For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. ~ Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)
Much of my energy on this blog has been spent defending and trying to justify in my own mind the legitimacy of artistic and musical vocation in a Christian worldview. Tonight (or, unfortunately, this morning) I am thinking in the opposite direction; that is, recognizing myself as of value because of my God, not because of my musical vocation.
As an undergraduate piano student, I struggled with self-criticism and self-deprecation any time I performed in studio or departmental recitals, and, not infrequently, after lessons that were middling to poor. As a graduate student in music theory, I sometimes struggle with feeling inadequate to grasp or explain the material at hand, and, consequently, I am tempted to feel worthless because I cannot do what I am supposed to be doing. As musicians, we tend to place our sense of worth in what we do, and I think we feel so strongly about this because music demands not only our mental agility, but also our emotional and physical agility and perfection… it demands so much of our whole persons.
One day in studio class, my piano professor stopped me and said something like: “Emma, you are not your hands. You are not the music. When I criticize your playing, I am trying to help you be a better musician, but that does not reflect on your worth… that is found in God alone.”
What is so awe-inspiring about this is that the very God who calls us to good work, who gives us vocations, who equips us to do them, and who desires us to do them to the best of our ability for his glory, reminds us not to boast in our work or find our identity in it, because he has given us – his workmanship – value in himself alone, through Christ, by his grace and not by our works. So while we care and toil to do our work well, we can rest and find peace even when it does not go well by trusting that ultimately our worth is not up to us. We can’t make ourselves any more or less worthy or valuable, because it is only by God’s saving grace in the blood of Christ that we are his – and there is nothing we can be that is of more value than a child of God.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! ~ Galatians 2:20-21 (NIV)