I belong to a men’s fellowship group at my church. Ostensibly, it’s a bible study group, but it usually extends far beyond just discussing the particular bible passage that’s the topic for the week. This past meeting, the subject turned towards vulnerability, and we all agreed that much of our success in life – no matter in what we endeavor – has much to do with being vulnerable. During the course of the discussion, a good friend mentioned that he’s just watched a great video from the TED conference on the very subject of vulnerability. I just finished watching it, and it has really gotten me thinking. Here’s the video:
What struck me like a ton of bricks was what she said near the end of her talk: To let ourselves be seen—deeply seen, vulnerably seen. To love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee. To practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror.
After the talk, I sat for several minutes thinking about my music; what I’m playing, what I’m writing. In a previous post, I mentioned that after a year-long hiatus, I returned to writing music, but making a conscious decision to write Christian sacred music. That was difficult for me because I really wanted to write more mainstream pop and rock for a time. Before I made my decision, I anguished over what I thought I should be doing and worried over what others might think of my music.
I had already gotten a taste of humble pie with my non-religious music from industry veterans: It was not very good; or at least not good enough to be published. Most feedback came back stated that the songs were structured well, and the ideas were sound, but they wouldn’t have that much appeal. Mind you, having wide appeal wasn’t very important to me, but I was living under the illusion that my songs were hits. They weren’t.
A large part of why I couldn’t find much success in writing non-religious music was what I now understand is a lack of sincerity and a lack of vulnerability in my writing; a lack of willingness to completely expose myself for fear of showing too much. You see, like many, I had spent a lifetime “numbing my vulnerability” as Brene Brown puts it, and when I was writing about my life, I was going to some pretty dark places that were difficult to deal with. It was too uncomfortable. But I had always found peace and solice in prayer, and though I’d visit those dark places, within the context of prayer, my songs became therapy for me. I allowed myself to be vulnerable so I could heal that pain.
From a more practical side of things, I also decided at that point in time that I made my decision to return to writing sacred music that it wasn’t necessary to try to play like everyone else. I’d continue to study and do my best to improve my technique, but I didn’t feel all that compelled to play John Mayer songs note-for-note, or play blues with the same kinds of phrasings as Eric Clapton. I just accepted that my playing was where it was at at that moment in time, and I’d just play.
The interesting thing that happened when I made that decision was that my playing improved dramatically; more so than at any point in my life and playing career. I’m no shredder, and I’m no blues god, but I finally started getting comfortable with what I could do, and I just did it, knowing that if I needed to learn more, I simply would learn more. In other words, I just accepted the fact that I only had a certain set of tools at a particular time, and I just used what I had.
Anyway, food for thought…