From side to side she sweeps her bow across the strings. Eyes closed, lips pressed, shoulders hunched forward, and body pulled with the vibrant tug of the melody. She is gripped by the music. Lost, and yet utterly found. This is her place. Here in this creative space, pouring into her cello words that could never be spoken and emotions that language can’t express.
The conductor silently swings his baton in precise angular movements, directing the orchestra to surround her song. Together the symphony builds and builds into a beautiful crescendo as the remaining strings take over. Leaning back in a moment of reprieve, she grips her bow and rests it against her right leg. She gulps down the air with steadied, deep breaths as she waits for the moment the entire concerto was written upon. Her moment. The climax, her solo, at the beginning of the final movement. So much history is here in this exact solo for her, so much pain, but there is no time to dwell. She pushes it all behind her and commands her entire being to focus on each individual breath while waiting, listening to the rest of the orchestra build a tower of notes meant for her to jump from. She waits. Suddenly with one sharp swing, the conductor waves his baton and she explodes into motions. Gently holding her bow like a feather as she violently brushes it across her cello, a sound so furious, yet captivating bursts into the atmosphere. Her fingers move fiercely up and down the fingerboard in a dance only she could perform. She has never been more free, never been more vulnerable than here in this place of pouring her whole heart into her cello. So beautiful, so lovely. She becomes the music. The orchestra jumps in and together they create a vigorous symphony movement that captures the entire room. Everyone is touched as she moves as one with her cello. And then…so abruptly, you would have thought you imagined it…
Her beautiful performance cuts off as strings rip off her bow. The conductor calmly silences the orchestra with a wave of his hands. She professionally addresses the audience with grace, explaining that she will quickly go change the broken strings on her bow and return to finish the movement. With a small bow she smiles and turns to head to the back stage.
Did that truly just happen?
The crowd instantly murmurs.
An announcer speaks over the intercom assuring the room that the orchestra will continue the final movement shortly. Whispers coat the air and the sound of instrumentalists resting their instruments pierce the silence. Everyone waits for her. The star of the show. The star that failed during her most crucial performance. And as if this wasn’t enough, the announcer informs everyone that this is the second time she has broken the strings during this exact same movement in this exact same concerto.
How could this be? Failing so drastically, t w i c e ?
Could she have watered down her performance more so that the strings on her bow stayed intact? Maybe if she had put less emotion into her music to save herself from making the same mistake twice? Was this even a mistake of her own doing, or was it merely a product of bad circumstances lining up like rocks for her to stumble over?
So many questions flooded her brain as she swiftly walked behind the stage to her dressing room where she began to efficiently restore the strings on her bow. Eyes followed her exit like darts aimed at a target. Putting all of her internal questions aside, she moved, falling at ease into a routine she knew well. Replacing the strings was one of the first lessons she had learned.
It was part of the art.
A part of the process in continuing to move forward; a process of building and pausing, running and resting.
How challenging it is to reveal this process publicly. Failing for all to see. Especially amidst such a prestigious, black and white crowd with no room for grey areas.
The first time this happened to her she could hardly bear the humiliation. The memory took her back…
She was there, in the heat of the symphony’s final movement. When suddenly her passionate creative expression came to a jolting halt as strings ripped from her bow. The failure sucked the breath from her lungs. She knocked over her music stand as she quickly arose to change the strings, clumsily tripping over the hem of her dress while running back stage. She refused the offers of help from back stage employees turning pitying glances her way.
She cried silently as she replaced the strings aggressively. Scraping tears away she returned to finish the concerto all mind and no heart. Pouring out of her heart simply wasn’t worth the risk anymore.
After the concert, she remained in her chair bewildered as her coworkers patted her on the back before exiting the room. She had wept every night after that for weeks as she practiced the same movement over and over again until the callouses on her hands cracked. Even so, she relentlessly pushed herself further still. One thought pounded through her veins:
She must redeem herself.
Make the wrong, right. This continued on an empty stage with just her and her cello every night at a local music hall for months. She practiced and practiced until one night, she pushed herself so hard that finally, she broke. Her fingers bled, and a cry ripped out of her heart. The failure of her performance weighed down on her more than ever before. Caught up in her self-torment the cello slid to the floor with a crash. Throughout her school years and her adult career, she spent the mass of her life striving to be the best cellist, the perfect performer. She sacrificed everything to be the perfect musician that she was today. And she succeeded. She became, one of the most talented, prestigious musicians of her time.
A rose among thorns.
But as she progressed fear of failure also grew along with her as a subtle thorn wrapping itself around her stem, slowly choking the life from her. In this practice session after her cello crashed down, she too allowed herself to slide from her chair and crumble like a cloth onto the ground. It was there in her desperation that another sound penetrated the rattle from all the arrows she threw at herself inside her mind.
A loving whisper, one of mercy and grace.
A voice from the One who gave it all so that she could have room to grow with Him again. He comforted her with His love, and clothed her with His grace. “My grace is sufficient for you.“, He spoke.
It was enough.
Enough of a shock to revive her heart back into motion. Enough of truth to clear out the thorns, and give her the space to grow.
Jesus can handle her failures, she need not fear them. If she allows herself to share in the sufferings of Christ, she will also attain the full resurrection with Him. She must press on. Not to attain perfection on earth, but to attain that which comes from a grace-consumed life. From walking in the righteousness found only in Jesus. Becoming like Him.
This awareness that, because of Jesus, she was in right standing with God, stripped her from all forms of fear which had once gripped the wellspring of life within her. She wasn’t made to fail. She was made for victorious living. Which meant even failure was but a means for victory in Christ.
And so, the show went on. This second time around she kept that revolutionary encounter on the center stage of her mind while she restored her bow. Then she eloquently rushed back to the music hall’s center stage. The whispers were hushed but the stares continued. She could not care less. She was confident of one thing. Her right standing with God, and that was enough.
Quickly tuning her cello, she nodded to the conductor. He motioned for the rest of the orchestra to begin, only a few measures prior to where they stopped before. The large audience waited with dismay before her. The orchestra waited eagerly all around her. Yet she managed to allowed herself to drift into that secret place once again.
She was no longer in a concert hall, but back on that small, dimly lit stage, sitting upon a worn wooden chair- just her and her cello and One who knelt beside her. He couldn’t wait to watch her explode into creative motion.
Awaiting the cue from the conductor, she gently hovered her bow near the strings of the cello. In this posture she felt the pleasure from the One kneeling beside her. His delight in her brushed away that nervous sweat that had been beading upon her brow. He wasn’t bothered by her mistakes. He loved to watch her passionately pour her all into this life with a heart abandoned, ever after Him alone. And so her moment came anew. Whether she failed a third time or a thousand, she would keep pressing on because she loved every bit of playing and wanted to let her music shine just for Him. To let her process shine the light of a gracious Savior. She closed her eyes and exhaled a breath she didn’t realize she had been holding as music exploded once more from her hands.
A distant understanding lit like a match in her mind as she killed the vigorous final movement of the concerto so fearfully and wonderfully.
She let go of everything in that moment, and yet so skillfully she played nonetheless. It was her many tries and fails that allowed her to do this very thing: to naturally overflow His anointing from a place of letting go.
Like an evergreen spruce tree, she would remain bearing fruit and fragrance. Even amidst the coldest of winters. So long as her roots abided in Him. Living out of this secret space filled with grace to merely be and grow with her Beloved.
“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.“Philippians 3:7-14 NIV
(Revised edition. Originally posted November 20, 2019)