In a corner of the Spiritual Retreat is an instrument wall – a place where my stringed instruments hang from hooks made specifically for each type of instrument. They are kept there for ease of access, for one never knows when the “mood” might strike when that feeling of creativity and inspiration combine into a single thread wanting to intertwine into a melody.
While these pieces of wood and wire are built to make beautiful music, my budget for said devices has never been of the highest priority. That being said, they are worth far more in sentimental value than anything else. One does one’s best to maintain them though, but with time, things age and dry out. So, it was the other day that that “mood” had struck and as the fiddle was taken down it quickly became apparent that the strings had loosened. With a violin, that is to be expected. Of all the instruments, it is held together by opposing forces. The tension of the strings holds up the bridge, which is supported from within by the sound post. If one of these components weakens and gives out, the entire function of the devices is compromised. In this alone, there is a lesson, but for another day.
So, as I looked over the old “Ole Bull” it was quickly discovered to have all but one string was greatly out of tune. Working through the pattern J.W. Parsons taught me so long ago, I began to tighten each of the four strings. When it came to the “G” string, the lowest of the four, the tuning peg made an odd sound as it was being turned. The wooden peg began to crack and disintegrate as it was turned, literally crumbling in my fingertips – it was gone, useless to hold a string taunt. Distraught but not overwhelmed, my original song of inspiration had long ago escaped my thoughts. Now, there was a new challenge. What songs could be played on only three strings? From there, the fiddle and I walked down memory lane discovering what could and could not be found upon the limited number of wire strands. My fingertips were forced to find comforting notes in places they had seldom touched. It wasn’t pretty.
This morning, as my mind reflected back upon yesterday’s encounter, it occurred to me how life and aging emulate the strings on my old violin.
The aging aspect comes from the memory of that entry-level Electrical Engineering class I took back at the University of Florida so many years ago. Dr. O’Malley, a tall, thin white-haired elderly gentleman, then well past retirement age, walked in and began the first day’s intro quite unlike any that I had heard heretofore. “You will start today with 100 points,” he told the class looking over his wire glasses at a lecture hall full of beginning students. “From this point on, you will only lose points, it is up to you how many you lose. You will never gain them back,” he continued. In his eyes, you could almost tell there was more he wanted to say. Something about time, about a life lived. His words really hit hard. It was a thought that was truthful yet profound, and like it, life in the natural world was so much a parallel.
There are many times in this journey that we find we are faced with a potential game-ending dilemma – either give up or adapt. Sometimes these are forces that are not of our doing. Illness, age, or accidents just to name a few can take away our ability to function as we once were capable. Like that fiddle with now only three strings, we learn that if we are to go on, we must learn new ways to play that old song. Those finger positions once foreign we are now forced to learn. A broken arm or hand of your favored limb makes writing almost impossible. But almost always, those who suffer learn to adapt and begin writing, albeit barely legible at first, and overcome their setback.
Likewise, when we step out of our comfort zone in faith, going to places or mission fields that we once thought foreign, test our ability to adapt and grow. Jesus never told his disciples to stay put in Capernaum and make each other feel good. No, he told them to go out and spread the good news. “and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.” It was painful. Not only were they trying to cope without bringing bedding and food, they also suddenly had to remember what they had, in some cases, only recently learned. Jesus knew this would test them, but in the end, it would force them to grow stronger in their faith. Scripture tells us that through life’s trials we will only become stronger and persevere, “My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” “…But we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope…”
There are those who once they’ve learned to play beautifully on just the three strings suddenly find that another is taken away, leaving only two. It is then, the more challenged we become, the more we must not lean on our own understanding. Many give in to the feeling of being overwhelmed. They never knew Jesus as their Savior, so life, when it becomes unbearable, feels hopelessly lost. They seek answers in the life around them, but there is nothing that can ease that feeling of emptiness and despair that is of this world – no bottle is deep enough, no drug strong enough, and no emotional escape capable of breaking that spiral of death. It is only when the distraught and lost truly seek God is when they find hope.
Eventually, in some cases, those broken strings are restored. After that soul had learned to dance upon the instrument with fewer strings finds that restored octave or more, their appreciation for what once was becomes all the greater. So, it is with those who are reborn in Christ Jesus – their appreciation for things of God’s creation is from a new perspective. Their soul is restored. They learned in that absence, in that trial, through the fires of tribulation how much more they were capable. Their strength and faith is renewed. They become a new creature. “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” What was once uncomfortable, or unknown becomes possible all because there was something that caused us to have to lean not on our own understanding.
Many return from mission fields, whether abroad or local, and find something about the world around them is not the same. Call it an awakening, or a new awareness. Either way, when we learn to seek Him, we too find these peeling away of layer, after layer of blindness to what we once could not see. We are able to understand something about God a little more. With each step, we learn. With each blunder or mistake, we learn. It is through those painful endeavors that we feel we cannot survive, when we find we grow the most.
When the mood strikes, seek for that thing which allows you to revel in your soul’s ability to thank God. When you find that a string is missing, press on toward the mark and let it not hinder your pursuit of the way, the truth, and the life.
Thanks be to God.
 Luke 9 NIV
 James 1:2-4 KJV
 Romans 5:3-4 KJV
 2 Corinthians 5:17 KJV