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Learning how to learn

I have always been a good student. I think it's partly because I happen to learn the way that most education is offered. The other part is that I work hard to do everything perfectly and please the person that I am working for. What has been less obvious is the incredible pressure that I have struggled with internally as I strive to perform externally.

My first instrument was the French Horn. I played the French Horn in 4th and 5th grade. I loved playing as part of a band or an orchestra. But, I strongly disliked carrying my French Horn on the bus to school. It was somewhat heavy and definitely awkward. I had to find an empty seat so that it could sit next to me or risk blocking the aisle because it certainly didn't fit under the seat. Then there was the fear of people judging me for being weird and playing the French Horn that further complicated things.

I switched to piano in 6th grade. In my imagination, I played amazingly, with ease and skill. In reality, I stretched my small hands as far as they would go and tried to make them play the keys perfectly. I knew that I was supposed to practice, but I disliked it. It was so overwhelming because I wanted to play everything perfectly on the first try. As I made mistakes, I felt wrong and bad because my work was not perfect. I would put even more pressure on myself to try and get it "right", which only made playing more challenging. I would do the bare minimum in order to get close to my goal without having to endure any more inner turmoil and self-condemnation than necessary.

I played piano through middle school, high school and all the way into my first year of college. Practicing was even more necessary at that level and I had to record my dates and lengths of practicing in a notebook to show to my instructor. My college courses were more difficult than my high school classes had been and I found that the internal pressure of performing perfectly in all of those classes AND piano was too much. I didn't register for second semester piano.

We still had a piano at home and I can remember sitting down to play for fun after that. It was much more enjoyable than practicing for lessons had ever been, but it didn't happen very often. Years later, when I first got involved in the Rockton House of Prayer and musicians were as rare as gold, I tried to learn how to play music by chords so that I could help out. But, it was a very challenging process for me and around the time that I was moving to start a life in Chicago. I gave up trying after only a few months.

This idea of learning to play chord charts has resurfaced many times since then. Each time, I feel a mixture of hopeful possibility and terrifying pressure. But, in November, I finally started taking piano lessons again with the express purpose of learning how to play by chords. And it has been a wonderful and stressful experience. I have discovered that my way of learning has not been the healthiest. I am giving up old ways of learning in exchange for new.

On one end of the emotional spectrum, I am so excited to be playing again and encouraged as I discover that I can play the piano in this creative and different way. On the other end, I am frustrated and exhausted because all of my perfectionism and performance issues are resurfacing in the learning process. I want to learn quickly and play everything correctly the first time. I want Kelli, my instructor, to be pleased with my progress. I want my incredibly creative and musical husband who plays almost every instrument by ear to be impressed by my skill level. I want to be able to hear these "stories" that both of them seem able to hear when they play music. I want to be able to translate ideas into sounds and become an artist by piano. It's exhilarating and devastating. Sometimes I feel proud and other times I'm in tears because I am so frustrated.

Even when I want to quit, I keep saying yes to this process. It's been hard and rewarding. I feel an invitation from God to be creative in a way that I have never been before and a divine enthusiasm for this experience. I feel thankful for all of the work that God has already done in me that makes it possible for me to even have this learning experience. (I realize now that I couldn't have started this process any sooner than I did because I was too stuck in my perfectionism and people-pleasing.) I feel apprehensive because I know that all of my buttons will keep getting pushed and there will be ugly feelings. But, I have decided that it's worth it. I would rather be uncomfortable along the way and develop this gift than leave it untouched just so I can feel safe and comfortable. I want to develop healthier ways of learning that I can use for the rest of my life.

What about you? Where is God inviting you into a learning process? Will you trust Him and say yes?

Still Counting Gifts:

  • #955: Ben and I bought an old piano and we love it
  • #956: Time and space to create
  • #957: Our wood-burning stove
  • #958: AAA roadside assistance 
  • #959: Sharing my morning with God and Ben
  • #960: Continued opportunities to trust God with my business
  • #961: And my finances
  • #962: And my fears
  • #963: Sharing God's lavish love with other people
  • #964: I'm so proud of my mom for going back to work
  • #965: I can't wait to visit her at Chick-Fil-A tomorrow
  • #966: Wednesday night worship and prayer at R2HOP
  • #967: God offers His wisdom when I have no idea what to say to the person in my office

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