One Good Phrase: Tanya Marlow (Do It Anyway)

Tanya Marlow would probably not admit it, but she is brave. That’s why I’m drawn to her writing and her view of the world. Tanya has a disease that has forced her to live almost entirely housebound, but I find her vision of life refreshingly big and beautiful. Though she is a lovely English lady across a mass of continent and ocean from me, I’m thankful to be her friend through this magical internet world. So happy she’s here today.

I’d been playing the piano for five years when I decided I was rubbish at it and I wanted to quit. I was so tired of getting it wrong.

I was maybe four or five when I started playing. Every week my mum dropped me off, and I descended the stone steps to the front door. The piano teacher’s front room looked out into the garden, but it was at basement level, so you couldn’t ever see up to the street.

I struggled up onto the piano stool, opened my tutorial book, and began to play. This time I would be able to do it, I told myself. I placed my fingers on the keys and began again that same, simple piece I’d been playing for the last three months. I was actually enjoying it – and then eight bars in, it happened. I forgot the flat or sharp and the chords sounded wrong.

“Oh dear,” he said. He’d spotted it. “Back to the start.”

I stopped, re-started.

This time it was five bars in – a different note, a different mistake.

“Oh dear.”

I went back to the beginning again, and again. The mistakes got earlier and earlier, till I was just playing one bar. I would stop playing as soon as he breathed in, anticipating his rebuke.

At the end of the lesson he would mark up my book and tell me to practice and play it again next week.

The message was clear: if you can’t play it perfectly, you shouldn’t play it at all.


My next teacher was Mrs Southwood, and she said she would teach me but wouldn’t enter me for exams, which was just fine by me as I was on the point of quitting the whole thing anyway. Her piano room was also her front room, full of strange clocks and old-looking wooden furniture; she had grey hair, sweet orange juice, and a doorbell that played Beethoven’s Ode to Joy.

I opened up my old piano book and played. As soon as I came to my first mistake, I snapped my hands away from the piano and stopped playing, waiting to be told to start again. It had become a habit.

She looked at me awhile. Then she started rummaging among the music books, and produced one of her own books and plonked it down on the music stand.

“These are duets,” she said. “You play the top, I’ll play the bottom. Just keep going.”

“But what if I make a mistake?”

“It’s okay. Don’t worry about the mistakes – just play.”

Just at the point where I was ready to quit, a teacher played along with me. I stopped focusing on what I was doing wrong, and I followed her lead; I listened to the music. I played it badly, but I played it. And somewhere in the midst of just doing it anyway, I discovered joy.


It still comes to me sometimes: the instinct to withdraw my hands in horror when I make mistakes. I need to whisper it to myself whenever I feel that strangling fear: do it anyway.

Do it even though you will muck up. Do the hard work of parenting, each morning filled with new mercies. Write the book, even though the book in print doesn’t match up to the book in your head. Start the online course, even though you fear you will never finish it, because half a course is better than no course.

Give money to one even though you can’t save the millions. Serve at church even though you feel under-qualified. Stop serving because you are overtired. People might judge you both for the starting and the stopping: do it anyway.

Let go of the lies of perfectionism that say you’re only worth what you achieve. Don’t worry about the falling down, the mockery of others, the shame, the mediocrity. Do it anyway, because if something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

Do it anyway because God uses the clumsiest, messed-up, ridiculous people in his upside-down plans. Do it anyway because God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom and it is certainly wiser than man’s criticism.

Do it anyway because the Christian life is not a gruelling diet-plan but an invitation to an eternal feast.

Do it anyway because God is not a frowning headmaster but a pick-you-up-and-kiss-you Daddy. Do it anyway because you are not alone in this: the Holy Spirit is one who comes alongside and sits with you. Do it anyway because God loves your tentative nods to His call;  He rejoices over you with singing, He delights in your faltering steps.

So I will say this to my boy, and I whisper it to myself:

Do it anyway. Take a seat at that piano. See your half of the music and don’t worry about the rest. Turn to your teacher, the one who writes your days, see His wink, and just play.



Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and was a lecturer in Biblical Theology. Now she reads Bible stories to her toddler as she learns what it means to be a mum who is housebound with an autoimmune illness. Her One Word for 2013 is ‘Anyway’. She blogs at Thorns and Gold on the Bible, suffering, and the messy edges of life. Follow Tanya on Twitter or like her Facebook page.

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  • Janice

    Tanya, I love this. I can relate to the piano playing! Not so much from a teacher, but from myself. I enjoyed playing at home when no one else was there because I just sort of plinked past the mistakes and kept moving, but even if there was anyone else in the house that old “it must be perfect or you should stop” idea would come and freeze me. A silly response to something called practicing, but I did it to myself anyway. And this is such a beautiful analogy to life.

    Ever since your One Word post this year about Anyway, I’ve been conscious of the idea and trying to kick all those other lesser motivations to the curb. So thankful for your writing, friend!

  • Mark Allman

    “Do it anyway because God uses the clumsiest, messed-up, ridiculous people in his upside-down plans.” I am so glad that he does. I think it means alot to stick to something regardless of how well you do it if it is something worthwhile doing. The time you invest in something is always worthwhile and moves you closer to being able to do it better. It is the being there and the effort that means more than perfection. Giving of yourself regardless of how developed that talent is; is always worthy.

    I am glad Tanya “does it anyway” because she is great at it!!

    I think perfection can be beautiful but I think there can be more beauty in imperfection because imperfection makes something very unique. I think we all grow to love flaws in the things that are ours…. to how our spouse goes off sometimes; to how our house creaks under the wind, to how a tool is worn but fits because it is known; to how the weather comes and goes.

  • Abigail Cashelle

    Tanya: I love it!!! It’s so true. We’re so focused on achievements that we forget that the journey itself might have merit. :) I love your attitude. Thanks for sharing!


  • Jeannie

    So, so true: I agree completely. Made me think of my daughter who is taking a high-school music class in which she is somewhat out of her depth. Her teacher gives the same advice you describe: Don’t worry about errors in your dictation, just do it and hand it in. Don’t worry if you play wrong notes, just do it. It’s challenging for her because she fears doing it wrong. “Do it even though you’ll muck up” — great advice.

  • Helen Murray

    ‘Let go of the lies of perfectionism that say you’re only worth what you achieve.’
    This brought tears to my eyes because it’s something that I battle with day in, day out. I know the crippling fear of not doing it right and I know how hard it is to do it anyway. I am full of admiration that your word for this year is ‘anyway’ and I am so looking forward to hearing how God has worked through your word at the end of this year.
    I have such a long way to go with this. I saw my daughter rip up a lovely painting because it wasn’t exactly as she wanted it to be and I realise that my perfectionism doesn’t only affect me and that breaks my heart.
    Thank you for this lovely encouraging post.

  • HopefulLeigh

    Love this, Tanya! I so needed this reminder today. Fun seeing you over here!

  • tanya marlow

    Thank you, friend! I love that you are also a pianist! It’s funny how quickly music and other things can turn so quickly from creativity to performance. I’m thinking about that a lot. I’m so glad my One Word has motivated you like it’s motivating me!

  • tanya marlow

    I love your excursus into poetry at the end! I get the sense you are a disciplined person who keeps on doing things that are worthwhile, even when they’re inconvenient. And I always appreciate that you stick to encouraging me in the comments! Thank you.

  • tanya marlow

    So lovely to see you on here, Abigail! I’m happy you loved it :-)

  • learning2float

    My favourite and most impacting post ever on your blog Tanya was ‘if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly’ I love this post, it just reiterates that. I’m going to try to live a ‘do it anyway’ life, knowing that God can do immeasureably more than I can ask or imagine, even in my weaknesses. Tonight is our church AGM – God has been nudging me to join the PCC, I wish I could postpone a while…but I’m going to do it anyway..I have people to nominate me…the only get out clause now is if no one votes. Thank you for sharing this theme again.

