De-Tuning Your Life
Recently I was having a conversation with my 30-year-old son about music, specifically, playing the guitar. He related to me a story of a time when he was in college pursuing his degree in music. He had a very demanding (read, excellent) guitar teacher who taught him in what I thought was a profound way. My son would work for weeks on a classical guitar piece until he could play it with near perfection. He would then play it for his guitar teacher who would listen and watch, hopefully giving approval to my son’s expertise on this particular number. After the piece was finished, the teacher would reach over to my son’s guitar, grab one of the tuning pegs and de-tune one of the strings. He would then say, “Ok, now play it again”. If you are a guitar player, especially classical, you know how cruel this is. I assume my son knew better than to protest this move, but the point was clear. “You have some mastery over this piece but can you adapt when the D string is out of tune and you must figure out where the right notes are - on the fly, because this will happen when you are performing. One of your strings will break and you will have to continue to play and figure out how to find the same notes on other strings.”
Life is like this. We think we are doing well and that we have obtained some mastery over certain areas of our life, then something happens which ushers us to a whole new level of futility. We have fought so hard to win ground over from dark forces which threaten to swallow us up and then learn that we are only just beginning to enter into a battle we only barely knew existed and hoped upon hope that it didn’t. It’s at those points that we learn something whether we consciously know it or not. My son learned that if he was to master the guitar (which by the way, no one ever has), he must suffer. And he must allow that suffering to make him serious, stained with humility. Depression, anger and naiveté must give way to a kind of joy filled courage and sober knowledge that life is not simple any more than is the ground supple to the spade.
G.K. Chesterton, the great essayist from the turn of the last century, wrote of this kind of courage which must be formed in the smallest moments of our lives.
Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. “He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,” is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or quite brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if he will risk it on the precipice. He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine.
Never underestimate the seriousness of the task of living this life. Having been made in the image of God, we are serious and glorious people who are being transformed and made ready for a life “which eye has not seen, nor ear has heard”. Be grateful for De-Tuning.