So my sweet boy has been struggling with guitar lately. He is 8. Has been taking guitar for about 2 years or so. He. Has. Hit. A. Wall. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that he has built a wall and run, smack, into it. Too bad…I know how easy it is it is to build a wall like that, brick by brick.
Whenever I see my children struggle, it is impossible for me to see a simple problem. I see the underlying character issues that have been exposed. I see the refining that the LORD is doing in them. And, always, I see myself in them. I see the bent ways they have inherited from me, or sometimes I can blame their father ;). Nature or nurture? The struggles they have, I see them in us, the parents. And often I see them in our own parents too. Did we inherit them or we were raised to go that way? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that the LORD is the Healer of all. He can mend the character in the same way He heals our broken bones and our broken hearts.
So part of the problem with Sweet Boy is that he likes to be his own boss, to go his own way. Sound like anyone we talk about here? This is a character trait (read flaw here) that I see strong in me, and in my husband, and in his parents, and in mine. Our grandparents too. Hard headed, the whole lot of us!
My son is supposed to practice his guitar with a metronome. Every time. “A metronome is any device that produces regular, metrical ticks (beats, clicks) settable in beats per minute…The metronome is used by musicians to help keep a steady tempo as they play, or to work on issues of irregular timing, or to help internalize a clear sense of timing and tempo” (thanks wiki!). Keeping in time helps the piece to be recognizable, and gives the music structure, as opposed to producing a jumble of notes which fall onto the floor in a big pile. This timekeeper, and its steady beat, bring order out of chaos; they teach the musician to feel the regular cadence of the music inside his head and his heart.
The metronome’s regular rhythm is often compared to the consistency of a heartbeat. But sometimes a heart strays from its steady rhythm, loses time, goes its own way: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9).
He has a new teacher since we moved. This teacher has been telling my Sweet Boy for 6 months to count his time out loud, and to practice with a metronome. And we have realized that he has not been doing this in practice consistently. More often than not, he has practiced in the way he thought best. And he has struggled to find the rhythm. Maybe his troubles are, in part, due to some problems with motor planning; this is a slight neurological issue for him. This problem doesn’t affect his daily life much anymore, just makes some new things harder for him…like strumming the guitar with one hand while placing the fingers from the other hand on the right strings to make a note. Sometimes when obstacles seem overwhelming, we might want to take the easy way out.
When things are hard, we often look for the way of least resistance. We prefer to go our own way if that means we can avoid discomfort: Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart (Prov 21:2). But what we must always remember is that regular practice develops muscle memory. This means that, whether we do it the right way or the wrong way, the way we practice is the way we will perform. We build automatic responses into our minds and bodies. And so, 6 months of practice, and 6 months of lessons have not advanced my son’s muscle memory in the area of strumming. Not one bit. And 6 months of practicing incorrectly? I hate to think of what will have to un-done by him, by practicing correctly, before he can move forward.
The heart is a muscle too; and the way we use it, develops a sort of muscle memory. The way we think and talk and respond to others – the way we live – creates a sort of muscle memory: As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16). It goes both ways, the way we live affects the state of our hearts and the state of our heart affects the way we live: But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person (Matt 15:18-20).
Have you ever felt trapped by your own thoughts or feelings? Have you wanted to see real change in your heart and in your life but felt “stuck”? Millions of dollars are spent on self-help books in this country… I think I finally saw two of the most obvious solutions for the problem with my own heart:
- The desire for righteousness, being made right with the LORD, is essential: Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4). I cannot simply wring my hands over the state of my rebellious heart; I must realize how ruined I am without His presence. If I earnestly desire closer and closer relationship with Him, He will reward me with that very thing: The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him (Lam 3:25).
- Holiness is being set apart for God. When I was young I thought the command to “be holy” meant to get it right, to get it together, to stop making so many mistakes. But it seems to me now that holiness isn’t a destination so much as a journey. Seems that holiness is the way you order your life to reflect, and make welcome, the Presence of the Living God.
Maybe you think I have been all over the place during this post (that would be a pretty regular occurrence, so no offense taken!). But here’s where I will bring it all home (I hope!): The LORD sets the meter. He sets the pace. On our hearts, His music is written. So we must practice daily, following His direction, His pace. It is the only hope of training our hearts – practice, practice, practice. This leads to muscle memory – an automatic response. What do we “practice”? More on that, next time, as we discuss our purpose as parents who build our House Upon the Rock.