When we say “worship” in the church, people assume music. There is a whole genre of “worship music” yes, but worship is about surrender. It’s surrender put to music. It’s surrendering our pride and being real. It’s giving up being selfish. It’s giving up being in control. When I raise my hands up to a song, it is a symbol of keeping my palms open. As a Christian, my life is supposed to be a constant surrender. Not just in big areas like work and volunteering and money. But in the everyday moments…surrendering my selfish desire to be a lazy parent. My selfish desire to disregard the feelings of my spouse or my friends. To be thoughtless with my words. To pick fast and easy instead of homemade and ethical and healthy. For me to be continuously surrendering those millions of moments that make up my day is exhausting. Only The Holy Spirit can nudge me, whisper to me, to go the right direction. Without that voice, I just go through life numb, doing what I want. Unsurrendered.
Music is so fascinating. It permeates everything. We jam out in the car to match our mood, we all have a style that when it comes on and we hear it – we stop everything to pay attention to those notes and those words. But other than birthday parties, and perhaps the occasional concert or sport, people just don’t sing together in large groups. Ever. Except for church. And the church can be unbearably awkward. Those songs can seem like they go on forever with very little depth.
But go back to watching a child or a teenager. It hits them in their soul, they react to it with their body. God designed us to move to music.
Just barely six years old and there I was, learning notes on the piano with my dad. Matt, with big blue eyes, sat at his piano with his mom learning how to play too. We both did that for more than a decade, learning how to count, and clap rhythms. We would play short concertos or hymns during offering at our churches. When we hit our glorious teenage years, I chose violin and he chose trumpet. With braces and acne, we met each other with music as our backdrop. Orchestra and Band was our haven. Other kids had coaches and sports and theater and art. We had music and conductors and ensembles. We worked hard and excelled to all-state groups and competitions. It was where we fell in love with each other, where we found our place, and where we fell in love with God.
Youth worship is passionate, filled with unrelenting hormones and feelings of euphoria. We would jump and dance, sing at the top of our lungs, finding harmonies that we had been hearing for years. Camp worship showed us the physical act of worship and it drove us to love expressing music with our hands and bodies. I was always confused when we returned to our home church and the adults just stood there, unmoving with the music. How do they not dance? How do they not move?
With our college classes drowning us in the technology and medical fields, our music classes were our relief. A place to make harmony and beauty. A place to look over at each other, perfect our craft, and smile. Matt always desired to practice, to be the best he could through hard work. I, on the other hand, despised practicing and wanted to be the best with very little effort. I think we both landed somewhere in the middle.
It all changed at my senior college recital. I got up to play my solo and I froze. I couldn’t move my bow. I felt hot and clammy, like my legs were lead and someone was holding a washcloth over my mouth. I barely finished song. After that I couldn’t even get through concerts. I had to walk off stage every time, unable to breathe. Nothing made sense. I had almost 15 years of performing and never a problem. I even tried to play in church but I would stand there and not play. I just wanted to run away. I eventually just walked off every stage because I couldn’t do it. I put down my violin and didn’t pick it back up.
After that, adult life kicked in and we tried finding a local home church. With each church that we visited, the first thing we noticed was the music. The quality, the amount, the song choices. We were conflicted knowing that it is only a small piece of a church, and an even smaller piece of what a surrendered life looks like, but it was our soul. We couldn’t NOT notice the music. Our ears were too trained. Our soul’s too connected to rhythm and harmony. It had been 3 years since my performance anxiety and I just had no desire to re-live that….
But my heart literally ached for music.
I had no vocal training, but I had years of classical training, and I could pick out any harmony of any song quickly without assistance. So I “practiced” singing. I turned on the radio and tried to mimic everything I heard, match tones and qualities of each singer. I eventually tried out for the worship team and they said yes. I almost passed out. I seriously thought I wasn’t good enough but they said yes. On the volunteer application, the one thing I wrote, was “I will not do a solo”. That first Sunday, my arms were shaking so bad I had to ask for a mic stand. And I stood in the back, barely sang, and made it through.
Within a year, I was gently asked to just sing melody on one verse. Then for one chorus. Then gradually to lead one song. And then three songs. Then four songs on a Sunday when the other leader was gone. This was somehow changing me.
No. It was changing us.
Bass is where Matt feels comfortable, and he had to learn more acoustic to help me lead. Matt’s always been so self-conscious of his voice. So to put a mic in front of him, and tell him to hold an instrument he barely knows, was equally terrifying and exhausting. Both of the areas he wasn’t trained on. He was having a similar experience. Combo it with my newness to singing and we felt completely out of our element as co-worship leaders.
After all of this, here’s the irony. Being on worship team, leading worship, it’s not really a sacrifice. Finding childcare is the actually the biggest hassle of it all. Yes, it is exhausting because the level of performance, it still involves a hundred other people looking in our direction, frightening and anxiety-driven. But somehow, even in our introvertedness, we get through it. And love it. And ask to do it again. And we keep saying yes because our soul’s won’t let us say no. Someone once told us we know it’s a gift when the sacrifice is actually a joy. God did this all so slowly, knowing we would run away if he showed us the future. He eased us into it, like a child, giving us little bits of affirmation with each step, and then asking us to sacrifice a bit more.
Music is in our soul. The beat is like our heartbeating. The words are simple conversations with different vocalizations and tones. The harmonies, when so pitch perfect, ring in such a way that I get goosebumps. When I pay attention, music can take over my entire being.
The beautiful thing about being involved in church is that it’s meant to be a bunch of broken people, surrendering their lives to Jesus. So your surrender will look different than mine. But comparison has no place, no measurement is right. Because surrender will cost you something, and mine will cost me something. So we are both learning to be less selfish, and more like Jesus. That’s why we need each other on Sunday’s. That’s why we need to be in the lobby. Because we may just have one hour to be together, to cheer each other on, to yell “Carry on Warrior!”. It’s time. We all surrender. We life our hands in worship, as one church, with millions of stories, just loving Jesus.
Our church approached us a few months ago asking to feature our “journey” of music. Specifically leading worship. We both balked at the idea, mostly because we thought our story was so boring and regular. They asked again, so I decided to try to search for our story. There had been so many events all leading up to it, but I wasn’t sure what they wanted. If there was even anything there that was interesting. So. I freetexted. I sat at the computer, stilled my mind, closed my eyes, and just typed. I felt inside-out. My soul started to speak. And the connections and ideas and complete purpose-filled life was revealed. Above is what I wrote to her.
My friend took our story, and she made it come to life. She has the vision to take words and make it real. It was beyond scary to be vulnerable. But it was beautiful too. Watch.