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
                  like you
                            can fly.


  1. sooo i jumped over here from Jess's facebook page (can we say staaaaalker), love this post! im having a super tough time with being an over-achiever, perfectionist type. its impossible to feel like you're good enough for anyone else when you're not good enough for yourself...

  2. Andrea,
    I so rarely read blogs, but this came up on my FB feed and piqued my interest. I love those random epiphanies!

    This is the Christian life! Sometimes Christians forget that the gospel is a free gift. We accepted it at salvation, but then somehow think we have to earn our righteousness after salvation. How much of Christianity is caught up in works righteousness! But look at those God called throughout Scripture--they were all messed up (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Peter, Paul--the list goes on and on), but they understood grace and forgiveness. The only "perfect Christians" were the Pharisees, and we know what Christ said about them.

    Remember the exchange between Jesus and Peter in John 21, right after Peter had denied Christ? Jesus asked him, "Do you love me?" He didn't condemn and deride him, He lovingly reminded Peter what was important. Christ does the same with us.

    Our church motto is : I am more sinful than I ever dared imagined, but IN CHRIST, I am more loved than I ever dared hope.
    This is the key--to remind ourselves who we are in Christ--loved and accepted. It also gives so much diversity and color to the body of Christ. So I serve Christ out of joyful abandon and gratitude that He has forgiven ME, not out of fear or duty. I am clean because of what Christ has done for me, not anything I can do for Him. So as you so eloquently say:

    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.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Great insight Andrea.

    I have often considered the problems with many traditional "doctrines" handed down by different men. For instance, there is an idea that after we all get to heaven we will have no ability to sin or make mistakes but no one seems to be bothered by the fact that if that ever happens then we don't need Christ either? I want him for eternity because only in him is eternal life.

    The very nature of humanity (and relationship) is encapsulated in choice or opposites. If you want to be able to love you also must be given the choice to hate. If you want to be able to be selfless you must also have the choice to be selfish. I think God made a world of opposites. I don't have any problem with that. Only in a world of opposite choices can you have real relationship.

    Now throw divine grace into the mix and you have a spiritual temple made of living stones. A covenant body of human beings where "God dwells with men" (Revelation 21).


  4. Boy did I need to hear this TODAY!

    I really, really screwed up today. What an encouragement to open up your blog and read that post:)

  5. Haha, BK, what is facebook for if not to stalk the people we love? ;) I'm so glad you stopped by!

    Also, Jessica and Mrs. McKinney, it makes me feel so good when you like my posts. I feel as though I am doing some good in this world.

    Micah, once again, you have challenged me so much. I never thought of that. I mean, I did, but I always assumed it was one of those thingg that could just be explained and ignored it. Thank you so much for all your comments!

    And Tina, I'm glad you liked it. :)

  6. Andrea, if there are two things that are crystal clear in this life it is that your are destined to be the bride of Jack Bauer and that you are on your way to being a guitar goddess!! If I can teach Luke drums and Lydia bass we will have a killer band!

    Nothing can ever diminish the beauty and worth you have in the eyes of God. The depths of His suffering convey the depth of His love for us. Think of your life now as simply being a follower of Christ, because thats what He calls us to do (Matt 8:22, 16:24, etc...) He says if you love me, keep my commands (John 14:15, etc...) So we obey Him because we love Him and are following Him. This is the new life in Christ that new creations are made for. We reject and flee from sin because this is what Christ did and its what He tells us to do. An easier way to look at it is this: hate with all your heart what is of the Devil (sin), and love with all your heart that which is Christ and His Words!!

    Now, go and write a beautiful and melodic song about all the beauty and treasure we have in Christ! Here's my favorite chord progression: D, Bm, Em, A, and back to D!



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