A Bubble Bursts

As a child I listened to my grandfather playing on his baby grand piano, and I thought, “I wish I could do that.”  I would look at the musical score and tried to figure out what it meant, but all I could understand were the letters ‘m’, ‘p’ and ‘f’.  Were they notes on the piano somewhere?  I tried to play them but it didn’t sound anything like my grandfather’s playing.

Then when I was seven my parents sent me to piano lessons.  The written music started to make sense.  This was something I loved to do, and I never had to be told to practise.  Unfortunately after about six months of lessons we moved and the lessons stopped.  Playing the piano became a dream once more.  I had to wait until I was nearly 12 before starting lessons with another teacher.  During the waiting time I borrowed other people’s piano books and figured out quite a lot on my own.  A piano teacher, who I hoped would teach me, frowned disapprovingly when I told her this, saying, “You’ll be picking up bad habits.”  Perhaps I was, but music was already an important part of me.

Once I started lessons again I worked hard, but was never a prodigy, just an above average amateur.  I played in church for the first time when I was 14.  At first I would have to practise for weeks before I could accompany the congregation.  I spent hours playing all the songs in the book so that I would be ready whenever I was needed.  I learned how to play using chords and later on, how to play by ear.

There were always others who were better than I was – one of my classmates who had started learning earlier, a younger girl who had learned using the Suzuki method, someone else who played the same pieces that I did, but so much faster.  There was an ugly envy in me.

I tried to get into the performance programme at university, but my application was declined.  I hardly talked about it afterwards, because I was so embarrassed that I had even tried.  I stopped playing anything challenging for a long time after that.

My husband and I met over a piano keyboard.  He was playing in church.  I didn’t know anyone, so I thought I’d talk to him.  I didn’t think much of him at that first meeting, but fortunately he was more impressed than I was.  🙂  Our first ‘date’ was playing duets.  We play at approximately the same level, albeit with different strengths.  It is in keeping with God’s beautiful design in bringing us together – ‘oak and ash in a dove-tail joint’.

When I was in my early thirties I decided to have piano lessons again, as I had never done any exams, and wanted to be able to teach piano.  Over the next few years I played lots of Beethoven and Bach, and was introduced to Scarlatti and Brahms, and learnt about cadences and what a second inversion meant (“Drama!” my teacher said).  It took a few years, because I had our fourth child during that time, as well as homeschooling, but finally I was able to sit the ATCL performance exam, and passed, at the ripe old age of 35.

Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_031

But I’m still only an above average amateur, and I still struggle with pride and envy.  I realised that last week when someone at church commented that she missed hearing my husband playing, as she had heard me playing more often.  She commented about his style being different from mine, and how he was ‘very accurate’.  The ugly green-eyed monster hadn’t died yet.  I was hurt and put out.  Something important to me was under attack.  Thankfully we sorted it out the same day, and she realised she had been making some wrong assumptions (she thought that I had been stopping him from playing, when I hadn’t).

But I got to thinking about how I had reacted.  The only thing that was hurting was my pride, and that didn’t deserve to live.  I had been congratulating myself on my excellent musical renditions, and someone had come with a sharp pin and *pop* burst my bubble.  And I was reminded of these words (the paraphrasing is mine):

“If I play the sonatas of Beethoven by memory, perform Bach with breathtaking accuracy, and my fingers fly like swallows over the keyboard, but I have not love, then I am only a sounding gong or a clashing cymbal….I am out of tune and they are only notes, worth nothing.”

Conversely, when I play with love and without pride, it doesn’t matter if my fingers trip up or I miss some notes.  My Father in Heaven loves to listen anyway.  🙂

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Washing dishes for Jesus

There are seven of us in our family, and we eat most meals at home.  We also do not have a dishwasher machine.  We have a small kitchen that becomes cluttered and unusable very quickly if dishes are not dealt with. 

For a long time dirty dishes were a point of contention between myself and my husband.  I felt like I washed the dishes more often than he did (I even started keeping count), and that he should wash more, and he became annoyed with me when he was washing and I was sitting around using the computer or reading a book, and not helping him get through them faster by drying.  I would become irritated with him when I needed to cook and the kitchen was still full of dishes from the last meal.  Such a small thing, but resentment simmered and even broke out into arguments and anger.

I realised my attitude was wrong, and that I needed to change it, but how?  I found the following verse, and put it over my sink:

Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters,since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ. 

Colossians 3 verses 23-24

Every time I wash the dishes (especially when I really don’t feel like tackling them again), I remember that I am doing them for my Saviour, as an act of love for Him.  The difference has been extraordinary: so marked that I can only attribute it to God’s work and the power of the Word of God in my life.  The resentment is gone, and if it tries to return I can dispel it easily.  We have had no more fights over this issue.  Both of us have changed.

When self-pity tries to throw a party, I can boot it out by thanking God.  It doesn’t seem to matter what I start to thank Him for.  Once I start on that track it’s easy to continue.  Perhaps this is the ‘secret’ of contentment that Paul writes about in Philippians 4 verses 12 and 13:

I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty.  In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

There are many things we can (and do) complain about.  But if we are in Christ the reasons for thankfulness are so much more numerous and more significant, and when we focus on these, the heart overflows with joy and He gives us strength.  Our thankfulness is a beautiful offering to our Father, more precious than any sacrifice.

I will praise the name of God with a song;
    I will magnify him with thanksgiving.
This will please the Lord more than an ox
    or a bull with horns and hoofs.
Let the oppressed see it and be glad;
    you who seek God, let your hearts revive.
For the Lord hears the needy,
    and does not despise his own that are in bonds.

Psalm 69 verses 30 to 33

In some ways it seems trivial to write about my struggles with dishes, when I know that there are many people in the world who are suffering terribly, people who would love to have three meals a day and the ‘problem’ of dirty dishes.  However, it seems as if it is not our circumstances that are the most important factor in our contentment, and that each small battle we face may be a training ground for something greater:

Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much, and whoever is unrighteous in very little is also unrighteous in much.  Luke 16 verse 10

His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful slave! You were faithful over a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Share your master’s joy!” Matthew 25 verse 21