New Song in my Mouth

What a year. Somehow I completed my junior year of college, on top of a debilitating surgery/recovery process. I don’t think I’ve gotten over the fact that I actually survived.

So surgery…yeah…not something I can talk about easily. It’s been the most humbling experience of my life. I’m pretty sure middle school was the last time I had to ask for rides as often as I did this semester. I thought I had mastered the art of doing laundry during my freshman year; I didn’t think I’d have to ask for help with laundry anymore. Most notably, I didn’t think I would have to go to class on the same days that I needed [prescribed] pain medication, in order to get me through the torture of range-of-motion exercises at PT. But that became the norm–twice a week, every week of the semester. So that was fun.

In addition to the physical changes of this year, the academic/social changes of this year were [almost] equally challenging. I went from spending most of my time practicing or thinking about practicing or complaining about practicing in the music building basically all my waking hours, to…I don’t even know. I love being a religion major, but I still don’t have an answer when people ask what I do. Not to say it’s easier; it’s not. Both a pro and con of being a religion major–not having a specific curriculum required of every religion major. Pro: I get to graduate on time. Con: I don’t see the same people in the same building during all my waking hours. Huge change from the last two years.

Confession: I cried more this semester over my inability to play flute than I did over my pain levels. Grief over my loss of performing ability really kicked in this semester, now that I’m not constantly anxious about joints potentially going out of place. This grief manifested itself when my schedule allowed me more free time than I had as a music major, when I listened to music that I was once able to play, and when I heard my friends successfully perform to the best of their ability.

The grief on top of the constant excruciating pain felt like a “pit of destruction.” But as an answered prayer, “He put a new song in my mouth.”

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Psalm 40:1-3

Part of this new song is declaring God’s goodness in challenging circumstances. Here’s how He revealed His goodness to me this semester:

  • Community

During one very talented friend’s senior recital, I thought about the “what-ifs” of my music career. The nostalgia over positive performing experiences became overwhelming. I missed the days when conductors would tell the entire ensemble to play at a softer volume so that my solo could be heard. I missed being heard.

During that same recital, I also thought about the opportunities I’ve had over the past year to hear–to hear what is going on in other people’s lives, to hear from God’s Word–more so than I had as a music major.

In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.

Psalm 40:6a

One of the greatest gifts God bestowed upon me this semester was an open ear. I can’t take credit for the drastic increase in desire to listen to others this semester. I believe God gave me this increased desire to be a coping mechanism for everything I went through this semester. It’s comforting to know that others don’t completely have their lives together, which creates common ground for us to collectively recognize our need for a Savior. To quote a friend who teaches me what community looks like long-distance: “It’s depending on those in a gospel-centered community that points us to our utmost need for a relationship with Christ.”

God has been good to me by providing people to love with His love and providing people who reciprocated His love.

  • The ability to finish the semester strong–literally

Like I already said, it seems so surreal that I actually finished the semester at all. In my own power, I would not have been able to finish. Although I’m not prepared to begin bench-pressing 250 (or even 2.5 lbs), I’ve gained a lot of strength back over the past five months–considering the fact that I had 0 strength when I began this semester.

I’ve come a long way physically, and I’ve improved academically as well. Within my first four weeks into the semester, I had three papers due. (Shorter papers, but still. I had one hand with which to type and one brain trying to process both words and pain medication.) The goodness of God was present in my schedule for this semester; I had many assignments due at the beginning of the semester, so I was able to focus more on recovery for the remainder of the semester.

