From Perfectionism to Participation

From a young age, music has been woven into my daily life. Like many young kids, I had piano lessons, as my parents hoped that learning an instrument would teach me how to be disciplined and responsible.

What was supposed to have been only a 1-2-year experience, turned into a 13-year journey filled with challenging lessons, stressful competitions, nerve-wracking recitals, embarrassing performances, exciting triumphs, stomachaches, and sweaty palms.

Every autumn, my piano teacher and I would sit down and choose the pieces I would learn for the year, each one being from a different musical period. We would listen to recordings of the songs, pausing to analyze difficult and dramatic sections. Despite my teacher’s strong instruction to slowly learn the mechanics of a new piece, I would jump into playing, not minding that I stumbled along the way. Mastering the beginning of a song was enough to fill me with joy and anticipation as to what it would all sound like once I knew every note.

While it was easy for me to be lost in my own world practicing on my little upright piano, performing in front of an audience was different. I remember being around the age of nine sitting next to my mother during a summer recital, nervously asking her why my hands felt wet, not realizing that it was the first time I experienced sweaty palms. Unfortunately, this would be the norm for every performance; thankfully my mother would graciously wipe them each time. But despite how anxious I would feel about performing, a constant, steady peace would rest on my shoulders as I sat down on the bench and surrendered this gift to my Creator.

As I entered high school, I began to feel discouraged about what had once been something I enjoyed. Music no longer brought me joy as I obsessively focused on my failures when I lost against the same students in the yearly competitions. My perfectionism took over as I stressed over every mistake and every missed opportunity. I didn’t view playing piano as a gift to be cultivated but as a skill to be mastered. And when I went away to college and eventually moved to China, I stopped playing.

To this day, I haven’t played much.

Sadly, music was a reminder of failure, that I didn’t measure up to be a stellar pianist. But slowly over the past few months, God has been writing a new piece in my life, offering an invitation to participate in this gift again.

During a difficult month of sifting through past traumatic experiences, losing a loved one back at home, and beginning a new relationship, God began to use music to soften and move my heart. It wasn’t through one of Mozart’s sonatas that he spoke to me, but in quiet and simple worship songs. There were days I had no words to communicate my thoughts to Him, and instead found myself singing along to praises on my phone. The peace found in those songs wasn’t in the technicality of the notes played or the warm tears rolling down my cheeks, but in the words that spoke truth of who God is and what He has done.

In this season, He has been offering an invitation to me to not only participate in the gifts He has given, but in this new way of knowing Him. He knows of every note that will be played in the scores of our lives, and despite the mistakes and complexities ahead, He is faithful to carry us through it all.

How has God used music to speak to your heart during the various seasons of your life? What ways has He been inviting you to participate in?

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

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10 Comments

  1. Spring March 6, 2018

    I work with Deaf. It is sometimes difficult that music isn’t a part of our church service. Music has always been an important part of my life. The worship songs I listen to repeat over in my head throughout the week. I have songs that are usually the theme of how I am feeling. When we went on home leave it was “I’m coming home” ?. I also am a ” failure” at making a musical instrument a long term part of my life.

    1. Cosette Greeno March 10, 2018

      I love that you also have songs that are a theme of how you are feeling! I definitely have those too with the various seasons of overseas life 🙂

  2. Maleah March 7, 2018

    Thank you for sharing this. My husband and I are right in the thick of raising support in order to work at the home office of a sending/training organization. Up to this point he was working full time at Sprint as well as the worship minister at a local church and I have been mostly home with our two-year-old, but also teaching piano and harp lessons as well as leading worship with him on Sunday mornings. In the midst of this transition we have stepped down from all of these positions and I find that, no matter what church we are visiting, the worship time always brings me to tears. We have been blessed in so many sweet ways throughout this process, but I am eagerly awaiting getting to our new city and jobs, getting involved with a church family, and getting our piano back so we can make music in our home again (we’re currently living with my in-laws and there just isn’t room for a piano).

    1. Maleah March 7, 2018

      Oh man, I did not realize that picture would be so huge and I can’t figure out how to take it down. Whoops!

    2. Cosette Greeno March 10, 2018

      Lovely photo of you and your little guy! So cute 🙂 I’m glad this resonated with you. Prayers for you during this time of transition and that the Lord would continue to speak to you and your family. I hope He continues to use music to bring peace and joy and that you’ll have space again for your piano!

  3. Kirstin Durfey March 7, 2018

    I can completely relate to these feelings about piano! God has also been speaking to me and showing me how to surrender this gift to him. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Cosette Greeno March 10, 2018

      Your welcome! I’m so glad this spoke to your heart and that you can relate too!

  4. Pat Premick March 10, 2018

    Music has always been a part of my life from maybe 9 years old till today, which is quite a few decades later. When I moved to China in 2009, as I was knee deep in language learning (no easy task for anyone let alone a 47 year old) for the next few years, He encouraged me in the use of my gift of piano. It was such an encouragement to me! It was something I was actually competent at while I struggled with pronunciation and tones. Oh what a joy to be able to do something, anything, well again. I felt like the opportunities for playing piano for Chinese Christmas carols at the coffee house, a national felly’s Christmas party, and playing carols out in a village were “just” (actually HUGE) breadcrumbs that were feeding me at that time. They were also an indicator for me of what was to come. Today I lead just one of the multiple multi-cultural worship teams at our international felly of 300 people from all over the world. I pray you lean into the new place He’s taking you with music. Let Him write a new song in your heart and let the tears flow!

    PS I’m studying guitar now with a med student from India from my fellowship. What fun!

    1. Pat Premick March 10, 2018

      Yikes! No idea why the pic is so big. Sorry.

      1. Michele March 10, 2018

        That picture is just so we can all go, “Wait, you were 47 in 2009 and you look like THAT now?!” It’s a gorgeous picture. 🙂 The same thing happened to Maleah above and seems to happen to lots of people on this site. The only time I tried to add a photo to my profile it didn’t work at all- I’m not sure how to actually do it right.
        I love that you have been able to use your piano skills in China, and it’s especially fun that you had something you enjoyed and felt competent doing in the midst of language learning (which, I agree, is way harder in your forties)!

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