Imagine a nine-year-old boy playing the violin. He has an excellent ear and almost never plays a wrong note. He can play any tune he hears. But the sound coming out of his violin doesn’t match the music in his head. It is scratchy and weak. Despite regular practice, he does not seem to improve. It is frustrating to listen to him, knowing the possibility of his talent.
That was our son a year ago. We had taken him to violin lessons, but his teacher had not worked enough on good playing habits, instead forging ahead with more and more difficult music, because of his excellent ‘ear’ and ability to read music. At first we were pleased with his progress, but as the music got harder his bad playing habits began to hamper him, until his playing was no longer a pleasure for the listeners. He had poor posture, and his hand was crooked as he held the violin. His bowing was weak. Something had to be done.
An email came into my inbox from the homeschooling network to which we belong, someone recommending their daughter’s Suzuki violin teacher. The cost would be higher than what we were already paying, and it was further away. But I had been praying for guidance. We decided to leave the old teacher and try the new.
She took him right back to the beginning, back to ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. I tried not to care, thinking, “It won’t be long before she’ll move him on to the pieces he was playing before.” She worked on his bowhold first, then his hand position. Week after week, she has been working on his playing habits – making sure the bow goes in the right place to get the best sound, standing up straight, hand in the right position, thumb pointing up at the ceiling not lying down. Every day when he practises at home I watch him to make sure that he is following her instructions.
Almost a year later, he is still not playing the more difficult pieces he was before, but the sound that comes out of his instrument is a hundred times better. His playing habits are not perfect, but vastly improved. I have learned patience, waiting for the fruit of our labours, knowing that this time nurturing his musical gift will be worth it in the end. The concertos will come, but the foundation must be properly laid.
As I was watching him at his violin lesson recently, I started thinking about what God has been doing in my life, about the bad habits that held me back from His purposes for me: self-pity, pride, criticism of others, self-condemnation, anger, impatience. Like me watching my son practising his violin, the Holy Spirit reminds me when my thoughts and behaviour go off the rails. He is patient and never condemns, but I am frustrated at times because I want to be so much further on than I am. However as we continue together, the new behaviours will become the norm, and the old will fall to the side. Already, some bad habits have died, and others are breathing their last gasp.
“Discipline always seems painful rather than pleasant at the time, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore lift your dropping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”