When I was 16, I left Hong Kong to California to pursue a “full-time” musical training as a violinist. I dreamed about becoming a successful professional who could boast about her playing. Little did I know that in return, the Lord would, through an injury, peel my old self layer by layer to show how He is my everything.
Knowing that I had a lot to catch up with, I practiced crazily without any healthy routine in the first month as a high school junior. What followed immediately were injuries that lasted for a few years. They have stopped me from playing the violin even until today. I ended up staying an extra year in high school to make the lost time and eventually entered a university as a pianist.
During those days, I felt incredibly lonely. Besides the severe pain that I had, I was disappointed by the lack of helpful treatments and understanding from people around me. My pain was so severe that I could not wash my hair and write any homework. I often cried alone at night.
But it was also those days that I gradually realized I was idolizing my musical study. Looking back, I am so thankful that God “plugged me out” before I continued to sink. It was those days that I finally took a step back and reflected on my relationship with the Lord.
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” (Genesis 3:6)
I thought I was being a good student, a good daughter, a good girl. I was hardworking and diligent. Why did God allow my world to crumble down? The painful truth that idolatry can come in the form of “good” began to hit me. After all, didn’t Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil because it seemed “good”?
I was emotionally unstable as well as a performer knowing now my future might be a thousand times more uncertain, slowly, however, I began to understand that my identity is first and foremost always in Christ. Perhaps I may not be a “successful” musician, or even not a musician at all with my injury, but I knew I am His and He is mine.
In the pursuit of music, I also often became entangled of how others viewed me. Nevertheless, just as my professor in college had told me, performers are just messengers; the music is the message. In other words, we are just vessels expressing the music. Let go of the self; focus on the message. This analogy reminded me of God’s original purpose for us, that is, to contain and express Him as vessels.
This is where “self-forgetfulness” comes in. Tim Keller’s “The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness” is a great little book that provides some helpful teachings on this,
“The problem with self-esteem – whether it is high or low – is that, every single day, we are in the courtroom.”
“The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.”
“The self-forgetful person would never be hurt particularly badly by criticism. It would not devastate them, it would not keep them up late, it would not bother them. Why? Because a person who is devastated by criticism is putting too much value on what other people think, on other people’s opinions.”
“Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less. Gospel-humility is not needing to think about myself. Not needing to connect things with myself. It is an end to thoughts such as, ‘I’m in this room with these people, does that make me look good? Do I want to be here?’ True gospel-humility means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”
It was uneasy when I looked at people who excelled in their musical pursuit. When I saw brothers and sisters who were more talented than I was, I was also tempted to doubt if God loved me less. After all, I wanted to use my musical gift to express Him!
But we are all equal in front of the Lord. The Lord has assigned each of us different portions of gifts. Whether big or small, our job is to invest them wisely as in the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. How much talent I have does not determine my status in Christ.
Enjoy music, pursue music. But let these two only work when you first and foremost enjoy God and pursue God.