Pursuing violin is one of the harder things I’ve ever set my mind to. Hear me out. I know that pushing a stick across a string doesn’t sound that difficult, not hardly. And I know that life is sure to deal us much harder things. Like knots in stomachs and tears that never flow and mistakes that alter everything. Like the ongoing battle of depression or the battle of an ongoing Monday where you wake up wishing you were still asleep because you are even more tired then you were the night before. Like thinking you were over it only to fall apart all over again and cry yourself to sleep when no one is watching. Like choosing to stay when everyone else leaves or choosing to leave even when you want to stay with all of your heart – just because it’s the right thing to do. Like raising children. Or staying married. Or telling the truth. Or saying no. These things are hard.
And perhaps one of these things is your thing– your hardest. Or perhaps it is something entirely different. I don’t know. Here is what I know: We all have our hardest. And by hardest I mean that continuous grappling that we all encounter – those things in life that we try and not allow to get the better of us, and yet we never are quite able to get the better of them either; those struggles that never seem to get easier, those shadows that are never quite conquered in full, those flaws that continually prevent us from perfection. By hardest I mean that longest and deepest and darkest line that goes across the monitor of your life like the line on a graph that never fluctuates but is always in a steady state of simply staying. It never seems to go away, never seems to get better.
Call it heartbreak. Depression. Self. Human nature.
The struggle is real for us all.
I grew up chanting the same mantra you did: practice makes perfect. But then that is why violin is one of the harder things I’ve ever put my mind to. Because no matter how hard I work at it, my best is still flawed. I can run my fingers through that scale a thousand times plus some and hit the same wrong note each time over. At least one pitch out of four will be ever so slightly out of tune.No matter how much time or effort I pour into that piece of wood, it isn’t enough. And no matter how confident my smile may seem when I’m finished – I am aware, painfully aware, of the fact that I cannot make it sing. At least not the way I want it to sing – not the way Joshua Bell can make it sing on my Spotify playlist.
So because they told me practice makes perfect, and my practice was far from making perfect, I played in the dark. I couldn’t make it sing perfectly, so I didn’t make it sing at all – not for anyone. Here’s a bit of hard truth from the girl who may seem like she has it altogether: in my three years of playing, I’ve never once played a complete and full piece in front of a single soul. Never have I said to someone – anyone – the words that press up against the lining of my soul and mind and mouth: I want you to hear this. Instead I’ve been silent, shut the doors, played alone.
And I wonder – how often, how many,
s t r u g g l e a l o n e.
We can all do it for a while. But then there comes a time when that is no longer enough. When you play and you play and you struggle and nobody hears, nobody sees, and the age-old question arises: if a tree falls in the forest and no one hears, did it make a sound? And you don’t seem to know the answer anymore. And you’ve been battling for far too long or been hurt far too deeply or failed far too miserably to ever hope for that your current and despicable practice could ever achieve that cold and distant perfect.
And so you’re about to stop because the point of perfect has you beaten already.
Well, love – don’t. You don’t have to stop & you don’t have to struggle alone.
Because flawless has never been synonymous with beauty & perfect was never the goal. So if you stop anything, let it never be the struggle but only the lies that keep you going at it alone: practice doesn’t always make perfect. And that’s ok. And surely – if we would only take a moment to take our eyes off that pipedream of perfection and instead look back at how far we’ve come, look down at where we stand now, and look up towards the real destination set before us – surely, we would see the truth: that practice and perfection do not walk hand in hand, but practice and progress do. And that’s what counts.
So here’s some truth.
Victory has less to do with finishing, more to do with starting, and everything to do with carrying on. I see too many of us waiting for the fulfillment of Romans 8:37. Too many of us are holding our breath and hoping for the day when we can stand over our defeated giant and exclaim: “NowI am more than a conqueror.” As if victory is only found at the close of the battle. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because if we’re going to talk about slaying our giants, well then love, don’t you understand that David was a hero before Goliath lay dead on the floor? This final defeat and consummation of the struggle of course merited the applause, but it didn’t win him the title of being more than a conqueror. Because he was already. This scrawny little shepherd boy was more than a conqueror the moment he decided to take action. He was more than a conqueror the moment he heard Goliath’s taunts and responded with a simple nomore. He was more than a conqueror the moment he stepped out into the open field with nothing but a sling in his hand and a promise on his lips: “I will strike you down.”
Because being more than a conqueror involves more than simply conquering, love. It’s not merely about getting through to the other side. It’s not all about finishing. It’s about starting – and saying no more to those voices that tell us we’re not good enough & we’re not strong enough & we cannot do this & we’re not worth it. It’s about standing in those trenches with mud on our faces and hands and tears in our eyes and hard words in our throats and remaining there, unmoved. It’s less about knocking our opponent to the ground and more about being willing to get knocked to the ground again and again and again only to keep getting back up. It’s about taking that next step even though it may lead to a fall. And it’s about carrying on like this as long as the battle rages, knowing that you were more than a conqueror the minute you stepped into that place – because you knew that to start wasvictory, to not give up isvictory, and to finish will bethe victory that has already been won because on your lips is His promise: In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! The war is over – because I have overcome it already.
