Let me back up a little. I've been feeling the urge to take my very basic, just-for-me, piano playing up a notch. I'd like to be able to lead worship on my own if I ever needed to. But I didn't know where to start, so I asked a musician-friend to show me a few things and give me some suggestions that I could work with. So he's playing away, beautifully as always, imparting valuable information about chords and scales and fifths and melody and practice. And though not a word was said at any time to imply such a thing, as I watched his fingers fly gracefully over the keys, I started to feel smaller and smaller (which is saying something). I couldn't imagine ever being able to move from where I was to where I wanted to be, that my inherent laziness and lack of ability would keep me from making any progress and that I was bound to be a huge disappointment to myself and everyone else. I was ready to quit before I even played a note.
My friend left and I sat down at the piano. But, for the life of me, I couldn't convince myself to put my fingers on the keys. I couldn't believe how discouraged I felt. And I couldn't talk myself out of it, either. So, with eyes full of un-shed tears and a heart full of despair, I gave up and went home.
Later, as I tossed and turned on my pillows, waiting for sleep to come and erase, or at least delay, the heaviness I was feeling, I asked God what the heck was going on. How could such a small thing so dramatically alter my perspective and steal my joy? Had I learned nothing over the past months? Where was the peace and gratitude I'd fought so hard to cultivate? Were the changes I hoped I was seeing really so shallow? I started wondering whether any of my current pursuits were going to pan out, or if I was just crazy to think I could write a book, or record a CD, or make a ministry work. Past failures started mocking me, reminding me of all those character traits of which I was so ashamed.Well, clearly those thoughts were doing nothing to improve my frame of mind. So I prayed one of those powerfully simple little prayers (help!). Mercifully, sleep claimed me then and that was that.
God's grace really is amazing, isn't it? I love that verse from the Psalms that says, "Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love..." (Ps. 143:8) I woke up the next morning with my perspective restored, my faith renewed and determination rising up in me. I don't know if it's having recently passed the milestone of my fortieth birthday, or the coming of a new year, or something else entirely, but I've been thinking a lot lately about my life and what I'd like it to look like. I've always been a great plan-maker, but my follow-through has been consistently weak (read: non-existent). But something my piano-friend had said in the course of conversation the night before really stuck with me. He was talking about the difference between a musical virtuoso and a regular ol' musician, noting that hardly any truly great music-makers are born; most are made - by the simple (but not easy) discipline of practice, practice, practice. My brain translated this astute observation into the following thought: I get to choose. It's up to me whether I try to get better at piano, it's up to me whether I stick it out when it gets hard, it's up to me how I spend my time. Might seem pretty obvious, but it really changed my perspective about the whole situation, and even about my life, in general. Yes, I firmly believe in depending on God for guidance and wisdom and direction and vision and power and strength and motivation, but the nitty-gritty, nuts and bolts, honest-to-goodness, actual work is up to me. I get to choose how hard I work, how much effort I put into something, how I respond to set-backs and discouragement. I get to decide whether I quit or keep going.
Postscript: You may be pleased to know that I did start on the road to improving my piano skills. I sat at the keyboard, I worked on some scales, I tried some new things. I made mistakes, I tried again. And again. I foresee a challenging road ahead of me, but I've caught a glimpse of what could be - if I keep at it. We shall see.