I can’t find a publisher for my book.
My oboe playing isn’t where I’d like it to be.
I’m struggling to write a melody I like.
My quilting gets puffy.
After two months of the same stuff, my aural skills are barely improved.
I’m reminded of times I could have done more, or could have done better.

And so sometimes I feel mediocre, and wonder if anything I do will have lasting impact, or if anything sets me apart from everyone else. Teddy Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and I think he was right. There will always be people better than you, and even when you can’t find them, there will always be ways you can be improving your skills. It’s discouraging to hold up the standard you’ve set for yourself or the place that others are at and find you don’t measure up. I read a quote by Francis Schaeffer recently, where he said, “If i demand perfection from myself, I will destroy myself.” And he’s right.  In this world of sin, we can’t expect perfection, though we strive for it. However, I’ve found the sighs of frustration, from comparison with others or with the standard of where you want to be, can be taken two ways. I can despair and become complacent, or I can let it be a challenge to push on even further.

I was watching the teachers at Csehy this summer, thinking about this. I watched as they didn’t always play things perfectly, and watched them leave it behind, pressing on toward the goal. It’s easy to dwell on failure – like the conversation I should have had or the side ache I didn’t run through or the recital that my reed went berserk for and even though I fought it like never before it was still wild.
I was particularly discouraged by the recital for a long while. I still wish I could go back and re-do it. But it’s the past, and this is now. I was challenged to move on by Paul’s words in Philippians, speaking of attaining the resurrection from the dead:
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Jesus Christ has made me His own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” {Philippians 3:12-14}

Forgetting the wobbly reed I strain forward, to continue further on to perfection. I speak of it as applied to music, but Paul wrote it about striving for righteousness, which is far more important than musical perfection.

That puts music into its right perspective, and yet it also spurs me on to pursue everything I pursue with even more vigor. In the past month, I’ve done what I should have done years ago – being better about studying and really working hard at music, running, life – even in the same amount of time as I spent on it before. It means finding opportunities to learn and grow, not just waiting for them to fall into my lap.
And yet – in the long run, while I enjoy studying and love the challenge of “excelsior!” with music and running in particular, that’s not what’s most important. And it’s not what makes my friends love me or want to be with me or keep my friendship. Our love is much deeper than that. We are united in Christ, and that should be what takes first place in our strivings, pressing on for the goal of righteousness. And life isn’t a competition. We’re all called to different things, so while we may want to be better at something, it may not be our path, because ours is a different one, better for us even if we can’t see it then.
If we make other things our identity, then one day when those things are taken away by illness, age, life circumstances, or anything else, life comes crumbling down. First of all, we are His.
It’s a funny balance, striving to be the best we can be with the gifts He’s given us and yet keeping them in their place.

We’ll never attain it on earth – either the righteousness or the musical perfection. But in Christ, we are even now righteous before God, and will one day be totally free of sin. Our worth in Him isn’t in what we can do, but in our being His. He, not our abilities, determines our worth.
Here’s something else: we’ll still have music in heaven. And in heaven, there will be perfect intonation, perfect harmony, perfect understanding of music. That’s the true end of music.
It can be frustrating because now on earth, we never fully arrive. That’s a discouraging thought, and yet –
Isn’t that the point of music and running (and all those other things)? You can always play more accurately, more expressively, always find new pieces or perfect your art still more, always find ways to be challenged further, run faster or farther, get closer to people or interact with new people even better.

But we must always have Christ and music together, lest we fall into either despair or pride as we press on through never-ending practicing to attain perfection.
T. Davis Bunn said, “You will never know a purpose, never find a reason great enough to satisfy your endless hunger to play and perform, unless you learn what it means to live with a deep and abiding faith in your Savior. All else is sham. All else is the ultimate lie, a lie you tell both to yourself and to Christ.”

And he is right. Unless filled in Christ, we will always be empty in the end. If the performance failed, there is emptiness. If it went well, there is rejoicing, but then emptiness because it’s over. Christ alone can satisfy – not His gifts, even such a wondrous gift as music. Live for anything other than Christ, and you will lose it. Our identity is not as musicians, runners, or anything other than children of God.
In moments of pride or mediocrity, the answer is always in Him, to remember that nothing we do can save us, nothing comes of us – it is all from Him – but also that the way we played the concerto or ran the race doesn’t affect our eternity.  Those mistakes aren’t sin – but with those little shortcomings as well as with sin, “the imputed righteousness of Christ will swallow it up as you rest in Him.” (John Piper, in “When the Darkness Will Not Lift”)

Turn to Him.
You will always be hungry unless you eat of the Bread of Life.
Be filled – and know that in Christ, we are not the same as this world, we are not nobodys. We are His beloved children, striving to be like Him, and He is the farthest thing from mediocre.

{One of my favorite practical helps for “getting better” musically is the blog the Bulletproof Musician. So many good articles. Recently this one was my favorite, and since implementing that technique I’m a lot more confident and see a lot of improvement}


2 thoughts on “Mediocre

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