Being able to play some musical instrument has been a long held and long unrequited desire of mine. 

At diverse times in the past, I have made rather half-baked attempts to self-learn to play a musical instrument. These efforts routinely resulted in failure and heartfelt discouragement.  

Since those earlier attempts, which were attempted in the fresh vigour of my youth and have now passed into distant, indistinct memory, I am emboldened to consider, one last time, that latent desire to be able to play a musical instrument.

Now, well out of the vigour of my youth, my inner voice is saying the time has come: ‘It is now or never’ to learn an instrument… it is now… or never

Therefore, endeavouring to learn from my former mistakes, this time I determined to engage a teacher and enrol in a course of study to be taught how to play the guitar. No more self-instruction; no more trying to learn on my own.

My goal is not to lead worship in the fellowship, nor to take my place among the musicians on a Sunday morning nor any other ‘public’ expression.  Indeed, my goal is rather muted. It is much more, dare I say, selfish. It is born out of a frustrated desire to be able to express myself via a musical instrument, which, although that desire has long been neglected and has been withering on the vine, it still expresses a waning attraction to me. Fundamentally, I desire to be able to sit down and ‘make music’, quietly expressing what is in my heart.

So, having engaged an instructor who I feel is an excellent tutor, one who is very encouraging and patient, I am encouraged.

So far so good.

In the first lessons, basic things were demonstrated and instructed. But, as with all things, the understanding does not come by the mind alone; this is not something that is solely grasped intellectually. To fully, truly learn what the instructor has so patiently demonstrated and explained requires that I take the time and practice it until my fingers as well as my mind have come to an understanding of it.

Herein is the rub — the practicing.

“It always is,” I hear you muttering…. “Stop muttering,” I mutter in response…

Now, I habitually, get up reasonably early. I have a morning routine which is fairly static. My mornings activities are fairly well defined. Following lunch, the afternoons are given over to a variety of tasks, and in summer this is often tempered by the degree of heat and humidity. Evenings are routinely committed and busy.

So, the problem facing me is when, exactly, will I ‘take the time’ to practice?

Jolly good question, methinks…

I feel this conundrum very deeply, for since I commenced the lessons, I have observed that there have been, not just single, isolated days, but, in fact, consecutive days that have passed with absolutely no practice being accomplished. (!)

I am ashamed to admit and declare this — I confess my abject failure to practice anything at all for, not just a single day at a time, but all too often, for days.

An inescapable truth stands proud: I cannot learn to play any instrument if I do not practice. Hand in hand they go, one with the other; in former times I did not have the instruction, and practice alone was insufficient — now, with instruction, it too, is insufficient in and of itself.

If I do not practice, all is for nought. I will not learn anything. I will utterly fail.

In this scenario, my failure will not be a failure of understanding nor a failure of skill — but a failure of trying.

We do not learn solely by hearing, but by hearing and applying/doing.

This is true in all aspects of life.

Recently our eldest son sent me a query on Facebook asking how my guitar lessons were going. I confessed to him my frustration — for the individual who is most frustrated with the lack of practice, is me.

Interestingly, his simple question did bring things into focus and clarity for me.

In my heart I was quietly tending towards: “If I’m not going to practice, then I should stop taking the lessons and cease this pointless charade of ‘learning to play’; I should return the borrowed guitar and admit that I am unwilling to make the effort to learn now – and if not now… ever.” 

These thoughts, though unexpressed, represented the clear drift of my thinking…

But, on writing my response to my son’s query, it struck me that the essential problem was that I was trying to ‘take the time’ to practice rather than being pro-active and ‘making the time’ to practice.

I thought, “Maybe it was time to make a change. Maybe I need to factor in practice time rather than waiting for opportune times to, miraculously, appear.” 

This was not a profound thought and you could argue, it is rather obvious, but, I hadn’t thought this through before.

It is true that I have a certain form and discipline to my day — and so I reasoned, “How hard would it be to schedule in practice time?”

Well, rather difficult actually for on the face of it, my day is already rather full — there are no easily identifiable times that are ripe and waiting to be picked.  

Additionally, there is no value in scheduling practice when I know I will be worn out and weary from other activities or drained of energy because of the heat. So, I would have to ‘make time’ in the premium times in the day.  

However, if the goal is worth it, then the effort can be, should be, and well, will be made.

Let it be that if I am to fail, that it be for reasons beyond my control or for lack of basic ability and not just because I didn’t make the effort.

Writing about this here opens me to future accountability as some who read this, may, when they see me in the future, rightly enquire as to how my quest to learn the guitar is faring….

If I’m embarrassed to confess my practical ineptitude at this stage, and I am, how much more embarrassing would it be, after having publicly identified the basic equation, to then abdicate my desire and goal and choose the easy, soft path and simply ‘give up’ the quest….

So be it. Here I have declared, and time will tell… and, yes, let the queries come…

My desire is to learn to play a musical instrument, and it requires, regular, extended practice. There are no short-cuts in the learning process. There really are no short-cuts – it takes time and effort.

If I am to progress towards my goal, then I will be required to make changes to my daily routine.

Additionally, by focusing on the ‘how’ I will achieve my goal I see what things are in my hands to do here and now, prioritising activities and involvement, difficult choices and the ‘practice and frustration’ that is involved in repetitious practice that will bring me, slowly, slowly towards my desire of playing an instrument.

And still, I must acknowledge that, at the end of the day, in spite of diligent practice and effort, I may still fail and be unable to play a musical instrument as I desire. But at least then, it will be an honest failure and a failure due to ‘inability’ and not, bluntly spoken, simple ‘laziness’.