  • tanya marlow

    Your daughter’s teacher sounds just fab! Would that there were more like her…
    Thanks so much for commenting – I really appreciate you taking the time to comment!

  • tanya marlow

    Ach. I’m giving you a big hug, lovely, Helen, in the absence of actually making it better. It’s somehow so much more painful to see our children going through the same struggles that we haven’t quite mastered. (Although, does anyone really master these??) It’s so easy to be so hard on ourselves. I keep on having to whisper ‘grace’ to myself, every day.

  • tanya marlow

    Oh yay, Leigh! Thanks for stopping by!

  • tanya marlow

    I remember you saying that that post had impacted you! One of my all-time favourite verses is 2 Cor 12:9 – my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. – and then Paul goes onto boast about his weaknesses, for when I am weak, He is strong.

    You can travel an awfully long way on that, I reckon.

    My husband also has the church AGM tonight! Praying for you as you stand for election. yay yay!

  • Karen Sandford

    I. Love. This!! Thank you x

  • Ro elliott

    I used to me paralyzed by the fear of getting it wrong….of needing to be more…more spiritual ….more loving…..more everything before I could set out ….the years of illness….such limitations help set me free from my performance mentality….when so much is strip….all former abilities…..God’ s mercy comes in and sets things right….blessings as we all choose to just pull up the bench and bang out our best tunes….I think it make beautiful music to God’s ears~

  • tanya marlow

    Oh yay!

  • tanya marlow

    I love the thought of making beautiful music to God’s ears – thanks, Ro!

  • Bethany Bassett

    This was absolutely lovely, Tanya! This paragraph in particular…:
    “Give money to one even though you can’t save the millions. Serve at church even though you feel under-qualified. Stop serving because you are overtired. People might judge you both for the starting and the stopping: do it anyway.”
    …comes with such freedom for those of us (myself very much included) who are paralyzed by our inability to do Everything Right Always. I also started playing piano at 5 and had my share of perfectionist drama and rediscovered joy over the years, so the image of God as a teacher-turned-duet-partner is especially poignant. Beautifully done!

  • Kimberly

    I’m learning this lesson, slowly, painstakingly, but learning nonetheless. Thanks for the encouragement to do it anyway, one step at a time.

  • Joy Lenton

    This is awesome, Tanya. Such an encouragement to a fellow Slow Lane dweller and confirmed perfectionist like me! There are many great lines I could quote from your post but I’ll confine myself to one to save you having to read it all. I love the advice to “turn to your Teacher, the one who writes your days, see His wink, and just play.” Such freedom to simply be and simply try because the willingness counts more than the execution. Thank you for doing it anyway by gracing us with your beautiful prose and heart. May you find joy in doing all you can by God’s grace in the year ahead. Blessings and love xx :)

  • Abby Norman

    My heart just grew three sizes like the grinch. I love you so much. So much. We are sisters you and I.

  • Tracy

    Wow Tanya – His sweet voice of love, so clear! Thank you for drawing us near! May you be well.

  • tanya marlow

    Hey there – I just had a look round your blog and enjoyed it. Perfectionist drama is something of an understatement for what you went through! It’s always comforting to meet someone else who carries those kinds of scars, but is healed, and healing. (I think the both simultaneously.)

    Sorry! This is rather a rambling comment – thanks so much for reading!

  • tanya marlow

    Lovely Kimberly – a kindred spirit high-five to you!

  • tanya marlow

    Thank you. joy – that was my favourite bit too! I like that you liked it!

  • tanya marlow

    Just – :-)

  • tanya marlow

    Thank you Tracy for your affirmation and prayerful blessing. :-)

  • Anita Mathias

    Lovely. Perfectionism has paralysed me for years–and I wish I had come to this realization earlier!

  • Diana Trautwein

    So lovely, Tanya. Thank you so much. I am SO far behind on blog reading and so glad I kept this tab open. I’ve been missing your words of late and am so happy to have found such rich ones here.