Friday, January 31, 2014

The Sum of Me is You

It has always been a bit of a thistle-point with me that I do not play an instrument. Everyone else in my family does. Even Grace, at seven years old, can manage more one-finger tunes on the piano than I. But, like Elizabeth Bennet, I have always considered that my fault because "I would not take the trouble to practice." I sing, yes, but that is hardly the same as being able to sit down to an instrument and bring forth emotion from the keys or strings or mouth-piece. Sometimes, when I've run out of words and my heart is fair to bursting with some sorrow or concern or longing, I will run my fingers over the keys of our piano like a lisping scholar trying to fathom a Latin text, and feel hopelessly illiterate. I know a good bit of music theory from early lessons and my father has started again a music theory class for my sisters and I. I balked when the proposal came up and laughingly told Mama I have no time. When pressed as to why I was so against the idea of an hour's class a few evenings a week I told her:
"I have no room in my life for being bad at things!"
As soon as I said it, I had one of those odd, blue-moon sensations of having unintentionally said something profound. I laughed it off as a joke, but when I reviewed this comment (after the first session of theory-class) I had to acknowledge that I partly meant what I said. See, I don't like being bad at things. I am accustomed to being good at what I'm good at, trying new things, and abandoning them if I don't show prompt aptitude; this variety of pride is my downfall. A person can't live a full life if they must be good at everything. To have no room for being bad at that not the same as refusing adventure? I think of the example of those people one comes across at dinner-parties now and then. At the first few moments of conversation, one thinks one has finally discovered a new and interesting acquaintance: the person is well-informed and passionate about the subject on which you are conversing and all seems bright and beautiful. Then one begins to realize that the subject is the only subject on which the other person seems capable of speaking and the slow, entrapping sensation of having met a bore creeps down one's spine. When I realized this tendency of mine to not do a thing because I wasn't immediately good at it, I knew I needed to break this habit and quickly. If the world ran by the standards to which I was holding myself, think how dull it would be:

People without fine voices would never sing.
Children would never draw pictures because they weren't real artists.
Learning an instrument would be illegal unless you were a protege and knew instinctively.
You could only ever learn the one language to which you were raised.
Poor gardeners would not be permitted to try growing seeds.
Only the true athletes would be allowed to jog or play sports.
Dancing could be done only by professionals.

And on and on the dull, drab world would go. What a place! What a hell. In fact, if you made room in your life only for the things at which you were perfect, you would be left shriveled and dead. We are imperfect in our very natures, which is why we need Christ's perfection to redeem us. If the sum of me is my talents, my achievements, my merits, I am nothing. What I need to focus on instead is who I am in God's eyes. I want to be able to say with a joyful, buoyant spirit: "The sum of me is You." This it the only identity that will last, and with this identity comes freedom. Freedom to struggle, to be broken, to fail because we have accepted at last that we are strugglers, broken, and failing mortals. Freedom to create imperfect offerings with right hearts. Christ has seen all our mess and He still chooses us, loving us in our imperfections because "in our weakness He is made strong."  I'm called to rejoice in my weaknesses, knowing they glorify my King.

Creativity is a gift of worship. Creating anything is an act of praise. God knows I can't make a single thing perfect by His standard of perfection. All that is required of me is to do my best. If my best attempt at drawing is a clumsily-sketched hand, so be it. If my best attempt at music is a fumbled rendition of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," so be it. I'll never be perfect and to deceive myself by thinking I will is madness. No one is perfect. No book I will ever write, no song I will ever sing, no landscape I will ever paint will be perfect...but if I try and dare and do, they can't help but be beautiful.
"To banish imperfection is to destroy expression, to check exertion, to paralyze vitality."
-John Ruskin


Elizabeth Kirkwood said...

I was just pondering something in the same vein the other day... I was debating painting because, although I have little skill in it, I somehow manage to enjoy it, and perhaps enjoy it because I know I won't get very far in it. In that way I've found it enjoyable.

Thank you for writing this! :)

Rachel Rossano said...

This brought to mind 2 Corinthians 12:9 "And He has said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.' Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me."

Christine Smith said...

I absolutely love this! It was something I needed to hear. I have a bad habit of knocking things off because I'm not good at them. I'm a quitter. I tend to not try new things because I know I'll be bad at them. But that isn't how it should be. DOING is beautiful in itself, whether it's perfect or not, just as you said. Thank you for this!

And hello, by the way. I'm new over here and already in love with your blog. I'm obsessed with Beatrix Potter myself. ^_^

Livia Rachelle said...

I am this way too. Part of this is pride and laziness and the other part is despair. I feel like that if I don't get it right away, then I will never get it even though I "know" practice makes perfect!

Rachel Heffington said...

Elizabeth, Rachel, Lauriloth and Livia: I am so glad to hear that I am not the only one who finds this area difficult, and that we are all determined to overcome it. ;)
Lauriloth, I am so pleased you like it here...I love having new friends. {especially ones who like Beatrix Potter} :) Welcome!