We all know that one person that hates music…wait what? No we don’t! Music is a silver thread of words and rhythm that flows between the tapestries of generations and is completely interwoven with the human condition.
That being said, I have a confession: I have a love-hate relationship with music.
I started playing piano when I was 4, when I began teaching myself out of my sister’s piano books. I then cunningly convinced her piano teacher to bend the rules and teach me, since I already knew how anyways. I was that kid. Music, like everything else, just came naturally to me.
Two years later, I became one of only a handful of first graders to secure a significant role in the winter production of the classic drama “Up On the Housetop.” You could say I was fairly confident that I would be cast in the lead female role for the following spring’s musical Wackadoo Zoo. I tried out, recited the lines fervently and flawlessly, and anxiously awaited the cast list to be posted.
I didn’t get the part. I was crushed. My waterworks nearly flooded the music room, and I actually left school early, physically ill because my first taste of imperfection unsettled me. What was the difference between last year and this year? The new production was a musical. This was my first realization that I am not a good singer.
Ironically, I still remember the words to one of the songs, Practice Makes Perfect, and watching my frenemy steal the show, while I sulked in the choir with a construction paper monkey face adhered to my forehead.
Clearly I took myself more seriously than your average elementary student.
By age 14, I was playing 6 different instruments. I had my first job interview, and the final question was to name a weakness of mine. I hesitated, sweated, and went into full-on panic before blurting out: “Singing. I’m an awful singer.” She laughed and hired me anyways.
Around that same time, my family started going to church for the first time. The first place I ever felt the Lord was in verse memorization. The second place was singing the poetic anthems that blazed across the PowerPoints. In my adolescent quest to be The Best, I tried out for the Youth Group worship team. “You can play piano,” they said, “but there isn’t a microphone for you right now.” I was in tone-deaf denial.
In my teens, I remained a blatant perfectionist without an inkling of “recovering.” I could become the best at anything with the right library books and enough hours of practice. I would become good at things that I didn’t even enjoy, just to protect my perfection.
It absolutely crushed me that God did not give me the gift of a beautiful voice and there was nothing I could do about it.
Practice could not make perfect. Perfectionism is a precariously perched position; a single hit could knock me off into the abyss and blind me to the plethora of gifts I had been given.
Between this perceived injustice and general teenage angst, I grew bitter toward Him, and pulled away from the church. Why should I put my biggest weakness on display before others, let alone the God of the universe? I could almost picture Him sitting on a jeweled throne, laughing at my futile attempts to worship.
Clearly I didn’t really know Him.
In college, the real Jesus started to pursue me and I opened the door of my heart to Him. But still I refused to sing. A few years had passed since I had gone to my parents’ church, and honestly I didn’t know the tunes or words to the songs all my peers crooned flawlessly.
This exclusivity was another blow to the pride to which I still clung. I would pretend to mouth the words, a millisecond after the leaders enunciated them, ashamed but still captivated. I loved listening to worship music, but dreaded when I was expected to join in. Worship became a delicate dance of pretending to know the words, making sure my face appeared reverent, and glancing around nervously each time I accidentally let out an audible sound.
Sometime in the past 5 years, I have realized that this is not God’s design for worship. Worship is not reserved for the tone-inclined, in the same way that the Scriptures are not reserved exclusively for the word fiends. Yes, certain people have gifts that allow them to experience and evoke the Spirit’s presence more strongly than others through music and words, but God’s pleasure in our worship is not dependent on our ability.
These memories came flooding back this past Sunday morning. For the first time in two months, I was well enough to attend church and had the privilege of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with my church family as the first few notes started to play. I was choked up with tears after the first verse, but I savored each word on my tongue and swayed in tune with the rhythm.
Honestly, I wasn’t all that familiar with the song, but I was singing in the throne room with reckless abandon to my God, the One who is leading me out of this desert. My heart aligned to the beat, pumping the words through my veins, and my joy was made full in the ability to express it through song.
This may seem obvious, but my worship was never about me in the first place. It is for His glory. God wasn’t holding out on me when He didn’t endow me with angelic vocal cords; He was equipping me. Through it, He shows me my humanness, and even more alarming, He is showing me He delights in my weakness.
“So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” – 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
Unfortunately, it took a lot more than 3 times for me to align my perspective to this truth. I’m not sure that I will be leading hordes of people to Christ with my singing voice, but for now I boast about my weakness.
“I tell you,” [Jesus] replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” – Luke 19:40
Sometimes I believe the stones would sound better than me. I am a terrible singer. And that delights my Father. I cannot possibly keep quiet.
Pro-tip: if you sit in the front row, you’re basically singing into the speakers and you sound utterly fabulous.
Shine on, beloveds.