Monday, December 12, 2011
Grace and Guitar
I’m learning to play the guitar, and I’m actually doing pretty well. I’ve stuck with it for more than one month, which is actually rather a big deal for me. I rarely commit to learning new skills. I get frustrated easily when I make mistakes, and it’s easy for me to give up if I’m not making visible progress. Plus, I’m lazy, which means I don’t practice as often as I should. But I really want this! And I’ve been practicing consistently. And guess what?
I’m making mistakes.
Many, many mistakes.
My fingers, usually my staunchest allies, turn against me. They are conspiring, I believe, to make sure I can’t learn certain chords. It’s their way of taking revenge on me for burning them so often while I cook. Also, I’m left-handed, a fact upon which I like to blame every problem I encounter in life. I’m slow. In addition, all the musical instinct I possess could fit quite comfortably in a thimble. These things, combined, do not tend to shoot one toward instant success. Fortunately, my teacher is patient.
But I did not tell you all this because I thought you would be interested in my quest to become a Grand Master of Supreme Guitar Awesomeness (I so will). It’s because I had an epiphany the other day whilst struggling to play a simple song, which (I thought) any fool should have been able to do. I was making mistakes, you see, and more than I would like. I grew dismal and frustrated. I wailed and gnashed my teeth. I despaired for my musical future and my intellect in general.
But then I realized…
is like this.
I don’t mean that everyone gets frustrated. I mean that nobody just picks up a guitar and plays beautifully straight off. The process of learning is a process because of the mistakes. It's completely natural. Maybe I make more mistakes than others, but that's just how it works. We all have to mess up.
Doubtless you all discovered this early in your youth. But I think we’ve established by now that my mental development is somewhat delayed, so bear with me here. My epiphany continued in the same vein.
We all have to mess up, I said to myself. We all have to mess up. It’s part of being human.
You can have no idea of the stunning force with which that simple idea hit me.
The thing is, I don’t always like being me. I’m a screw-up. There is no part of me that’s perfect, and, honestly, sometimes it feels like there’s no part of me that’s even very nice. My faults are numerous and, in some cases, frightening. I have few, if any, of the qualities I want to have. Being Andrea Grace sometimes feels like I drew the short straw out of a handful of straws that were infinitely preferable. Sometimes I hate being so… imperfect.
But do you know something?
There’s no other choice for me but to be The Messed-Up Andrea Grace. No matter how hard I try, I will never be perfect. Not even close.
I’m human. We all have to mess up. It’s what we do. And it’s not like our mistakes are confined to tasks we are just learning. Our entire being is riddled with imperfection. We have flaws, and they come in large buckets. And if you are like me, you are acutely conscious of every single one of these. I think a lot of us spend much of our lives in the futile pursuit of perfection. Certainly that’s how we Christians work a lot of the time. We are encouraged to dig deep, find our faults, confess and repent of them, and sweat our eyeballs out trying to get rid of them. We feel like God wants us to be perfect, and we often we don’t want to face Him unless we are doing something towards achieving that end. So we work. And it makes us feel good for a while, but then we remember that nobody is perfect and nobody can be perfect, but we are somehow too terrified to ask ourselves why we’re trying at all.
I am here to ask that terrifying question.
Why are you trying to be perfect?
And don’t tell me that it’s what God wants. Expecting and/or demanding perfection from humanity, or even the effort toward such a thing, would be downright cruel, and I know that God is not cruel. Just as it’s okay to mess up when you’re learning to play the guitar, it’s okay to just mess up at life in general.
I won’t deny that there is much to be said for self-improvement. I want to be better than I am. Don’t misunderstand me: if you have a problem that is making the people you love miserable, or if it’s just getting in the way of your life, you should try to fix it. I believe this. But I’m trying not to hate myself for screwing up any more. I’m trying to realize that mistakes are part of life in this world that is itself riddled with failure. My flaws are not an unnatural curse. They aren’t something I should obsess over or cry about. They are just me being a person. Why would I spend my life trying to be something I can’t be? Who has the time for that anyway? If you spend your life focusing all your attention inward, in a frantic quest to make yourself the perfect being you are convinced God wants, you will accomplish nothing for His kingdom. You will have failed at the only thing you ever set out to do, and you will have failed miserably. Interestingly, I have found that it is much, much more difficult to accept yourself, with all your flaws and imperfections, than it is to reach relentlessly for perfection.
I really, really hate it when people say that your smallest flaws and tiniest mistakes are “an offense to a holy God.” Ladies and gentlemen, God loves us. For crying out loud, Jesus was tortured and brutally murdered so that you wouldn’t have to bear the guilt of your own imperfection any more.
Well, that’s the point, Andrea! If you are grateful, you will try to follow God’s law because that’s what pleases Him!
Yeah, I don’t think so. I did once. But now, I am coming to see that when the Bible says that we are solely under grace and that there is now no condemnation, it means it. It means it with a vengeance! You know what I think? I think the ultimate expression of gratitude is to live; to live loudly, fearlessly, beautifully, to live with joyful abandon. I think Jesus gave us this monumental, indescribable gift of grace, and He wants us to embrace it with all that we are.
God is my Daddy. Like my earthly daddy, He wants to see me fly. He loves me; to me, that means He accepts my screwed-up nature for what it is. I can go to Jesus with all my flaws and my fears and my foolishness, and He smiles and says, “Daughter, I knew all this already.” Jesus loves me, the me that already exists right now, the ugly one with hideous problems. He doesn’t love some impossible-to-achieve ideal. I’m not saying He won’t nudge me toward betterment now and again, but He won’t demand perfection from me. The whole point of forgiveness and grace is that you don’t need to be perfect to receive it.
Once upon a time, Andrea Grace hated herself. There’s still a lot of that left in me. But I have decided that I am through with it. I shall find my gifts and my passions, and I shall leap into the world and try relentlessly to make a difference. I will not try to kill the parts of me that I do not like, or that I think God hates. I shall simply live a life of complete, unmitigated awesomeness. And I will remember always the beautiful, indescribable grace and love of Jesus Christ.
Anyway, that’s what I learned from playing guitar. It is like music, in a way. Grace makes you forget who you were and stop hating who you are. You can close your eyes and let it just wash over you. You can sing along. You can dance. And sometimes, it just makes you feel