"Wow, I'm literally absolute garbage at my instrument."
"I'm so stupid. I should have this passage down by now."
"UGH why am I not better?? There's no way I'm ever going to make my career goals at the rate I'm going. I'm going to end up living in a cardboard box in an alley and be a homeless musician and work at McDonalds."
Have you ever said any of these things to yourself while practicing your instrument? Maybe you cringed at reading these, or felt like you were suddenly in the middle of a seemingly failed practice session.
It can be remarkably difficult to spend time practicing without falling into harsh criticism of all the perceived ways you aren't doing your craft well. During my six years in music school + the four years I spent in my high school's music program, I saw how my peers suffered from being extremely hard on themselves. I myself struggled for years with negative self-criticism during my practice sessions, and it wasn't until I grew deeper in my relationship with Christ that I was able to generally overcome this struggle.
On the other side of this struggle, I want to tell you some things I wish I could go back and tell my younger self. The first one is this:
Your practice sessions, rehearsals, and performances do not have to be a toxic cycle of harsh self-criticism and negative self-talk. There is another way, and that way is through Christ, His angels, and His saints.
There's another way, truly. Christ came to be light in the darkness, and He wants to shine forth His light into the darkness of this struggle.
Here are a few points worth pondering or putting into practice (pun definitely intended):
1. God gave you this gift of music to nourish and develop, not to beat yourself into the ground over. He never pours forth harsh criticism on you when you make a mistake, or don't get that one passage you just can't seem to get. He wants you to develop this gift with love.
2. God is Love, and love is creative in nature. Invite the Holy Spirit into your practice times and ask Him for help while practicing. Pay attention to His promptings and nudges.
3. Love is patient, love is kind. This well known verse from 1 Corinthians can't be reduced to sentimentality, because it's a practical blueprint for how to love. God calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves in both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. If we cannot be patient and kind with ourselves, how will we become patient and kind with those around us? Your next practice session can become an opportunity to grow in holiness by asking God for His graces to be patient and kind with yourself.
Let your next practice session become an opportunity to grow in holiness, not in self-hatred. In holiness, there is no room for hatred of anything that is good, beautiful, or true. And God made you inherently good.
It's entirely possible to learn how to critique your musical skills without tearing yourself apart. There is no need to tear your entire self-worth apart over a difficult passage that you've been trying to get for several days or weeks now, or over a perception that you *should* be in a certain place by now. It's all in God's timeline, not yours. Surrender your timeline into His Hands. Our God is a generous God, and He will not be outdone in generosity. He has plans for you & I that are far more beautiful than anything you or I could ever come up with.
Please, please say no to self-hatred, harsh self-criticism, and negative self-talk in the practice room, in rehearsals, and after performances. These lies are from Satan, not from God. You were made for more. You are called to something higher than simply mastering your craft. You are called to be a saint. You were made for love, by Love, to love. This is where your self-worth can be truly found.
Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam // for the greater glory of God.
A shorter version of this blog post first appeared on Instagram on 2/6/23.