Like all platforming games, you improve your performance by repetition. You play up to a certain point and then die because of some obstacle. So, you keep playing up to that obstacle until you remember what's coming and finally you're able to anticipate what's coming and either dodge or shoot the sucker and move on.
It could be some enemy that pops up out of the underbrush, or maybe the movement and attack patterns of a boss - regardless, it takes practice.
Now, the thing about Contra (and again, any platformer worth its salt), is it's difficult. You get four chances, or lives, to make it through and defeat the Red Falcon menace. When all four are exhausted you get three chances to continue.
The difference is, when you die with more than one man left you pick up right where you left off. If you lose all of your lives, you can continue from the beginning of that stage (which can be really frustrating when you have the boss on the ropes, and then it comes through with some sort of cheap sneak attack (but then again, that's the point of this whole post)).
But if you use up all of your continues you have to start all over from the very beginning.
This is how God works His sanctification out in us!
Suppose God has brought you up to a crisis and you nearly go through but not quite, He will engineer the crisis again, but it will not be so keen as it was before. There will be less discernment of God and more humiliation at not having obeyed; and if you go on grieving the Spirit, there will come a time when that crisis cannot be repeated, you have grieved Him away. But if you go through the crisis, there will be the pæan of praise to God. Never sympathize with the thing that is stabbing God all the time. God has to hurt the thing that must go.
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, Aug. 13 entry
When we "go through it but not quite," we lose a "life" but we get another shot at it. Fail again, we get another shot at it, but we're set a little further back. Keep on failing, keep on being impertinent and never-learning, well, then we've got to start the whole dang thing over again from the beginning.
Why waste life going through the same things again and again, going in circles, traveling at a certain pace but never really getting anywhere? Do you ever get that feeling?
Now, maybe we're successful on a certain level - let's say, professionally. We move up in a company but then never seem to be able to hold a steady relationship; be that one of romance or meaningful friendship. They always start off well enough - there's the initial excitement of finding someone who shares common interests (Browncoats, are ya with me?) and you ride along on that excitement for awhile.
Now, "awhile" can be a matter of years or a matter of hours, and then for some reason or another it starts to break down. It could be for any number of reasons, but it all comes down to this primal one: we're human. The threat of a failed relationship is inevitable - we all face it at some point. Until we learn how to deal with that - communication, reconciliation, commitment, love - then we'll just keep going in circles, looping around from one relationship to another, never sustaining anything more than an enthusiastic acquaintanceship - never being without someone nearby, but always and forever alone.
Or maybe it's not relationships per se, but integrity, or loyalty, or time management; until we learn whatever God is taking us through we'll just keep going in circles. Unless you're in an over-sized teacup, that's really not much fun.
BUT - if we maintain a spirit of wanting to make it through, if we fall 20 times but stand up 21 - thanks be to God for His infinite grace! So long as we accept the fact our hearts beat for His purpose, He is faithful when we are not; He is our 1up.
Never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever give up.
What's God taking you through right now?