Once upon a time, I wanted to learn how to play guitar. My daddy could play and I remember sitting in front of him on the floor while he sat on the couch and played 80’s worship songs. I sang along. Over the years, I had a growing desire to learn how to play acoustic guitar. I saw amazing worship leaders who all played guitar or songwriters who strummed their guitars while figuring out songs and I wanted to do that too. So, when I was in seventh grade, I expressed my desire to learn and my daddy printed off a chord sheet at my request. He demonstrated the chords G, E minor, D, and C, and told me to come back to him when I could play them fairly well. I sat down on the guest room bed with my daddy’s guitar and tried to play G. The cheat of G is where you press down on the tiny E string with your ring finger and strum the bottom strings. At first I tried to play it, but it didn’t sound quite right so I pressed down harder and switched to my middle finger and there it was! The G chord!
I examined my finger, which had a growing red line through the fingertip from pressing down so hard. I rubbed it, shook out my hand and had second thoughts about playing guitar. It wasn’t supposed to be this… painful…was it? But ever determined to learn how to play guitar, I formulated a solution. I cut off the sticky parts of a Band-Aid and stuck them on the tips of my forefinger, middle finger, and ring finger on my left hand. My mom came in and asked what I was doing and I told her that I was learning to play guitar, but it hurt when I pressed down on the strings, so I was coming up with a solution where I could play guitar without hurting my fingers so much. She told me it wouldn’t work; but ever convinced of my genius, I set out to resume learning guitar. After conquering E minor with a little more difficulty, I realized that my mom was absolutely right. It didn’t make much of a difference. I still had red lines running through the tips of my fingers and the Band-Aids were starting to come off. I sighed and attempted D. It sounded right about 20% of the time. Nearly defeated, I went back to my daddy and asked him to play them for me, so I could hear how they were supposed to sound. He took the guitar from me and played each one perfectly, one after the other. Awed by his impressive guitar skills, I asked how in the world he was able to do that. Didn’t it hurt? He told me to practice every day and allow callouses to grow on my fingers. With renewed interest, I went back to the isolation of the guest room and tried to play again.
The next day, I went back to my daddy and played those four chords. Did they sound right? Probably not. But I begged him, give me a song to play and I can do it. I asked him to print off “How He Loves” by David Crowder Band and I went back to the solitary confinement of the guest room and tried to play. My fingers throbbed and were bright red. Purplish trenches appeared on the tips. The fling lasted about three days. Learning guitar wasn’t worth the pain it caused my fingers. The Christmas of 2011, I opened my eyes to find a guitar. I vowed that I would learn to play this time. But, things got in the way, my fingers hurt and it sat untouched in the corner of my room. The summer of 2013, with nothing to do for the month of July after youth camp and a mission trip in June, I felt God telling me to pick up my guitar again. So I did. Convinced that God had something for me to do with my guitar, I set out to re-teach myself what I knew and learn what I didn’t. And it hurt. My fingers throbbed and were red, I saw purplish lines, and I asked; why would anyone ever want to play guitar? Why would you torture yourself for this? And my mom replied, because it’s something they want to do. They put themselves though the pain of it because there is a reward, being able to play guitar. So I grumbled, but with the reassurance that God had something for me to do with guitar, I sat down and practiced.
Almost every day of July, I practiced. Through the pain, so sure that God had something in mind for this. And sure enough, I grew callouses, and playing guitar didn’t hurt anymore. In fact, I enjoyed playing guitar. To this day, I only know those four chords, but I can play almost any song for you and sing it in the key of G, including the very first song I learned, “How He Loves”. So what’s the point of this story? I think it can mean many different things. But it’s more than just a “No pain, no gain” story. It’s about life and it’s about the things we can’t accomplish on our own. Over time, I’ve had other experiences similar to this. I wanted or needed to accomplish something, it was painful, I stepped back, and God pushed me forward. It’s not normal to run and embrace things that are painful; it’s not a part of natural human behavior. We shrink away from the things that might make us hurt. I know I easily lose sight of the reward in the midst of pain, and I take a step back. But sometimes, God asks us to do things that are painful in order to develop us. Take a look at this verse in James:
“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.”
James 1:2-4 (MSG)
God challenges me to do things. To fight through the pain and embrace him with all that I am, to let him carry it for me. God does the same with you. Under pressure, we find that maybe we aren’t as tough as we thought we were, that suddenly the pain doesn’t seem worth the reward. We take a step back and think to ourselves, it’s not supposed to be this…painful….is it? And God pushes us forward and tells us that the reward is worth it. Whether that reward is being able to play guitar, live a healthy life, or fall even deeper in love with him. Maybe you’re learning to play guitar and God is teaching you so much through the red throbbing fingertips that will become smooth callouses if you just keep on playing. Maybe you’re trying to get in shape with exercise and proper nutrition and God has told you to trust him, not your own willpower. Maybe he’s working in your heart, developing places that he can take control of and show you that the pain isn’t really as painful as you thought it was, because the reward is so much greater. To show you that the pain only makes a sweeter “Happily Ever After”.