Some of you know that my applications to doctoral programs have Not Gone Well. To say the least. Of course, I had planned everything beautifully, and knew Exactly How Things Should Be. I practiced diligently, studied…well…some, and was Totally On Top Of Things.
Somehow, it all fell apart anyway. Without going into too much detail (leave a comment if you’re interested in details), I can say that due to circumstances totally beyond my control, I ended up having to change repertoire at the last minute, and I recorded music that I had only practiced for about a week and that did not meet the recording requirements for the schools I sent it to. On top of that, by the recording date, I was so stressed out, tense and generally out of my mind that it definitely decreased whatever quality I was able to achieve in my frantic week of practice. But that didn’t matter since it didn’t meet the requirements anyway. Bummer.
I also scheduled two appointments to play for teachers while in New York last month. One of them fell through—not because of me. Having some sort of relationship with the teacher really helps at audition time, so I was disappointed that the appointment had to be cancelled. The appointment I did have, however, went extremely well and I left feeling pretty psyched about the school and the teacher. This was surprising, as it was not my first choice initially (though it was always a viable and attractive option).
Due to the inadequacy of the recording that I sent in to the schools for the first round, I knew that not being invited for a live audition was a real possibility and I prepared myself for that. I knew that I still had a chance at the school where I met with the teacher, so all hope would not be lost. It would be nice to have choices, of course, but not having them wouldn’t exactly be the end of the world, either.
A few days ago I got my first rejection letter. Of course it’s a little disappointing, but it’s also not a huge blow to my ego because of the circumstances surrounding it. This isn’t the kind of moment that would cause me to start questioning myself and/or my abilities. Also, I realized that I have become pretty interested in the school where I know I have a very good chance of getting in, and found myself a little relieved that I wasn’t going to have to buy another set of plane tickets to go to this audition. But while my response to the rejection itself has been fine, my responses to the stress of and disappointment in the situation surrounding it have been revealing and instructive.
God often doesn’t answer prayers in exactly the way we want Him to, even when He gives us what we ask for. For example, in this case, I asked Him to open doors that needed to be open, close doors that needed to be closed, and to make it abundantly clear to me where I should go to school. I have prayed that prayer, verbatim, pretty much daily for the past 7 months or so. I also prayed that through this process, God would refine me, humble me, make me acknowledge my dependency on Him, and that He would be glorified through everything I did. These prayers are being answered. But I sure wasn’t happy when I watched everything I had worked so hard for disintegrate before my eyes! To have my hard work undone and my perfectly planned situation implode was definitely not the way in which I wanted His guidance to appear. I was so very angry that things weren’t going as I wanted them to after so much effort and sacrifice. I am saddened to confess that my response to the unfortunate chain of events was often less than gracious. Judging by my response, an outside observer probably wouldn’t guess that I am a beloved child of God who is always provided for in every way.
Through the events of the past 6 weeks, I have been made profoundly aware of my utter dependency on God, because I see that even with my hard work, determination, desire and ability, I still can’t control the situation. And the times in which I did respond lovingly and graciously to others who had let me down during this crucial time only occurred because of His love and grace towards me.
I cannot begin to count the times I have told others that God has given them the exact amount of talent and intelligence He wants them to have, and that He opens certain doors to place them where He wants them to be. Why can’t I remember that when I am the one struggling? I know that my calling and career are about more than just winning auditions and proving that I’m better than someone else. In fact, I know that it’s about more than simply playing. Over the past 4 years God has placed me in specific situations in order to care for and love particular people, to advance the Kingdom, to strengthen my character, and to cultivate my talents. God is completely faithful in His provision, in the development of my gifts and character, and in His desire and willingness to use me. But how easy it is to forget this! How many times do I try to control the situation, arrogantly confident that I know what is best? During the past months when things didn’t go as I thought they should, I was totally consumed with rage and screamed like a petulant child, accusing this gracious God of apathy, abandonment, and even sadism. Thankfully, He is patient and still inundates me with mercy even though I am perpetually ungrateful.
Relying on God to provide opportunities is not a copout or an excuse for laziness or for failure. I have worked hard and will continue to work hard. But I am also continuing to learn (painfully, stupidly, slowly) that I really must totally surrender myself to Him. After all, I am completely dependent on Him anyway. My artistic and career ambitions, my current (and desired) relationships, my hopes for who I can become and what I can do—all of it. This is not a new lesson for me and even begins to sound a bit cliché, but it is so hard. And when has He not been good to me? As I sit here and think of all the times I haven’t gotten what I wanted, I cannot think of a single example in which what I got instead didn’t help me to grow personally and spiritually, and often, when applicable, musically and intellectually. On the other hand, it is quite simple for me to list people I would have never known and loved had I been in different situations, lessons I would have never learned, and profound experiences of God’s power and love that I would have never had. I do not mean in any way to invalidate or trivialize the reality of pain and disappointment, but remembering that God has my best interest at heart and hates my suffering even more than I do does allow for bigger and better perspective.
The audition process is far from over. In fact, I should be practicing right now! I hope and pray that as I am practicing over the next month, my joy will be deepened as I continue to learn about God’s mercy and goodness. Of course, it would have been nice to get into every school, get amazing scholarship and fellowship offers, and make my decision based on details like which cafeteria had the best coffee (kidding, but you know what I mean). That is not to be—and undoubtedly would not have been even with a great recording—but my prayers are being answered. Doors are opening and closing. I have seen some of the hideous sin that plagues my heart, and now that it has been brought to light, there are the opportunities for refinement that I prayed for.
So to the list of daily petitions I am adding a plea for grace and wisdom to trust Him at the point of trouble instead of only acknowledging His goodness in hindsight, and I ask that He continue to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit within me that responds graciously in all situations, no matter how challenging. I look forward to these prayers being answered, and I look forward to seeing how this audition process finishes and resolves. How wonderful it is to remember that through all of this I am safe in His hands and that He never stops working all things for my good and for His glory.
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23