I have a friend who is a professional musician. She has performed with distinguished international artists, and recorded several CDs.
We've talked at length about the challenges of playing in front of a large audience, and especially about preparing for a major concert. At what stage can you ease up on the practicing, especially when you have worked so hard that you are reluctant to look a moment longer at the music?
As my friend put it, "You know it so well, yet you feel you need to keep working on it, keeping it familiar and fresh at the same time."
One day she shared a thought that had come to her in a moment of quiet prayer while preparing for an important recital: pretend that you are polishing pearls! She said she had never polished pearls - and couldn't imagine that one would ever need to do that - but the image really got her thinking.
As musicians receive music from composers, so we all receive spiritual gifts "freely given to us of God" (I Cor. 2:12). These gifts - infinite in range - include life, love, joy, strength, harmony, perceptiveness, humility. We polish them in our own individual way as we practice them in our daily lives and expand our expression of them.
"It was such a lovely image," said my friend, "that it gave me just the inspiration I needed to reach further into the music, raise the level of excellence, deepen the expressiveness of the music, and find new shades of nuance. Now I think of that every time I am on the last stretch for a concert."
Can you imagine anything more naturally beautiful than a pearl? Anything that needs less embellishment? This is how we can regard any God-given work that comes our way. Knowing that it is already perfectly formed, complete, we can let go of fear, of a personal sense of responsibility or ability, and we can praise God's ability above all else - His/Her ever-present strength and beauty.
Letting go of any sense of personal limitation, we can welcome the opportunity to let God's ability shine through us, through our individual expression of Him. And prayer helps us do this. The founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, once spoke of prayer that "purifies, and quickens activity, in the direction that is unerring" ("No and Yes," pg. 39).
In the activity that God directs for us, everything is in complete accord with good. Such activity has the purpose of showing the nature of God, which is also our nature as God's children. Wherever concentration and peak performance are called for, prayer can give us the consciousness of the spiritual truth that God's resources are infinite, and that their only purpose is to bless.
These boundless resources are among the "exceeding great and precious promises" described by the Apostle Peter when he spoke of the "divine power" that has given us "all things that pertain unto life and godliness" (II Pet. 1:4, 3). This godliness was perfectly illustrated by Christ Jesus, and is the goal everyone can aspire to.
God's gifts are freely given to all creation. This is why we have no reason to envy the poise, opportunities, or achievements of other people, and even less reason to devalue our own. Prayer is opening our thought to perceive more of who and what God is. Doing this persistently, we will inevitably find progress expressed in our lives through improved performance, less anxiety at key moments, and a God-given confidence and peace of mind.
It's natural to be eager to perform God's work. Polishing pearls is all about perfecting whatever we are doing. Not from a standpoint of human perfectionism, but through discovering the pearl-like perfection that is already our own.
The kingdom of heaven is
like unto a merchant man,
seeking goodly pearls: who,
when he had found one
pearl of great price, went
and sold all that he had,
and bought it.
Matthew 13:45, 46
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