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On December, 2016

Browsing all posts on December, 2016

The Longest Night of the Year

Christmas is almost here.

For some, there's a crescendo of eager expectation. Mysteriously shaped boxes with concealed contents, will soon be exposed to glowing faces. Family will gather. Traditions will guide and galvanize people who share a common story. Hearts and bellies will be made full. And for some, all things will be right and in their rightful place.

For others, there will be a humdrum marking of time, a stationary movement through the final days of the year. They are not Scrooges, as one might suppose, just realists surrounded by heartache or pain or loss or fear or a combination of each. History is their ardent teacher and loneliness their only friend. Both teacher and friend keep stagnant, any lofty aspirations.

And yet there are some who will choose, by grace born in a manger, to go headlong into uncertainty and transgress the boundaries of nature. They're more courageous and less complacent. They're moving to places most will not go: those difficult places, for the downtrodden and low. For it's here that you will find him, the babe born in a stall.

They will go into the night, fearless and full of light. They offer what little they have to those who can never repay. They won't be pretentious and snobby, wagging fingers meant to demean. They won't add insult to injury, by rehashing what might have been.

They will simply come close and pitch their tent, the way that Jesus did. And the night that grew for so long now, will soon be rescinded by day. Dawn will make the longest night dissipate as hope springs forth again.

 

Stretching the Pinky Finger: Courtney Hall Lee

I recently began taking guitar lessons.  I was musical as a younger person.  I missed making music and the guitar is something I always wanted to try.

My musical background gave me a head start with the beginner materials, and I have been fancying myself quite the intro-to-guitar hotshot.  I have been mastering the exercises rather easily; everything my teacher asked me to play sounded pretty good.  My teacher is a wonderful man with a calm demeanor and a lot of experience.  Since I raced through the assignment last week, he decided to fine tune the things he saw that could use work.  He pointed out some ways that my fingers could be better placed on the frets, and challenged me to use better hand positioning.

I tried to play what he asked me while making the adjustments he suggested.  I attempted to play a simple exercise while keeping my fingers where he told me to put them.  It was impossible.  My hand stretched awkwardly and my pinky finger simply could not reach the spot where he wanted it to land.  It hurt my fingers to try to reach the stretched out position, and I still could not reach the right spot.  The hotshot was taken down by her little finger.

My teacher then showed me something I had never really noticed.  The frets further up the neck, closer to the body of the guitar were closer together.  He told me to move my hand down to the fifth fret and to try the stretch again.  This time my pinky could make it.  But as I moved my hand back one fret at a time, the stretch became a bit harder each time.  Finally, we were back where we started; my hand was stretched to the limit and my little finger had no hope of reaching its spot.

He told me to work on this every day, and he was certain that some day soon I would be able to achieve the impossible pinky position.  He compared it to touching one's toes in a yoga class; if you forced it the first day you'd really hurt yourself, but if you practiced each day you would eventually get there.

Now, I can touch my toes.  That comes easily to me.  This little finger exercise, on the other hand, was downright daunting.  But I trust my instructor, and I will do the finger exercise each day, and I have faith that my little finger will make the stretch one day.

Just as I have wanted to become more musical, I have also wanted to strengthen my discipleship.  Figuring out exactly how to follow Christ is more difficult for me than being musical.  But the pinky finger situation reminded me of how I feel about discipleship.  Some things Christ asks me to do I would do well naturally.  Other things he calls on us to do can leave me feeling spiritually like an over-stretched pinky finger.

I struggle with discipleship perfectionism.  I want so badly to get it right, that sometimes I feel like a failure when I don't succeed at living every part of the gospel perfectly.  It can be so discouraging, and I wonder if I will ever be good enough for Jesus.  Some things I just can't get right, and I feel terrible about it.

But then I realize that I have been putting more faith in my guitar teacher than I have in Jesus.  I pay for my lesson, I know he will be there, and I do my best, I listen and learn, and I practice all week until I see him again.  He asked me to stretch my pinky and I couldn't do it.  But I never considered not returning next week.  I will practice what he taught me and continue to return to him as a student because I trust his authority on the subject.  When it comes to discipleship, I need to trust in Jesus's authority on the subject of life at least as much I trust my guitar teacher on the subject of playing guitar.  Jesus asks us to stretch our pinky fingers.  He realizes that we won't be able to do it at first; but if we trust in his instruction and practice it, we will get better at it.

So many of us are intimidated by discipleship.  We aim to please and we want to get it right.  But for some reason, in this area where it matters most, we are prone to discouragement if we can't do it all perfectly on the first day.  I think that many people stay away from faith because they know they aren't perfect and fear that they can't live up to the expectations.  But those of us with that worry need to think of Jesus like a devoted and experienced guitar instructor.  He isn't holding the keys to the kingdom out of our reach.  He isn't asking us to play an expert level song when we first pick up the guitar, and if we fail then we are just too useless to play guitar.  He invites us to take intro level lessons as many times as we need to.  He will always be there, he will give us exercises that may hurt, and he will love us as students for doing our best.

So don't give up after the first lesson.  Or the tenth, or the one-hundredth, because the demands will keep increasing as we grow.  Just keep practicing, enjoying the sounds of progress and returning to spend time with your teacher, because he wants to teach you and he wants you to succeed.

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