As I have previously mentioned, I have long desired to learn to play guitar. This process has been little more than occasionally playing around with the guitar for quite some time. My old approach essentially boiled down to memorizing notes and repetitively playing uninteresting little songs; all the while I was dreaming of the “someday” when I would know enough to play really interesting songs I liked, and not have to think about everything.
There were certainly moments where it seemed to be clicking, and progress was coming. But life kept getting in the way. Practice time wasn’t all that fun … so it was easy to put it on the back burner. After playing, my fingers would hurt from pressing the strings, and the results weren’t always all that musical.
This led to a long break, under the excuse that I couldn’t practice with the expanded family, and time was too precious. The excuses were valid, but they were … excuses. As a way of applying my goal of accountability I brought my guitar to my office at Messiah, and asked one of my colleagues who plays to keep me accountable. He went further, and provided me with a book of songs with their chords. I printed a chord chart and picked a favorite, Great Is Thy Faithfulness, to get started.
I really like this song. I’m not memorizing notes, I’m playing the chords. My “cheat sheet” is sitting next to the lyric/music sheet, and I have to look over at it pretty regularly to remind myself of the chord fingerings. My finger tips still hurt from the strings, and the results are too halting to actually have a rhythm or sing to.
The results to this point look pretty similar, but my outlook has changed. I am not approaching this as a memorization chore toward a future date when I will “put it all together”. I’ve set aside a space where I can use even a few minutes break to play. I’m playing a song, albeit not gracefully yet. I am working at a song I enjoy. I look forward to my reports to Bob about how much I am working, even if it is only a few minutes a day. Bob is very encouraging, and reassuring: the fingerings will come more naturally, my mind will remember the chords with less thought, my fingers will form callouses that will ease my pain. So far, so good. I think this has a chance to work for the longer term!
Today as I thought about this process, I realized that this is a great example of two approaches to relating to our Messiah.
One approach tries to memorize all the rules in the “correct” order and practice each of them. As a rule is mastered, the next is added. We go about life working hard at things that are not a lot of fun, but we tell ourselves that someday we will reach the point where life will become easier, and things will look better. It isn’t a lot of fun concentrating on the rules, and it becomes easy to push the time to the back burner, after all there are so many other things that need to be done! It feels weird or uncomfortable, there is so much to learn. There seems to be no end to what is required. It hurts sometimes. The joy of our “first love” quickly dies out and our relationship with God just moves to the back burner and waits for a renewed, though temporary, spurt of interest to come along.
The other approach is more big picture. We decide to live life, pick something close to our heart and interest and see how God impacts that part of our lives. We work through the discomfort and pain because we know why we care. There is an area we care about that getting close to God can help us through. Once we get to the point where this area brings us God’s Joy, we can move on to another area, using all that we’ve learned it gets easier with each new thing. We sense the Spirit saying to us that the pain will soon subside, and our mind will be transformed to think God’s thought and act accordingly. Just as Bob encourages me as I try to work through the beginning pains of guitar, God helps us see the benefit of working through the periods of pain as we learn to walk with Him and lean on Him.
I’ve spent a lot of time working at my relationship with God using the first method. I try to figure out the right amount of time to spend praying, or reading, etc. I make it a formulaic process, and get distressed about my errors. I want to use the second method.
When I mess up, which is all too common, I want to correct my error, and learn from my mistake. When I play, I don’t use a missed chord as an excuse to give up, or intentionally mess up the rest of the chords. I correct the chord, I get back on track and continue to learn and improve. Does God want us to look at our sins that way? I think He might. When I screw up and fall. God doesn’t want me to just sit there in my sin and pout. He doesn’t want me to say, “Well, now that I’m dirty anyway … what about that big pile of muck over there? I need forgiveness anyway, might as well go all the way now!” We should immediately stop, go back, ask forgiveness of our Teacher (or Rabbi), replay the chord correctly, and move on playing as the Spirit leads us to.
We can’t live correctly by trying not to sin anymore than I can learn guitar by learning all the possible non-chords there are to play. I need to try to learn the things that make music to God out of my life. If I hear the Spirit say “That is NOT a chord!” I stop, find the right chord by quietly listening for His guidance, then move on learning to make my life a pleasing melody to Him.
Care to join me in the song of life?