Pain, calluses, and music

Father David Epps's picture

Like many teens in the 1960s, I was in a band. Those were the days when a rhythm guitarist could play nearly any song if he knew the chords of G, C, and F.

If one also knew Em, Am, and D, one could play “The House of the Rising Sun,” and most any other pop song.

We didn’t play a lot of gigs but we had fun, learned a few things, and stayed out of trouble. There were no drugs, there was no sex, but there was rock and roll.

In the beginning, learning to play the guitar was a painful experience. Right-handed people had to learn to perform the chords with the left hand, and the constant pressure of the fingers pressing into the metal strings would result in sensitive and painful fingertips — even blistered fingertips, if one overdid it.

But, if one was consistent and regular in practicing the music, eventually calluses would form on the fingertips and one could play freely and without pain. It was important that the skin be toughened up so that the quality of the music, and the ability to play it, would improve.

When I first entered the ministry, I envisioned the difference I might make in lives, the sermons I would preach, the relationships I would forge — I wasn’t prepared for the pain. In fact, after two and a half years of serving as a pastor, I resigned, believing myself to be a failure and concluded that I was not called.

I didn’t realize that the constant pressure, the criticism, and the ever-present drama would toughen my sensitive skin so that, eventually, I could perform my job with efficiency and joy.

For the next three years, I served as a social worker in child protective services where I was “cussed at, screamed at, spit at, punched at, stabbed at, and shot at.” My life was threatened. One man, who is now in prison for the murder of a police officer, threatened the lives of my children.

The pay was absurdly low. All of which better prepared me for a return to the ministry. My skin was sufficiently thickened to give it another try.

Like any musician, new challenges would come and serve as a test. I still have trouble with chords like G#7sus and I don’t know how to bar chord, which the entirely good guitarists now do with ease.

And I still get knocked around sometimes by people and suffer the bruises that are inflicted by well-meaning and otherwise good people. But I have learned (and am continuing to learn) to play through the pain, knowing that the music will come if I endure.

Writing a weekly newspaper opinion column for over 12 years has increased the calluses as well. As the publisher said to me once, “If you’re going to work in the kitchen, you are going to get splattered with hot grease.”

Sometimes, after a column comes out, I get emails that are encouraging and are a blessing to me. More often, the emails or the blog comments are vicious and insulting. In the past, I would have fretted over the matter and worried about what people might think of me. Now, however, I just keep on strumming.

I have concluded that people who challenge us, insult us, hate us, demean us, irritate us, and criticize us are very often actually gifts from God to us.

In the beginning they wound us and demoralize us, and we may think of laying aside what we love to do because the pain is so great. But the calluses will come and the toughing will occur if we continue to be faithful just to continue the music.

The toughening isn’t to make us less sensitive or caring — not at all. But it does allow us to play skillfully and, eventually, without pain, and that is when we can really begin to enjoy the music of life.

[David Epps serves as a bishop to the Diocese of the Mid-South and is the founding pastor of Christ the King Church, 4881 Hwy. 34 E., Sharpsburg, GA 30277, between Peachtree City and Newnan. Services are held Sundays at 8:30 and 10 a.m. Bishop Epps is also the mission pastor of Christ the King Church in Champaign, IL. He may be contacted at]

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hersheybear88's picture
Submitted by hersheybear88 on Mon, 02/02/2009 - 3:31pm.

Thank you Father Epps for sharing this with us.

This has to be one of the best articles I have ever read.

Thanks for sharing with us.

How true is all that you said in the article.


"God Is In Control"

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