Perishable Skills

“A fighter pilot’s skills are highly perishable– if you go a month without flying the F-16, an instructor or supervisor must fly with you the next time out.  Only constant training keeps you sharp, makes the basics second nature.” – Captain Scott O’Grady, Return With Honor

You never forget how to ride a bike, but it’s amazing how some skills require constant use for you to remain at the top of your game.  Before Mac OS X, everything I wrote for the Classic Mac OS was written in a language called C++.  I spent years learning its nuances.  I still use it to some degree, but for the last 10 years virtually everything I’ve written has been in Objective-C.  The only time I use C++ is when working with code that comes to me from another source.  Having taken a dive back into C++ a bit recently, I find myself blown away at how much I’ve forgotten.  So many “gotchas” I used to have to deal with every day went away when I stopped writing new code in C++.  Of course, Objective-C has its own nuances, but my point is it’s striking how mastery today does not equal mastery tomorrow.  To get back on top of C++ I would have to use it every day again, and go back and hit my Stroutrup and Josuttis books, along with Effective C++, to refresh my skills with it.

I suspect our spirituality has the same kind of lifespan.  The things we consume effect who we are.  Doing anything repetitively can become a rut, but healthy things require repetition.  The Apostle Paul described his walk towards Christ like that of an athlete pushing his body to win.  We have to seek and keep on seeking, keep on doing the things God tells us to do, and continually assert our faith in God and his word in order to draw near to him.  Reading the Bible, praying, going to church, and practicing the faith all work to calibrate us spiritually.  The more we neglect those things, the more we drift from center.

Sometimes, on a Sunday morning, when I come into church and meet with my friends there, while we sing songs to the Lord and hear a message from the Bible, it feels to me like a fog clearing from the week.  There’s so much intensity in life’s stresses, they just pull me away from living by faith instead of sight.

“For we live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” Hebrews 11:6

“‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” Zechariah 4:6

I’ve seen people beat themselves up over not praying enough, not reading the Bible enough, not serving enough, etc..  That’s self-defeating as well.  Turning your spiritual life into a matter of earning God’s favor is never the goal.  The goal is the same as exercising and eating right, except these actions impact your spiritual health. It’s not about crossing t’s and dotting i’s to satisfy God. If Christ is your Savior, you are already OK with God.  It’s a question of benefits.  We don’t want to miss out on those. They are good for us.

Another thing I see from my experience programming is that no skill is owned until it’s put to use.  I’ve read about a lot of technologies.  It’s good to learn about things.  But until I actually use a technology in a project I’m working on, I don’t really know it. I only know of it.  Like flying a plane, I need to experience it in action to truly understand how to wield it.  Even then, if I stop using it, I’m like the F-16 fighter pilot that hasn’t flown in a month.  When I come back to it, I have to catch up to the plane again.  Perishable skills.

Spiritual goodness is born from good ongoing practice.


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