My Way or the Highway: How charting our own path isn’t necessarily the smartest plan

Frank Sinatra sang, “I did it my way.”  We Americans like that sentiment and think that might be the pathway to success. Annual-clowns-gathering-i-011

My niece Addison, who is 4 years old likes to do it her way as well.  She often says things like, “I do it myseff!” before she puts her shoes on the wrong feet.

Aren’t we guilty of the same sentiments when it comes to our very souls? These days, it’s popular to find ones own way to God, or to be “spiritual but not religious”. To many, I think this is perceived as a more tolerant or enlightened path, but I propose, using music study as my point of reference, that figuring out one’s own path to God, or making it up as we go may leave us walking through life with our soul’s shoes on the wrong feet.

Here are three ways that submitting to spiritual instruction will help us along the journey.

1.  My-Hope-is-BuiltGetting a Firm Foundation

Have any of you musician folks ever had a student come to you after a mere few weeks of starting themselves on their instrument without much direction? The band director gave them a horn, but she’s been busy with all the other students and in the meantime, that student has figured out how to play.  It’s amazing the positions a horn player can contort their face into in order to get a sound to come out, and the odd ways they position their necks and bodies! What took that student just a couple of weeks of “making it up on their own” takes me (their private instructor) literally months to undo. If they’ve been left alone to their own devices for years, sometimes what they have done requires an entire “reset” and that’s very difficult once those habits are thoroughly ingrained.

So I think pretty much every musician I know would agree that starting yourself on an instrument without an instructor helping to set you up for success is a bad idea.

Since we agree that it makes no sense to start yourself on a musical path without some serious help, why would we take our souls so lightly as to assume we can figure that part of ourselves out without an able guide? Just as there are those of us who have spent well over 10,000 hours with an instrument, there are men and women who have spent their lives pursuing God and pouring over the Bible perhaps with an even more zealous passion. How prideful to assume that we don’t need them and that we can read some books about spirituality and make up our own path.

community-group2.  Having a Community to Learn With and From

A friend of mine who is an incredible musician and College Professor with a list of high profile accolades recently had a young musician come to audition for her, considering studying with her during college. Though the musician was terribly trained and sounded abysmal, she didn’t seem to know it and neither did her father who looked at my friend when she was done hearing his daughter and said, “So sell us. Why should my daughter study with you and what kind of money are we talking?” Talk about heads in the sand!

Isolation from community breeds this kind of ignorance.

I’ve been playing the horn now for 28 years and I still have questions. If I have questions about horn models I know just the friend to talk to- he has owned or tried every great horn out there. If I want to discuss mouthpieces, I’ve got a friend who has a gallon ziplock bag full of them and can wax poetic about each one. If I’m trying to find new and exciting music literature for my beginner students I go to this group I belong to and ask and within a couple days I have over 50 people from around the globe giving me their recommendations for the latest and greatest books to try with young students.

You get the point. Musicians cannot thrive in isolation. We must live and work and learn in community. We must be “Everlearners” with a community that knows more than us. It’s the same from a spiritual perspective. It’s popular these days to go to church once in a while, when you feel like it (or when you feel guilty), but if you are an “EverLearner” you will be there every time the doors are open, learning. Being challenged. Being fed. Church shouldn’t be the only place you are getting your meat though. What communities do you belong to that spur you on?   Who can you go to to ask hard and specific questions?

  1. Jazzie_Butter_submissive.101202712_stdTeaching us to Submit to Instruction

I can’t tell you how many times I have worked with a student who already thinks they know it all. A particular circumstance comes to mind where a student auditioned for the orchestra and was beat (again) by another student for first chair. The student who lost came to his teacher (a reknowned player with a major orchestra) in a huff explaining that he had nailed his audition, hadn’t missed a note and had even eavesdropped on the other guy’s audition and knew he had played better. The committee had gotten it wrong in his young and pride-filled opinion. My colleague, with a very firm tone explained to this young man that this attitude that he was exhibiting would limit his ability to ever be as good as he thought he was. Rather than fighting for what he believed, he should have carefully looked at what this other young man was bringing to these auditions that he lacked. Obviously, if this other guy was beating him consistently (even as the professional committee adjudicating changed), there must be a reason.

How many of us are guilty of this same behavior? Even when every sign is pointing to our own lack of deep understanding, we are reticent to submit ourselves enough to look for ways to learn from someone further along the journey than us.  The Bible says it this way,”Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”  Are you humble enough to submit to other’s leadership?  That ability to submit must be learned and cultivated.  It doesn’t come naturally to us!

Let me end with this thought.  Many of us struggle with having a deep and abiding peace in our lives.  As a person who likes to be in control myself, I relate very much to Frank Sinatra’s desire to do it his way.  What I am learning though is that if we can find the courage to place ourselves in the hands of an able teacher and learning community, and submit each day to the hands of a Sovereign God, we will find the peace that has been so lacking in our lives.

It may be that the uncomfortable feeling we’ve been walking around with is the result of our spiritual shoes having been on the wrong feet for far too long.  All we need is a trustworthy guide to point that out and begin to lead us down the path of spiritual success and significance.

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