It has been an age since I picked up my guitar.
It's weird, because the darn thing and I used to be inseparable. When I was an undergraduate, I took great pride in the fact that every time you saw my slightly old 1985 Chevy Nova coming down the highway, you knew my guitar was somewhere in the car with me. It occupied the seat of honor next to me in the passenger seat when I would come home for semester breaks, strapped in securely with the seatbelt, just in case I was in an accident. I wore my Gen-X disinterested proto-grunge rocker persona like a badge of honor.
After I graduated and got a "real job," the time I spent playing my guitar grew less and less. To be fair, my job required I spend days and even weeks at a stretch on the road (which I was used to, because - y'know - the whole Gen-X rocker thing, driving a van late at night, etc.), and at the end of the day, I was just too worn out to spend any time playing the thing. It became easy to say "maybe later" or "not right now" the the stirring in my heart to play.
As any athlete, musician or artist can attest, if you stop using the gift and skills you have, your abilities begin to atrophy. You lose the discipline you held in practicing, and one day, you wake up and discover that the relative ease and ability with which you once performed has become difficult, a struggle, and it's all but gone.
For those of us who play stringed instruments, this means that fingers which were once toughened and tempered to the point where pressing strings down didn't make you flinch for an instant have now reverted to the state they were in before your instrument became an active part of your life.
The lack of discipline had made me soft.
Conversely, this is unlike the condition I find my heart to be in.
It's not that I unflinchingly stare at sins around the world or in my own neighborhood and find myself unaffected: I get appalled at the stats on human sex trafficking. I feel nauseas when I hear about animal cruelty. I feel legitimately distressed by the rising number of seemingly unwanted children, the destruction and disillusion of marriages and relationships, the hate crimes perpetuated against someone simply because of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation, and the fact that more people seemingly take umbrage at an advertisement featuring a little boy painting his toenails than at the loss of life and then ruination of lives in an earthquake-ravaged land.
Where my heart has become calloused is towards my own sins.
It's not that I unflinchingly stare at the sins in my world and find myself unaffected: after all, they tempt me - and I fall prey to the temptation - because they speak to me, to my weaknesses, and to the full-on briar patch (not just a single thorn) in my flesh. Anger. Ego. A lack of prayer or studying of the Word. A lack of true, deep fellowship and community with other believers. And far too many which are far too embarrassing to mention online.
It's weird, because my faith and I used to be inseparable. My heart which once was soft and malleable to the moving of the Spirit has become jaded, cynical, and perpetually broken in many ways. At the end (or even the start) of the day, I feel too worn out to spend any time working on the darn thing. It has become easy to say "maybe later" or "not right now" to the stirring in my heart to spend time with God.
I know that I no longer have the discipline I had in my youth because of my selective disuse. One day, I woke up and discovered that the relative ease and ability with which I once prayed and trusted in God had become difficult, a struggle, and was all but gone. My heart has reverted to the state it was in before my faith became an active part of my life.
The lack of discipline has made my heart calloused.
I have become Matthew 13:15.
There is, of course, an "easy" answer to both of these problems: play and pray. Get disciplined again. Sure, it will hurt at first and be incredibly uncomfortable, but the payoff will come.
For those who have found they have an appendage that has become calloused and want to make it soft again, lotion can help. Treat it. Daily. Cover and coat it.
For those who have found they have a heart that has become calloused and want to make it soft again, love – the love, forgiveness, and redemption found in Christ – can help. Treat it. Daily. Cover and coat it.
And maybe even eventually sing about it.