Last week, I attended a cocktail reception for a group at my office. On the way in the door, I met up with a colleague who set the tone for the whole night. When I asked the simple question, “How are you?” she thankfully responded with an honest answer to the question most of us breeze through without caring. She told me work was the only thing really holding her together and that life at home was tough. When I asked what I could do for her, she said, “just pray for me.” We talked a minute more and then I proceeded inside to the event.
I talked to six other women that night – all different levels and different backgrounds. It may have been a cocktail party, but I never got a drink. Instead, I got heartfelt confessions, full hearts and hurts. One talked of her father’s sudden death and how good it felt to take a much-needed day off to just sleep. The next talked about how her marriage is falling apart and how her children are keeping her grounded. The next talked about feeling totally overwhelmed and tired and not a bit in the holiday spirit. The next talked about struggles with her teenage daughter. Another talked about health woes. And we all talked about being tired, stressed, unbalanced and overwhelmed.
To some degree, this is normal. We all have those days and those moments, especially women, I have found. There are times when we just feel all poured out. Used up. At our limits. Stuck. Tired. Done.
The needs and hurts in our lives and our world can be too much. From the deaths of loved ones to health struggles to injustices that just seem to play on repeat. We dream of doing more, being more, feeling more, but we can’t see a path forward.
This is especially true for many at the holiday season. While some are making Pinterest crafts and coming up with new schemes for The Elf on the Shelf, others reach the holidays and would rather pull the covers over their heads and come out in January.
So, what can we do when we’ve come to the end of the year and the happiness is gone? The grace is used up and the big plans from January never came to fruition? How do we find a sense of renewal to start again?
I recently found inspiration in a sermon delivered by the head of a non-profit focused on providing medical supplies to needy areas. He told a popular story by Chuck Swindoll (no comment here on Swindoll’s or any other theology…I just found the story uplifting).
Ignace Jan Paderewski, the famous composer-pianist, was scheduled to perform at a great concert hall in America. It was an evening to remember- black tuxedos and long evening dresses- a high society extravaganza. Present in the audience that evening was a mother with her fidgety nine-year-old son. Weary of waiting, he squirmed constantly in his seat. His mother was in hopes that her boy would be encouraged to practice the piano if he could just hear the immortal Paderewski at the keyboard. So, against his wishes, he had come.
As she turned to talk with friends, her son could stay seated no longer. He slipped away from her side, strangely drawn to the ebony concert grand Steinway and its leather tufted stool, staring wide-eyed at the black and white keys. He placed his small, trembling fingers in the right location and began to play ”Chopsticks.” The roar of the crowd was hushed as hundreds of frowning faces turned in his direction. Irritated and embarrassed, they began to shout:
”Get that boy away from here!”
”Who’d bring a kid that young here?”
”Where’s his mother?”
”Somebody stop him!”
Backstage, the master overheard the sounds out front and quickly put together in his mind what was happening. Hurriedly, he grabbed his coat and rushed towards the stage. Without one word of announcement, he stooped over behind the boy, reached around both sides, and began to improvise a counter melody to harmonize and enhance ”Chopsticks.” As the two of them played together, Paderewski kept whispering in the boy’s ear:
“Keep going. Don’t quit, son. Keep on playing… don’t stop; don’t quit.”
And so it is with us. We hammer away on our project, which seems about as significant as ”Chopsticks” in a concert hall. And about the time we are ready to give up, along comes the Master, who leans over and whispers:
“Now keep going; don’t quit. Keep on… don’t stop; don’t quit.”
How often do we need to hear those powerful words?: Don’t quit! Keep going!
Is there a project in your life that you’ve given up on because of discouragement? Is finishing school too much of a hassle? Is cultivating a close relationship too painful? Is getting a book written too demanding? Is your career stuck? Is starting that business just too much? Is getting fit too hard? Is working through conflicts with your partner too tiring? Is just getting out of bed too much?
Get up. Put one foot in front of the other. Smile. Give a hug. Reach out to a loved one. Meet a friend to workout. Write a page. Speak your truth. Take a class. Save a little for your future plan. Find and savor a quiet moment. Fill a need for someone else and change your perspective.
Even in the midst of hardship, don’t quit! Trust that we are often right where we need to be. And, thankfully, the Master knows just when to show up and turn our “Chopsticks” into masterpieces.
Wishing you a holiday of rest, renewal and joy, and a new year full of glimpses into the masterpiece that you truly are!