My kids don’t believe me when I tell them I used to think I was going to be a concert pianist. I’m pretty sure it’s a common assumption among 99.9 percent of all Asian kids who begin studying piano at age three and graduate to Liszt’s Etudes and Chopin’s Impromptus as young teens.
I practiced hours a day, training my fingers to submit to the awkward order of notes played on keys that didn’t sound remotely pretty to listen to until a good four months into practicing. I wish I could tell you that the ultimate goal for all that practice then was to truly enjoy music.
It was to win—at talent shows, piano competitions—and to not lose. It was to excel at something I was expected to do.
I wonder if we don’t find ourselves in that same place as mothers.
When I write the words “excel at something I was expected to do,” I can’t help but think of all the expectations that are intertwined with motherhood.
All the hats, all the roles.
All the meals to cook, children to rear, parties to plan, rules to enforce, laundry to fold, manners to teach, homes to clean, finances to manage, hearts to pursue.
I’m guessing you, too, know how it feels to be so consumed by the pressure to perform that you miss the significance of purpose and delight in the very things you’ve been given to do.
It happens when we’re so focused on whether our kids are saying and doing all the right things that we forget how much they need us to pursue their hearts.
When we’ve worked and worked to clean up our lives or our image but quickly forget who we are in the face of fear and doubt.
When I substitute God’s purpose with my own performance, I make myself a slave to perfection, believing my awesomeness will save me from discomfort, embarrassment, and other fears I dread most. And when I let myself believe that my performance is the key to securing all that I need in life, including God’s favor, I set myself up for joyless doing.
Are you tired of joyless doing? Are you weary from managing your performance? Christ’s perfect deliverance is our way out. Finding our purpose in God’s presence removes that pressure to perform and paves the way to joyful, delightful doing. His grace is sufficient for all our strivings.
When you’ve been striving for so long, it can be hard to remember what grace, rest, and joy look like.
What does it look like to perform out of delight?
My third son wanders off to the piano in the living room each night after the dinner dishes are put away. With piano lessons halted at the start of COVID-19, he plays some older music assigned to him and the rest he plays by ear.
From the other room I hear him get beautiful notes right and so many notes wrong. I’ve been known to occasionally call out, “B-flat, Judah! That’s supposed to be a B-flat.”
But he is unfazed and fearless, absorbed in the love of melody as he tinkers on. He’s not playing to perform; he’s playing for the love of music. He doesn’t look around to the right or left, and he isn’t trying to be the best.
Regardless of whether he finds himself on a stage one day, I can’t help but take note: this is what it looks like to be driven by delight and not the pressure to perform. How much better we play and how much more we desire to stay when we feel God’s delight in what he’s called us to do.
I pray you stay. I pray you know his delight in and through you. I pray you know you can’t save yourself, no matter how well you perform. There’s hope for me, and there’s hope for you. God’s good gifts don’t depend on your perfection; they’ve already been secured in our perfect Savior, Christ.
The pressure’s off, friend. Get off that stage, and rest.
- Ruth Chou Simons
*Some of the content from this blog post is adapted from Ruth’s book, When Strivings Cease.
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