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.
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.