It's time to tell you the truth: I've spent my whole life practicing.
Now, when I say that, the natural question is to ask: "Practicing for what?" That is the natural question, but not the important one. The important question, rather, is why.
My brother has always had a bit of a musical ear. Ok, an incredible musical ear. And from the time I was big enough to listen, he's had the ability to sit down at the piano and pluck out a song, even a classical tune, and even if you don't know what it is, it certainly sounds like something. He took lessons, but he could never really sit still long enough to get the discipline of music down. Although he was (is) a brilliant musician. I took lessons, too. Because I wanted to be like my brother.
To this day, I'll tell you - I play more often than he does. I have scores and scores (and literally, scores) of music haunting my hallways. In boxes in the closet, for those I've grown out of. In a magazine rack near the foot of the piano. Stuffed into the piano bench, for the stuff I play often. New stuff, old stuff. And to this day, if I happen to be playing when my mother walks in, she shoots me a weary look and says, "It just doesn't sound like anything." (You should know I'm more likely to be playing Steven Curtis Chapman and Chris Tomlin and some good ol' fashioned ragtime than the more "traditional" piano fare) but the pain is the same. I work and I work and I work, and I truly love to play. But here I am 26 years after I first tickled the ivories, and the contrast is still there.
When my brother plays, it's magical. When I play, it's noise. It doesn't sound like anything. A couple of months ago, however, she finally said this a different way. Rather than her standard "that doesn't sound like anything," she instead said, "It always just sounds like you're practicing."
I considered that and, after the initial sting of still being compared wore off, I realized you know? She's right. It always sounds like I'm practicing. Because...I'm practicing.
Practicing for what? For nothing, really. For the sheer joy of playing. For the end game of simply getting better. That's all it is. I love to play the piano, and I want to do it well, and so I'm practicing. If I was any good at what I was doing, if I was simply just good at it and it didn't take much to be or to stay that way, I don't imagine it would be as much fun. I imagine, rather, that it would get old after a time. A girl always needs a new challenge. For me, music is one of those challenges. I'm always practicing. Always tackling something new. Always getting better at my craft while expanding my repertoire.
Now, I say all that to say this: isn't this also the work of faith? (Yeah, I'm a "Jesus blogger." I had to go there.) Most of us seem to have this idea, especially for the on-fire new-to-the-faith crowd, that faith is supposed to be easy. That we're supposed to be really good at it. That it's supposed to be noticeable in our lives, that it should show itself, that it should just be this thing we do without having to think about it and that other people should appreciate how magical our faith is.
But let's be honest - for most of us, for most of our lives, faith is just noise. It's something we're working on. It's a mess. It's a bunch of stumbled-over fingers and tryings again and piles and piles of stuff just lying around our space. Some old, some new. Some we mastered long ago and some we're still working on. Those of us who have been around the faith awhile know this is true. It's just a mess. It's a work in progress. Faith...takes practice.
We kind of allude to this in some of our vernacular. We call someone a "practicing" Christian. Or a "practicing" Jew. Or a "practicing" Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist. We say someone is practicing their religion and we don't have a second thought about it. We don't really mean practicing, in the sense of preparing and getting better; we really just mean they are doing something that is overtly, or routinely, of that faith. We ought to focus more on the former.
I'm practicing my faith, just like I'm practicing the piano. Practicing for what? For nothing, really. For the sheer joy of Jesus. For the end of game of simply getting better. That's all it is. I love my Lord. Getting better at the faith isn't going to get me anything with Him; He loves and forgives and redeems me all the same. But I want to be better at it. I imagine the day when prayer is my first thought and not my last resort. I imagine what it will be like when I fall to my knees before I fall down. I imagine what it would mean if I believed without seeing, or believed without doubting, or trusted with all my being. I don't even know if these things are possible, but I'm practicing anyway. I want to do faith well. That's all.
And you know what? I can't imagine if faith was any easier. I can't imagine loving God without the challenge of practicing loving Him. If I was just good at it, if I was any good at it at all, I don't know that my love would be as deep. There's not a lot of payoff, to me, in the easy things; it's the challenge that makes my faith what it is. And I'm okay with that.
What I hope, however, what I hope beyond hope is that one day, my faith will sound like something. That one day, someone will look at my life and muddle through the noise and figure out that it sounds like something. It already does to me, or I wouldn't be playing this song.
A few final words. First, my mother has also been encouraging over the years. For awhile, I would sit down and blast Michael W. Smith's worship CDs and play along with them. She still asks why I don't do that any more. (I do, just not as much as I used to.) She says, "You were really good at that."
And second, because I have been encouraged for years by a few very dear friends to share my music with the world, and in conjunction with this post, I have uploaded some of my stuff to NoiseTrade. Which means...you can download for FREE some of my original compositions. These are not studio-recorded. These are not professional by any means. But if you've ever been interested in what it sounds like to practice, maybe this is your thing. To get it free, just ignore the tip. (Please, ignore the tip.) Just click the link above and it will send you right to my page.
Now get out there and practice something.