Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. James 5:16a
Music holds a place in my heart and my life that I find difficult to explain. I've been told that as long as I have been able to sing and play music, I have been doing so. I didn't nap as a kid, but spent my afternoons listening to music during my rest time. I have a "sound track" of sorts for most of my life. And the music for that sound track covers all genres, even a bit of country, which has more to do with preferences of the person I was with than my personal tastes (What we'll do for love, huh?). And though I am horrible with lyrics and details like composers, or artists, or years of release, the music, none-the-less, moves me to remember sweet details and times in my life when I hear it played again. Or if I remember something, I can recall the melody of the music that accompanied that moment or was important to me during that time of my life. I was fortunate to be raised in a church with an amazing music program and was able to participate in it, learning to read music as early as I learned to read words. And, though I enjoy singing, especially in times of congregational worship at church, playing an instrument has always been my heart language. I lose time when I am playing, I forget where I am and who else may be around... I anticipated middle school with great joy because I could finally learn to play the flute. And I did that, and it was good, but then I was introduced to the bassoon, and a true love affair began.
I do liken my relationship to music, especially with the bassoon, as one of a love affair. It occupied the most intimate places in my life and influenced every decision I made until I met Bart. But even then, music, especially playing the bassoon, held places he couldn't, or I wouldn't let him. And, it also occupied spaces that should have been God's alone... All my life choices, as I chose where to attend university to where to live to what career I was going to have, was more about being able to do music, play the bassoon, how I wanted to and how I felt fulfilled than it ever was about what God wanted for my life. Now, I do think some of the choices were in the direction God had for me, but my motivation was self-serving and prideful, not God honoring and in surrender to him...
Music, being a bassoonist, became my idol. Before and since there have been other idols - food, having babies, healthy living, movies, books, my relationship with Bart, my relationship with my daughter, to name a few - but until God stepped in and removed it, music was and, if I am not careful, is what trumps all things in my life, including my Lord and Savior and Heavenly Father...
So here is my confession... I was so consumed with playing bassoon and teaching bassoon, that after I graduated from the University of Houston, I didn't return the bassoon that I had borrowed for the 5 years I was there. I could not see any way I could purchase one and so, I just keep the one I had been issued. Yes, I basically stole an instrument from my alma mater. I was so blinded by my desire to play and to God's ability to provide, that I just took matters into my own hands. And, I used that instrument until just before we left for Costa Rica.
Graciously, as I was preparing all the small details of our move, God convicted my heart about that instrument. I contacted the Moores School of Music, made arrangements to return it, and did so. But in doing so, I gave up having a bassoon. To this day, I still do not own one... Thankfully, the people of the university were kind, received it back, and have never mentioned it again. But, my hands have been left empty of something that brings me great joy and pleasure.
God forcibly removed music from my life when we were called here to Costa Rica and convicted me of my sin of stealing. As we moved, I could see no way I would ever be able to have music in my life, not like I thought I needed to be fulfilled and to have joy. I was shortsighted and selfish, and just plain angry. As I told our pastor's wife, "What in the world can God possible do with a classically trained bassoonist in the middle of the rainforest?" I had prevented God from being in my musical life for so long, I couldn't even begin to imagine there were things here in Costa Rica that would allow me to refine my craft, do something I always wished I had done, rediscover my first instrument, and even a chance to do something I never believed I could. But God did, and even this hard part of my heart and stubbornness in my life, he wanted and he wanted to make new.
So, when we lived on the Pacific Coast, Eden was attending a bilingual private school which needed a music teacher... Guess what God allowed me to do? In exchange for Eden's tuition, he allowed me to teach music to preschool and elementary kids. No it wasn't grand symphonies, nor playing more than shakers and tamborines, but it was something I had always wondered if I could do and do well. In this time as a music teacher, I learned so much and I had a blast. I learned that yes, I could have taught elementary music, and probably been much more successful at that than I was as a middle school band director. (Another story for another time... but once again I thought I knew better and chose not to follow where God was leading). I even got to put on a musical with the kids there. It was a great night, a great fundraiser for the school, and one of my fondest memories from that season of my life.
But then, God called us away from there to San Vito. I once again was without music in my life. But, I was also beginning to allow the Lord to work on my heart and to reveal the idols I had. In that I began to understand that he was dealing kindly with me, even by taking away music, and my bassoon (yes, I know it wasn't really mine, but it sure felt like it). I began to understand the mercy he had shown me in allowing me to return the bassoon to UH with no further consequences. And, how very merciful he had been to allow me to work as a music teacher when so much in my life was a complete mess and I felt completely lost.
So, I began, for the first time that I ever remember, to ask God how he wanted to use me and my love and gift of music. Yes, 30+ years into my relationship with Jesus, and I was finally asking him how he wanted to use my talent. I had had so much pride and I lost so many opportunities because I thought I had known better... I had told God what I wanted to do and then had hoped he'd come along for the ride. And for a bit he did, but then he loved me enough to change me.
After a time of seeking him and his heart for music in my life, he provided the opportunity for me to lead worship at our church here in San Vito. This was once of the scariest and most difficult things I have ever done, but it was also one of the most rewarding. I am thankful for what God taught me and revealed to me through it. I learned so much about him, how I am so unnecessary in building his kingdom but he allows me to participate anyway, how what he wants to happen will happen, and how stretching and growing musically can be honoring to him. I even learned, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can play piano and lead people to sing in another language (and that was something I never dreamed was possible because piano class in university nearly killed me, as I sent every night that semester crying over the piano trying to get my hands to do what they were supposed to do).
And, after stepping out of the role as leader, I joined the worship team in 2017 as a member, playing flute. I have rediscovered the joy of the simplicity of this instrument. I've discovered that I have a knack for arranging songs for our group, and, I am learning how to worship God through my playing. My times at worship practice and playing on Sunday mornings are so very special and fill me in a way I cannot explain. I am learning what it means to fully enjoy God, fully enjoy the gifts he's given me, and how that is the greatest form of worship I can give him.
But, as my desire for others to know about Jesus and God's love for them, the Truth of the Gospel, has grown, I have struggled with seeing how instrumental music fulfills that. How does something that has no words point people to the cross? How does me doing something I personally love so very much make an eternal difference in people's lives? Yes, the Bible teaches us to make a joyful noise and to worship him with all kinds of instruments, but how does that fill the Great Commission? Can I go and make disciples with a flute or a bassoon? These are things I still don't have answers to, and are the things I wrestle with each time I pick up my flute. I just don't know yet...
And, as I look toward our return, I pray that I can one day own a bassoon, and pursue music, but not if it will once again cost me the right relationship I have with God, with my Heavenly Father. As much as music, and playing fill me, I want nothing to do with it if it will cause me to forfeit all I have learned during this season of pruning. I want to play with an orchestra again, I want to feel the weight of a bassoon in my fingers, and I want to "sing" my heart out on it, but only if it is God's desire for me too. I pray often that God would allow this, that I could once again pursue all that I love, but in a way that makes much of him, and not of myself.
Heather Carty is a wife, a mother, a musician, and a missionary, among many other things. She is a recovering "Older Brother" (see Tim Keller's Prodigal God) who desires to find God's joy in this journey called life. Which, by the way, has not gone at all as she had planned, but has turned out way better than she could have ever imagined.