A while ago, I learned about parkour (which is French for ‘Free Running’). Parkour is, essentially, combining running with gymnastics, with a little bit of climbing thrown in. The internet is full of videos of people who practice it. Parkour can look a little odd to an outsider to be sure, but it’s a really interesting skill set.
The most remarkable thing about it isn’t the general athleticism required (though that is certainly incredible). When someone watches a parkour maneuver for the first time, they usually want to ask how they ‘planned’ the trick. They’re surprised to find out that for a vast majority of the stunts and tricks, there wasn’t a plan. The athlete just made it up as they going. The most incredible thing about parkour is that is it essentially athletic improvisation.
Pastors and church members like plans. I know I do. Plans offer security and stability. Plans can also limit what churches or Christians can do in their spiritual lives. Here are a few things I think we can learn from Parkour for our spiritual lives.
Improvising takes practice – There’s a misnomer that “improvisation” is a natural talent. You either can think on your feet and make it up as you go, or you can’t. The truth is that improvisation can be taught. Free runners will practice the jumps, flips, and other basic moves until they can do them cold. This frees them up to put the moves together in different orders, and pull off more elaborate stunts. Whether it’s improvised comedy or free running, you can learn and practice the necessary skills to “make it up as you go”.
There are places you simply cannot go spiritually without practice. You’re not going to wake up one day and suddenly “get prayer” or “understand the Bible”. You have to practice, and practice, and practice some more. That way, when life throws you a curve ball and you have to “make it up as you go”, you can, because you’ve done it before.
Improvising Requires Failure –Parkour looks intimidating because there doesn’t appear to be a rhyme or reason – there’s no method to the proverbial madness. That’s because there’s no “right” way to do it. Sure, there are better technical skills you can have, but when it comes to putting the moves together, the only “right” way is the one that keeps you alive. This leads to a lot of trial and failure.
We, culturally, don’t like failing or messing up. That’s why we like structured learning and programs. Many American Christians today seem to want a highly structured spirituality. They want a ’12 Week Study of Prayer’ or ‘6 Steps to Knowing God’. The problem is that spirituality is way too vague or undefined to fit within a rigid structure or program. Spirituality can be difficult for people because of how vague and undefined it is.
If you want to grow spiritually, you must be willing to fail. You have to be willing to try a new method of prayer, reading passages you don’t understand (and asking questions), and going on trips you don’t think you can handle. You have to try and fail. Here’s why: There’s no “right” way to do Christianity. You won’t be able to find what works for you unless you’re also willing to learn what doesn’t work.
Improvising Requires Holding Nothing Back – There’s a stunt in parkour where the athlete will run up a wall, do a flip, and land on their feet. It’s an impressive move.
It’s also risky. If you don’t time your jump right, you might just run face first into a wall. Even if you start up the wall, you might not have the momentum to keep going. A lot of people are tempted to “hold back” because of those risks, so they run at half speed to play it safe. But then, they can’t complete the stunt because they no longer have the momentum needed to clear the wall. Sometimes the only way to pull the stunt off is to hold nothing back, and risk hitting the wall.
Many American Christians like to hold back (I know I do). It might look like not committing to a Bible study because “we’re worried about time”. A lot of people “hold back” from traveling on mission trips or telling people about Christ because of ‘what if?’ (What if it’s not safe? What if they say no? What if they get angry with me or ask questions I can’t answer?)
There comes a point, spiritually, when you can’t hold back. The only way to swim in the deep end is to let go of the wall. The only way to run up the wall is to run full speed. The only way to grow deeper with God is to leap as far as you can and hope He catches you.
There you go. Those are few ways we can grow through spiritual improvisation.
I love y’all and there’s nothing you can do about it.