I never knew that the smell of masked foot odor could create such nostalgia.
If you've ever been to a bowling alley, you understand that there is an aroma - no, that's too soft a word - a presence created by rented shoes and stale light beer that can't be ignored. The linger of Camel straights, nearly-burnt pizza crusts and humanness leaks out of every wall and corner like specters waiting to haunt unsuspecting victims on the hardwood landscapes.
For me, the greatest invention a bowling alley ever offered to the free world (other than recently when they began to also house golf simulators) is the "bumper system."
For children or newbies, the alley puts up the equivalent of training wheels on the lanes. Two long rails, hinged at the top of the left and right gutters, are lowered into place. They protect the ball from mistakes and mis-throws that come with a new hand plunging into the holes and rolling the heavy orb toward the helpless pins. The rails, like long parallel bars, bounce the ball away from penalty and toward the goal.
I'd like to use the bumpers, honestly, because occasionally I feel like I can throw it like a pro and I end up either lying on my ear or hurling the ball straight into the gaping maw of the gutter demons.
Our life in Christlikeness is not dissimilar from bowling. We feel confident, over time, that we have mastered a certain amount of personal holiness that sustains us throughout any situation. We know the story, the code words (like "atonement" and "sanctification"), we've served and we feel comfortable praying or talking to someone else about the incredibly journey of salvation and grace.
Then it happens - gutter ball.
What we need are disciplines - training exercises, reminders, thought-markers - that help us bounce off of the sides and toward the goal of transformation into Christlikeness.
This is where we often mistake spiritual disciplines for earning efforts - every critic of spiritual formation I've ever read subscribes to a similar view - instead of understanding them as means and avenues by which we allow God to form and shape and direct us by opening up to being trained by Him and to learn from Him.
It does require our effort, our participation, our perseverance and most importantly our planning. You can't throw the bowling ball and then put the gutter rails down as it rolls.
We have to intentionally imagine a life trained to know and be known by God in increasing degrees as we walk the paths God lays out for us. Then we plan to live toward it.
What disciplines are you currently practicing? If you haven't started this journey, the best question is this: Where do I constantly throw gutter balls and how can I open myself up to God's bouncing through disciplines?
Here are a few suggestions of disciplines with corresponding "gutters":
Fasting - compulsive behaviors/addictions, anger & impatience
Silence/Solitude - unwise/unguarded words, distraction, busyness
Memorizing Scripture - struggles with thoughts, anxiety, lack of peace or focus
Sabbath rest - overwork/workaholism, anger, controlling behavior, broken personal relationships