed without conscious effort.”
In simpler terms, it means doing the same things the same way, over and over, until they become subconscious habits.
Perhaps other uses for muscle memory come to mind, but I think it’s particularly valuable for times when we need to flex our spiritual “muscles.”
For instance, when we face an unexpected crisis, how do we respond: Anger? Panic? Confusion? Or do our first thoughts turn to God, asking Him for direction and assistance as needed?
Or at work, when confronted with a situation that would compromise our values, or we need to make a crucial decision, do we defer to expedience – or do we consult the Lord and pray for His wisdom in doing what is right and best?
Maybe we encounter temptations that plague us. Do we yield to them, playing the “I’m only human” card, or do we run to God for strength to overcome or flee from potential sin?
How do we build “spiritual memory muscles”? There's no quick, simple way. It takes diligence and determination, repetition and practice, day after day. I hate legalism, the religious guilt-trip that tells us we must pray, as well as read, study and meditate on what God says in the Scriptures. But there’s no other way to build a relationship with Him, get to know who He is and who He wants us to be, or learn how He desires for us to live.
Just as one hour of practice once a week will never suffice to develop a virtuoso pianist, an hour a week in a worship service will never result in a faithful, fervent, consistent follower of Jesus Christ.
But time devoted every day in prayer, meditation and reading the Word of God will equip us for moments of crisis, days of decision, and times of temptation. As King David wrote in Psalm 119:9-11, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart, do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”
And the apostle Paul urged his followers in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”