Strings Attached


Lifting the flap of the black canvas case, I saw the contents—a guitar. Feigning disinterest, I moved on in search of other garage sale treasures, but I already I knew I wanted that guitar. I didn’t play, and I certainly didn’t have a shortage of other hobbies to help justify this new one. But like Romeo, I was “in love with the idea of being in love”; I loved the picture in my head of “Josh the guitar player.” And so, $30 later, the Ibanez acoustic was mine.

Fast-forward five years—three moves, one state, two pets, three jobs and two kids later, I still had that guitar. And I still didn’t play it. Every time we prepared to move, we’d set up our garage sale, and every time, for some reason, I just couldn’t part with that purposeless guitar. It was art with strings attached, which may as well have been bars—a beautiful instrument, sitting on a stand in my office, imprisoning song.

On at least one occasion, I thought I sensed God hinting at some greater plan for the silent guitar. I later attributed this to my hopelessly romantic streak and almost sold the thing. In fact, I came close many times to selling it or giving it away—but could never quite close the deal.

Recently, two Christian gentlemen from another church stopped by my office to chat. They noticed the instrument, and one of them picked it up and played it. Later that week they visited again, and the one who had played it handed me a small box. “I noticed the other day your guitar needed some new strings. Enjoy!” I was too embarrassed to tell him that I never played it, so I thanked him for his kindness and said good-bye. Not too long after that, I got a call.

The woman on the phone told me that her youngest son had narrowly escaped a horrible death a week earlier. She had woken up with an unbearable urge to pray for his safety, which she did for several hours after waking one of her daughters to pray with her. Only later did they learn why. That very night a murder took place in the house her son was living in, and he also was clearly a target. Earlier that night, however, he had changed his plans suddenly and left the house to stay with friends.

The mother said her son, now living at home, was emotionally broken, traumatized and confused, despite his clear understanding of God’s miraculous work to spare his life. She didn’t know how to help him. He wouldn’t smile, he didn’t want to sleep because of the nightmares and the carefree joy that made him stand out at the church where he frequently volunteered was gone.

She then spoke a sentence that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end: “All I could think to do was call around and see if anyone had a guitar they didn’t use and would consider giving him.” He loved to play—it always helped him pray, it always helped him calm down—but his instrument had been stolen. She wanted to know if I could please pray for God to bring her son a guitar, because she thought it might help jumpstart the healing process.

I told her to bring him to my office. There’s a Christian brother from another church God tends to bring by when I need help praying, and sure enough, he walked in the door at just that moment. Together, we anointed the young man with oil and prayed for release from the nightmares and for the return of his joy. It was a powerful thing.

When we were done, the young man raised his head, saw that old guitar in the corner and grinned sheepishly. “Can I play that?” he asked quietly. He looked exhausted, like he might still be keeping vigil every night in case the attacker came for him again.

“You can have that,” I said. “God’s been saving it for you a long time. He even brought you some new strings, just last week!” I’ll never forget the look on his face. New strings for a new owner, for a new start. New strings for a new purpose. An instrument of healing . . . with new strings attached.

I think about that silly guitar and am humbly reminded that God cares not just about the vast and complex aspects of His plan but also about the little details and the little prayers that work to make a big difference in the everyday lives of individuals . . . and I’m so grateful.

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