Don't Try to Make Your Life Better (Try to Make It Beautiful-er)

I was at a loss for how to motivate my son.

He was a week away from his classical guitar recital, and he said there was nothing left to practice. He said he’d “mastered” the piece he was planning to play. So, I listened. And I had to admit: he had the rhythm, he was keeping the tempo, and he was playing all the right notes. Yet, even to my tone deaf ears, there was something missing.

But I couldn’t find the words to explain it.

Then, two nights later, I heard about how they teach cursive at a local school. They don’t tell the kids to make their penmanship better; they exhort the children to make it more beautiful. Apparently, the kids instantly understand what this means, and handwriting ceases to feel like homework.

Writing class becomes art class.

So I went home and told my son, “For the rest of the week, instead of trying to make your guitar piece better, try to make it beautiful-er.” And without hesitation, he smiled—the kind of smile you smile when something slakes your thirst or satisfies your hunger. He nodded slow and long. Sure enough, he knew exactly what I meant.

Do you know what I mean, though?

Because somewhere along the way, we tend to trade in beautiful for better.

Better means impressing the right people. It means respect. It means moving up, gaining power, and wielding influence. It means iPhones and Galaxies and a world at our fingertips. It means houses and cars and bank accounts. It means fewer chinks in the armor and fewer mistakes. It means a pristine life.

But, in the end, better also means disappointment.

Because no matter how perfectly we find the rhythm and how successfully we keep up the frantic tempo of life—no matter how many days we can go without missing a note—we begin to sense something essential is missing. Technical perfection leaves us longing for more. So we just keep trying to get better-er.

When, all along, we’re really yearning for something beautiful-er.

My sister’s family recently returned to the U.S. after a decade in Europe. One night, over dinner, they were telling us about the various cultures and languages in Europe and my niece referred to French as a romance language. My son looked at her and asked incredulously, “How can a language be romantic?”

And without missing a beat, she responded, “It’s like a language in cursive.”

Words can be written in cursive and languages can be spoken like cursive. What if our entire lives could be lived in cursive, too? And what if we’re here simply to make our cursive lives beautiful-er?

Beautiful is the stuff that reaches right in, puts electrical paddles on our heart, and shocks us back to life. It’s the stuff that wakes us up. It’s the stuff that makes us good-ache, like easing off stiff shoes after hours on our feet. It’s the stuff that quenches.

Beautiful is a million little moments.

Beautiful is a young boy tenderly moving a caterpillar out of the driveway to safety. Beautiful is sixty years of marriage sitting in a coffee shop together, murmuring quietly, gently. Beautiful is a too-big tip for the waitress with the sad eyes and the smile she gave that clearly cost her more than you can fathom. Beautiful is the YouTube video of the truck driver stopping in the middle of the road to help the elderly woman hunched over a walker. Beautiful is the compliment you gave that you didn’t have to—and the one you received that you could have blown off. Beautiful is speaking someone else’s love language because you know they’ll hear it better that way. Beautiful is the story you listened to that you could have silenced.  Beautiful is knowing you want to apologize and having the courage to actually do it. Beautiful is, in the words of Merton, becoming aware that “the gate of heaven is everywhere.” Beautiful is choosing to believe the gate of heaven is everyone. And beautiful is believing you might just have all of that beautiful within you.

May we live our lives in cursive.

May they become more beautiful with each vanishing day.

Until the work of life becomes the art of living.

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In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.

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About Kelly

Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.