When Lionel Messi first kicked a soccer ball, probably shortly after he could walk, the ball was almost as big as he was.
Who is the greatest soccer player in the world? For the past 20 years or so, most people would argue that the greatest player has been either Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. Imagine the excitement, therefore, when MLS team Inter Miami announced recently that Messi would be coming to play in the United States next season. For those of my generation, it’s a reminder of the excitement generated by the arrival of the Brazilian genius, Pele, to play for New York Cosmos, way back in 1975.
Ironically enough, the announcement of Messi’s imminent arrival in the United States reminded me of a saying attributed to G. K. Chesterton that a thing worth doing is worth doing badly. I will explain the connection between Chesterton’s aphorism and the Argentinian genius in a moment.
First, let’s take a look at the paradoxical and perhaps controversial claim that a thing worth doing is worth doing badly. In some sense, this is counter intuitive. I was always taught by my father that a thing worth doing is worth doing well. Consequently, when I first read Chesterton’s statement, I was shocked. It was only when I realized that I didn’t need to choose between Chesterton’s wisdom and my father’s that the truth of each man’s wisdom emerged. The truth is that it’s nor a question of either-or but both-and. We cannot do a thing well unless we are first prepared to do it badly.
When Lionel Messi first kicked a soccer ball, probably shortly after he could walk, the ball was almost as big as he was. It is easy to imagine his kicking the ball and then falling over. It’s easy to imagine the delighted laughter of his parents when this happened. In time, the young man grew taller and his control of the soccer ball grew better. He had begun by doing things badly as the necessary means of learning to do them better.
And what is true of something relatively unimportant such as the playing of sports, how much more important is it to the life of faith and our relationship with God and with our neighbors? We all know that we sometimes fail to do what we should. We’re all sinners who do things badly sometimes. And yet it is better to continue to do things badly in the hope of doing them better through practicing the virtues than to become disheartened and to cease doing them at all.
Practice might not make us perfect but it will make us better. Perhaps, if we keep practicing, we might find ourselves doing things well. In the meantime, we should continue to do them badly.
This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.