I’ve identified times in my day; prime times, quality times, and difficult to sacrifice times to give to practice. Now, I am no longer attempting to ‘taking time’ to practice, but I’ve proactively, created or ‘made the time’ to practice. 

 It is a good beginning, but must now be maintained over the long haul.

I’ve tried to ‘take time to practice’ at appropriate times in the day since engaging the teacher — with extremely disappointing and rather embarrassing results. In the heat of the day, with all the various activities of the day, I have failed, spectacularly and repeatedly, to ‘take time to practice’.

Now is the time to come at this more aggressively, for, I believe, this very well may be my last crack at it; this may be my (final) ‘now or never’ moment.

My desire is not to be legalistic in my approach to daily practice. It is a target, a goal, an aspiration if you will. I will aim and discipline myself to attain it – but not at all costs.

When it comes, whether to personal discipline or life in general, some people see things in absolute, black and white — good for them. But my world has stark black and brilliant white and a whole lot of greys all over the place. Therefore, I can miss my target or goal, and not be overwhelmed by it. Life goes on… and the next target is before me.

Essentially, at least for me, my foundation is knowing that God is a God of Grace — He is One who is affording me unearned, undeserved merit and goodness. It is important for me to recall and remember that He is not a task master, with a ‘rod of discipline in one hand’ and a clipboard in the other, recording and holding all my failings and poor choices against me.  

Realising and being congnisant that He is Gracious, I acknowledge that I, too, need to be gracious to all those around me, especially when they stumble or fail. But, I must also be gracious to myself when I stumble and fail — in the big things in life, and in the little. 

Repentance, an inescapable and essential function in life, is acknowledging my responsibility and my failure — owning it if you will, not blaming others or circumstance; and then getting back up, determining not to repeat that error or poor choice, and pressing on towards the mark of my high calling in Christ.

This is true in all aspects of life: in morality, in the big things of life and also and importantly, in the mundane tasks of life, including learning to play a musical instrument.

With the dawning of the month long fasting of food and drink during daylight hours – the Islamic month of Ramada – a routine, commonly heard query is:  “Niyetli misinz” or, by translation, “Are you intending (to keep the fast)?”

This is a quick culturally specific means to know if normal Turkish hospitality – the offering of tea, coffee, cold drinks – should or should not be offered.

Now, as a non-Muslim, I am not attempting to maintain the demanding and difficult fast.

During the month of Ramadan, it would be fair to say that generally speaking, many people are tired from lack of sleep – the time to eat and drink are the dark hours, after the sun has set and before it rises in the morning.  Added to this are the normal demands of the working day compounded by the heat and intensity of the sun.  All combined together, this often makes for a miserable, difficult, trying day.

But, this year I’ve been struck by this question.  In years past, no doubt, I’ve been asked this question, but this year I’ve noticed it more and an answer, which I have not expressed to anyone, has been stirring in my heart.

The Question:

“Niyetli misiniz?” – “Are you ‘intending’ today?”

My unspoken response:

“Why, yes, I am intending to be honest and fair in my dealings with everyone I meet today.”

“Indeed, I am intending to be morally upright, not indulging my old nature and all its rampant passions and desires.”

“Yes, I am intending to be forgiving to those who may be contrary, awkward, miserable, simply spoiling for an argument or profoundly selfish or demanding.”

“Today I am intending to be loving to all I encounter; to those who are lovely, beautiful, pleasant, kind; and also to all the other people who are having a bad day, who are liberally sharing their difficulties with all they encounter; and the people that society in general has rejected; and the ill, and those with emotional problems, family problems, mental health problems; the foul mouthed, and the lusting, passion obsessed individual.”

“I am intending to be gracious to all I meet, encounter or have any interaction with today.  Being gracious, means doing good in situations and for individuals who, often, do not, even remotely, deserve it.  This is an expression of both the mercy and love of God being enacted by the proactive saying and doing of positive things for those who, from a purely human perspective, from a purely ‘natural’ point of view deserve to be ‘taught a lesson’ or ‘rejected’ or ‘shunned’ or ‘put out of the community’ or ‘locked up’ – because by their actions, their attitudes, their works, their words they have earned and deserve such a response.  Yes, today, I am intending to be gracious to all, especially the so-called undeserving.”

“This day I’m intending to be patient with everyone I encounter – regardless to how they maybe behaving, nor however demanding or profoundly, exceptionally, impatient they may be.”

“As I encounter the vagaries of life in this twenty-four hour period, I am intending to live in peace: the world around me can be falling apart; there may be horrors or terrors being perpetrated on the innocent; there may be turmoil and upheaval in the financial markets causing stress, worry and abject fear; events in my life may be flying wildly out of any kind of control; nevertheless, it is my intention, I am intending to live in peace despite all that may be unfurling around me.”

I guess, I am finding the question to be a good question that deserves to be seriously entertained and considered.  It is asked with regard to the demands of the fasting month – with a view to not causing a stumbling block or offence for those who are ‘intending’.

But, I am finding it a good question to contemplate and consider.

Of a truth, those around me, if they do not actively ‘intend’ to keep the fast, well, in the heat of the day, in the demands of work they will break the fast…

By the same token, if I head out into my day without identifying that which I am (actively) intending to do, then I will simply  react and respond to the events of the day and with very mixed results.

It remains a good question and I think, deserving of a serious answer:

“What I am intending for this day?”