Living; genuinely living is an act of courage. I am not talking about going through the motions of life; the getting up, the brushing of the teeth, the eating three meals a day, the watching of TV, the playing of games online, the tweeting every 3 hours. That, my friends is just surviving. I’m talking about REAL living.
Musicians know this well. A teacher of mine from Juilliard who played first horn in a major orchestra for 30 years often says that being a brass player (especially a principal) requires consistent acts of courage. With this instrument there is nowhere to hide. You only, as Yoda said so well, “Do or Do not; there is no try.”
If you think I exaggerate, just listen to the first 2 minutes of Mahler 1 and imagine yourself in the seat of that first trumpeter. (Start at :53 seconds in)
If you’re like me, you want to live your life to the fullest. You want to achieve all that God has for you. You don’t want any of your own self-imposed limitations to squelch your story or to limit your impact. So in order to get there, first we need to get honest about the lies that we believe, knowing that “only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” Thank you T.S. Eliott.
So here are a few common lies we believe. Check them out and see if they ring a bell.
LIE #1: Your calling will be in your comfort zone.
I was sitting with a young person who feels the call of God on their lives the other day and he began to thoughtfully share with me how he had systematically determined what his calling wasn’t. It couldn’t be preaching, he said, because that just wasn’t him. And it couldn’t be worship leading because that required a lot of energy and he’s just not an energetic person. On and on he went through the list of ministries that were not for him because….. they weren’t in the comfort zone.
Newsflash, peeps. NOTHING worthwhile is comfortable. Nothing worthwhile is going to feel in the pocket. And nothing that God asks us to do will be able to be accomplished without walking into it in faith and continuing on in faith. Why do you think the Bible gives us that great verse, “I can do ALL THINGS through Christ who strengthens me.” That’s not just for those calamities that come upon you. That verse is for the situations that you put yourself into out of obedience to God. All you gotta do is look at some of those folks in the bible who were called and see how NOT in the comfort zone their ministries were. The poster child has got to be Moses who was called to speak for Israel and he was a stutterer. Talk about living life out of the comfort zone, but look how effective he was!
LIE #2: Fear is your enemy.
Would you believe me if I told you fear is not the enemy? Fear, instead, can be an incredible friend. Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, not absence of fear.”
Allow me to give you a musical example. The French Horn is this terrible instrument where without meaning to you can accidentally play pretty much every note on the instrument without touching a button. Just by tightening or loosening your lips you can end up on all sorts of notes. I work every day with my students on starting pieces, because as I like to say, “You only get one chance to get the first note right.” We do something called the “first note challenge” in each lesson and they practice setting up, putting the horn to their face, counting off and then playing that first note perfectly.
Every week in these lessons, as I quiz them, I see these students muster up their courage and start those first notes. Sometimes they hit them, sometimes they miss them, but as they have the courage to practice starting over and over they get better at fighting through the fear of failure.
As I watch them go through this each week, I see a parallel to our human experience. It’s scary to start something new. Especially when messing up is an inevitable part of that process.
LIE #3: You will accomplish plenty without courage.
Muhammed Ali said it this way, “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”
Wow, that’s plain. You might say to yourself, ‘I am no Mohammed Ali.’ You may look around and see others living acts of courage, and say, “I’m just not bold like that, “ or, “that’s just not me.” But hear this. Not only will a lack of courage keep you from accomplishing the things your heart desires, but it is also terribly displeasing to God. Did you know that? Check out this less-than-popular passage: “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Wow, to God being cowardly is as detestable as all those other things? Whoa, I don’t know about you, but I need to work on my courage!
I will end with one final story. One of my youngest students played her first piece on a recital this week. She came to her lesson and within the first measure of a piece that she had been working on for weeks missed two notes and burst into tears. I then found out from her mom that she had been psyching herself out all week because she was scared to play in front of all those people.
After calming her down and getting her some tissues, I began to reveal something to her. “Grace, I get scared too!” Her sixth grade eyebrows raised, “Not you,” she said incredulously, “You’re so good!” I then explained to her that the fear never goes away, but that seasoned musicians learn to compensate for it, plan for it, and combat it. One of the ways we do that is by not expecting perfection. Sounds simple, but many of us are so afraid of failing that we never try.
So here’s the little formula that I learned at Juilliard that I shared with her, and I will share with you in closing.
At Juilliard my teacher asked me, “On a scale of 1-10 how do you expect to perform in this audition?” I said, in all honesty, “I expect myself to be a 10.” He then said, “Rate your preparation for this audition from 1-10.” I had to honestly give myself a 7. He then explained to me that because an audition is a pressure situation, you should always prepare yourself mentally to play 1 level lower than you prepared. So if you prepare a 7, expect a 6 not a 10.
This may sound so simple to you, but this was a major epiphany for me. I always had such high expectations of myself even when I had not done the work.
So how does this relate to our spiritual walk? Don’t psych yourself out of doing what you are here for. Prepare diligently, then don’t expect yourself to go above and beyond the work you have done. God will take care of that part. You just put it out there and let it go. And as you do, remember that you are not alone. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”