In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes “I do not understand what I do. For what I WANT to do, I do not do, but what I HATE I do.” That is Romans 7:15
Ah, the ubiquitous “I don’t want to – – I can’t do it – – I’m afraid to do it.”
My philosophical, adult son recently observed
1. “Mom, a lot of people AVOID doing the hard things in life, because those things DON’T initially feel good – – because we’re not good at it, it’s the thing we haven’t mastered yet, the thing that requires new information and unexplored effort – – but after we HAVE DONE that hard thing, we feel better, relieved, grateful” – – for instance completing a workout at the gym, practicing your instrument, doing the laundry or engaging in a hard conversation.
2. “Conversely, We CRAVE the attractive, easy thing – – (the meal of junk food, or killing a bottle of wine, spending money on something we really didn’t need, or taking a long social time that put us behind in our work) but after we’ve experienced that shiny, escape-thing, we usually don’t feel good.”
So here’s the irony:
• One thing feels good at the beginning – – and then NOT good when it’s over.
• While the other DOESN’T feel good at the beginning – – but we feel good after it’s done.
Now that all of us are in our “Junior year of the pandemic”, what have you gotten out of it? Were there things you indulged in or avoided doing during these months/years because it was too hard to face, and now you have regrets? Or did you conquer some hard things and claim a bit of renewal? Did you shake off some tired old habits, maybe learning something that freed you from being stuck in a bad place?
During MY pandemic times, I decided to do something I’ve always wanted to do. I decided to learn how to play the cello. I have engaged the services of a marvelous, delightful, encouraging, expert teacher, and now I have a remarkable combination – – decades of my own musicianship alongside a novice endeavor, with a whole new discovery of music-making.
But here’s the thing – – learning to play a stringed instrument, as many of you know, is NOT initially a rewarding endeavor. If you commit to it, it is actually a life-long game of “Whack-a-mole”: the minute you conquer one small element, something else is going to pop up…your wrist on either hand, your finger placement, the drape of your bow fingers, tension in your shoulder, bowing far or close to the bridge, string engagement, fingerings, elbow vs. the bow tip, tuning…just the struggle of bi-lateral transfer going on the brain – – agh! I asked my teacher if this will end with time – – she said, “No – – it will just become a more advanced game of Whack-a-mole”.
Oh I DON’T want to practice – – because that cello will fight my good intentions and my novice efforts…and I won’t LOOK good! It doesn’t feel good. I’ve avoided it a lot – – and I’ve thought about quitting SO MANY TIMES. But my teacher is compassionate and understanding, caring and experienced. She reminds me of David’s song of praise from 2 Samuel 22:32-35:
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is the Rock except our God?
It is God who arms me with strength
and keeps my way secure.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he causes me to stand on the heights.
He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
I have a teacher who is continually shaping me, BY MY SIDE. And through her compassion, I see a reflection of God, who is continually shaping me…what a relief!!! When I DO practice the cello, there IS progress. I recognize it – – I get more and more – – equipped. More trained. And I’m always grateful for the time I put in afterward…and THAT feels good. Maybe one day, after practicing and working passed the struggles for this next decade until my retirement, I will get to do that fun thing I dream of: playing with other people, being worthy of playing last chair in a community orchestra. I won’t reach soloist capacity, that’s not the goal, but – – I want to contribute.
I know you WANT to do something today – – and you don’t want to do something. Have a look at those things. The desires DO oppose one another. But you and I have a God to depend on, a God who is our refuge, the source of our strength, who gave us His spirit as the ultimate encourager – – what’s the source of that word? COURAGE. Go at it TODAY, anticipate the equipping…and claim the resulting gratitude.
Mary Hoffman is Director of Music at Peachtree Presbyterian Church and is a regular contributor to the YouthCUE monthly newsletter and CUEcast.