Success isn’t found in perfection but it is found in: stronger hands and kinder minds.
Truly, it was never allabout that finish line. It’s about every single step that we’ve taken on that long road that will eventually get us there. It is about the holy ground we stand on today. It’s about realizing that true success doesn’t lie in the trophy and the applauds, but instead resides within those countless hours spent in the practice room where you stumbled over and over and over again, even when no one was watching.
And you know what – it’s ok if they watch. You don’t have to be alone anymore. Because as we struggle, our hands become strong, and that – that is a beautiful sight. It’s ok to not always be ok. It’s ok to fail, to fall. It’s alright to sob on my shoulder. Because brokenness is a story worth telling. And being made new is a work worth watching.
[ADD: There is no shame in falling. Remember in Mark’s Gosple, when the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest. When Jesus asked them what they were talking about – strugging with – they were ashamed to tell them. They hid. Like Adam. Like you and me. But look at how Jesus responds: (chuck track prayer)
One thing that really spoke to me was the way you addressed your disciples when they were arguing about who would be greatest in the Kingdom, Lord. What strikes me most about this account is that you didn’t rebuke them, or condemn them – even though they were surely in the wrong. Instead, you didn’t hesitate to come alongside of them and teach them exactly how to be the greatest!Instead of being disappointed in the way they had stumbled, you stooped to help them rise again; instead of condemning them, you taught them how to walk. I love that about you, God. I love how quick you are to help us, and how you never, ever condemn me in my failure; you never leave me there, you are never shocked or disappointed; you never fail to stoop down and help me up again, teaching me how to do better next time. Thank you, thank youmy Lord!
God is bigger than your struggle, bigger than your doubt. He is big enough to stoop down when you fall. He doesn’t condemn you. “Where are your accusors?” (Jesus’ words to an adulterer); “Who condemns God’s elect?” (Romans 8).
No more shame = Kinder Minds.
In fact – the only time Jesus condemned someone in the Gospel narratives was when he saw those who were not struggling – the Pharisees. He condemned them for not struggling with sin, for not struggling with pride, but rather yielding to it; he condemned them for not having hearts that break over the sick and the needy and rejoice over those Jesus made well. In Luke 6 Jesus cries: “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall weep.” He condemned those who didn’t struggle – because in the end, they would be defeated.]
I don’t know what your hardest is today. But this I know for certain: we all have a hardest. And like a violin, we can play upon it the greatest sob-story ever told or instead use it to serenade the world with the truer beauty of flaws and determination. Our struggles can demonstrate to us how easily we fall, or they can remind us of how many times we’ve gotten up again; they can be a landmark of how far we’ve come or a landmark of how far we have to go; they have the power to build stronger hands and kinder minds, or tear us apart with the hope of perfection and being done. The choice is ours.
Pursuing violin is one of the harder things I’ve ever set my mind to. But it isn’t my hardest. Life surely has dealt me much, much harder things. And love, I want you to know, that today – here, now – I’m standing in those trenches with you. I’m there with a broken heart and bloodied knees that know well what it is like to hit the pavement hard. You’re not alone.
So here’s to you, love.Here’s to the one who has the courage to stop and look back and see the miles and miles of progress that you never knew you made because they were miles crossed one step at a time.
Here’s to the one who keeps on keeping on. Here’s to the struggle – to the note that is played wrong over and over again but never stops, to the step that’s taken despite the inevitable fall. Here’s to that knock that keeps knocking even when the answer seems too delayed for hope of an opened door; here’s to the one who keeps smiling even when their heart hurts because they know it’s ok to not be ok and this too shall pass. And here’s to the one who continues reaching, even when the stars seem so far away.
And, for the record, here’s to reaching for the stars. Because the last thing I want to do is to tell you that you can’t reach the end goal. This isn’t a that’s-hopeless-so-don’t-even-trykind of scribble. Pursue perfection if you will, make your goal completion, set your sites on that finish line by all means; seek to play the song well, fight for full restoration in that relationship, don’t settle for half-way-healed, and certainly work with all your heart, mind and soul to get the job done. Don’t ever stop reaching for those stars. Keep reaching. Reach, and reach with all your might. But in that reaching, in that struggle to grab hold of your star – remember this: there – right there in the reaching, there in the struggle, there in the fight – there is beauty worth noting and reward worth keeping. And there you will find a life worth living too.
“He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken,
and still obeys.”
C.S. Lewis // The Screwtape Letters