When Life Plays for Keeps

In keeping with all the Olympic metaphors of late I’ll throw one in to the ring as well.

There are days when I feel like I’m playing some type of volleying sport with Life! Unlike the women’s Chinese badminton team, however it seems that Life does not play to lose.

It feels as if Life likes to slam things past me at speeds that make my neck snap. She plays to win and she plays for keeps. Much of Life seems to have to be lived on her terms. After all, we don’t get to choose the diseases we get, the jobs we lose, the children we have or don’t have, or the floods, fires, and famine that plague us. We don’t get to pick our families, our gene pool, or how our ancestors were treated.

On the surface, Life could convince us that we have no recourse but to hand over the match and walk away in a quandary of confusion and convoluted thinking.

As people of faith, however we have another piece that follows us out on to the court and that is the element of belief. We believe that God has uniquely placed us in the story for a purpose. We believe that the purpose is to bring hope and heaven into the darkness – to leave things better than we found them. We believe that Jesus calls us to take who he is into places that don’t know it yet.

I’m learning that we live in that thin, snug space where we experience pain and peace at the same time – where the pain turns out to be the peace. It is the narrow gap between swinging back and despairing that we call home.

When we view life as something to be won instead of something we live, we will be in perpetual conflict. Freedom comes when I see something that isn’t mine to change and instead ask God where to find him in it. That’s far different than hitting it back again and again. On the occasions that I can make a difference it will be from a place of peace and conviction, not because I hit it back enough. It will be more about releasing than resisting.

When it feels like Life is playing for keeps I am reminded that God is the keeper. I experience more comfort in the thin, snug space of what is the more I quite trying to win at life.

Potential, Maturity, and Transformation

It brings me joy when I see maturity begin to catch up with potential.

Potential, or raw talent as we often call it only gets us so far. The mastering of that ability takes time, effort, focused attention, dedication, commitment, and sometimes just plain rudimentary practice.

When I was in the fourth grade I went to play for the National Piano Guild auditions. We performed before a judge at our local university and received a critique afterward. I had a love/hate relationship with those auditions. I would practice for weeks and feel the greatest surge of relief when it was over. Kind of like banging one’s head against a brick wall only because it feels so good when you stop and then convincing yourself you really like head banging as a hobby!

On this particular year a judge called my mother in and asked me to wait in the hallway after my performance. This had never happened before and I feared that I had hit a new level “suck” that had previously only been lived out in my nightmares.

On the ride home my mother asked me if I would be open to a new piano teacher, taking at the university preparatory school, studying with a college professor and taking music theory classes as well. It was a fairly pricey endeavor and my parents wanted to know that I felt a certain level of commitment before shelling out those kinds of bucks on piano lessons and music classes.

I jumped at the chance. I had learned to fake my way through previously relying on my ear to avoid learning to sight-read music. I was learning poor technique and my classical pieces reflected. While the judge gave me excellent scores, he noted that I was picking up the habits of a lazy musician but said that he saw extremely high potential in me.

My new instructor told me that it was important to get proper training and establish good habits so that one day my hands would be able to play the music that I was hearing in my head that couldn’t quite get out yet.

Potential and maturity meeting up was life changing for me.

Transformation is quite another matter. It comes from a deeply spiritual place and often from a place of desperation. Unlike potential, spiritual transformation seems to be more about letting go than digging in. God brings forth his vision in us when we give up our preconceived ideas about what we think things should look like.

Transformation is about progress and not perfection. Unlike potential, it isn’t a performance issue. We turn it into one when we realize it isn’t happening fast enough to suit us and take matters into our own hands.

Transformation is authentic when noticed more by those around us than by ourselves, and it may even be the beginning of that maturity which eventually fuels potential.