  • Affirmation that I’m where I need to be

Following the academic transition to a religion major, I had no idea what the rest of my college career would look like. People who knew the extent of the difficulties surrounding surgery and recovery occasionally asked me if I ever considered transferring and moving back home. I honestly didn’t want to. But the suggestion did make practical sense. However, one of the greatest aspects of my small, Christian school is the ability to be known and cared for by the faculty. Two weeks ago, I was awarded a scholarship based on the verse Luke 2:52 (“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man”). This award recognized the hard work that the Lord enabled me to apply to find balance in my life, on top of overwhelming health concerns. This experience gave me the peace that surpasses understanding, knowing that I’m exactly where God has placed me: When I’ve felt like many do not understand the difficulty of finding balance with chronic health problems, the faculty of my school demonstrated to me that they understand and care. Wow, God is good to provide financial support and emotional support, resulting from the abilities He also gave me.

May the act of singing this new song lead me to honestly confess,

I have told the glad news of deliverance
    in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

Psalm 40:9-10

But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God!

Psalm 40:16-17

This new song in my mouth is the antithesis of my previous self-absorbed song. By singing this new song, I can expose my human limitations and give praise to my limitless God.

Restless

I’m on my second “sick day” of the week, complete with a dead phone and dead charger. I mention this because I currently don’t know what to do with myself; it is a truly rare occasion that I am not in class or rehearsal, or preparing for class or rehearsal, or taking a temporary break on my phone. To-do lists are the script of my life. I don’t run on caffeine. Instead, I run on the sense of accomplishment when I complete a task. Generally speaking, rest is not my preferred method of spending time.

Conviction time: Even God needs rest. The phrase “You can have too much of a good thing” applies to creation.

“God saw all that He had made, and it was very good. Evening came and then morning: the sixth day. So the heavens and the earth and everything in them were completed. By the seventh day God had completed His work that He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work that He had done. God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, for on it He rested from His work of creation.” Genesis 1:31-2:3)

In order to fully appreciate the good work He accomplished, God needed rest. And because God Himself needed rest, rest became holy, meaning “set apart.” Rest is set apart because it is contrary to the human inclination to keep pressing forward. Ironically, the way to fight my natural sinful tendencies is to rest. And when I reach a state of rest, I can be godly by stepping back, appreciating the work I have done through God’s strength, and seeing it as good.

More specific than general rest, I need relational rest. I had the privilege of getting to meet Audrey Assad yesterday. Her song that I knew the best was “Restless,” so I was especially interested when she spoke of her desire (in leading worship) to lead the congregation to a place of rest before God. During a Q&A session, I got the chance to ask her to expand on this idea. She used the illustration of Mary and Martha, saying that we need a “holy imbalance” between the two; we need to pay attention to details like Martha, but it is also “necessary” for us to rest in the presence of our Savior (Luke 10:42). Being conscientious in our duties is important, but Jesus claimed that Mary made the better choice by choosing relationship over responsibility. We live for relationships–first and foremost with the Lord and then with fellow sinners in need of His grace. While all relationships are worth our investment, our relationship with the Lord is especially significant in that we are commanded to rest and be the weaker half: “‘Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light’” (Matthew 11:28-30). Through intimacy with the Lord, we have the freedom to rest in the arms of One Who is stronger than us.

Outside of community, I need my own personal rest. Earlier I may have given the impression that I never experience rest. That would not be true, or else I wouldn’t have survived this long in college. However, I very rarely experience intentional rest; most of my rest is unintentional. At the end of a normal day of five classes, rehearsals, and work, I come back to my dorm to do homework for the next day’s five classes. (The joys of being a music major.) But recently, whenever I finally sit down to get some work done, fatigue and pain take over, leaving me no choice but to lie down and relax every muscle of my body. This is always a setback in my plan to be productive and is, therefore, very frustrating. I’m constantly reminded of my own weakness through the necessity to stop my own plans and follow the orders of my exhausted body. Yesterday I learned the root of my frustration through the lyrics of Audrey Assad’s song: “I’m restless ’til I rest in You.” Every time that I am forced to stop my own plans and rest, God is providing time to reflect on the good He is bringing out of my life and to freely enjoy His presence. The slower-paced times of my life are not a curse; it is a blessing to spend time worshipping my Savior. As Psalm 62:5 says, “Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him.”