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Progress Isn't Linear in the Practice Room - or in Our Spiritual Lives

“Progress isn’t linear."

So my friend Annie tried to console me, sitting across a table in an Italian piazza, somewhere near the Adriatic Sea, as I sheepishly nibbled at gelato. I had invited her to observe my voice lesson with my new, wonderful Italian coach. I was definitely overly-excited about the progress I was already making with him, because I definitely overlooked the fact that we were still learning to work with each other and I put myself in the vulnerable position of being observed before I was fully ready.

Unsurprisingly, it was a very embarrassing, and unproductive coaching session.

But for the rest of the day, and almost every day since, I have reminded myself of the truth of her words to me. At the time, it felt like a pity-line- something she was saying to me as a means of trying to quell my embarrassment. But Annie has a knack for walking the fine line between being completely, sometimes brutally truthful and very humanly comforting. So it didn’t take much time for me to realize how true her words really were.

Progress isn’t linear.

Imagine, for just a second, that journeys in life were, in fact, linear. It’s an unrealistic expectation that I feel many of us hold ourselves to, but what would that actually mean for our lives as musicians? From the moment we start learning our instrument, there’s no struggle. We are able to immediately implement corrections, understand expectations, and reach our potential. In a sense, it sounds idyllic. It would save a lot of stress, uncertainty, and difficulty. No miscommunications between students and teachers. Nailing every audition.

But what reward would there be in a journey without any struggles? I don’t think we could sincerely say that we’d experienced authentic growth if we hadn’t had to suffer and struggle and carry our crosses along the way. Even Christ, in His humanity, suffered and struggled in the same ways that we do, and that is a beautiful reality. So much of what makes human art beautiful lies in its imperfections. In live performance, no two shows are ever the same. Different mistakes will be made, and will all account for different lessons learned by the artists. How beautifully reflective of life!

In the spiritual life, it is precisely the periods of struggle, dryness, and difficulty that equip us to love God to our fullest capacity. The very image of Love is Christ suffering and dying on the Cross. It’s gritty, it’s challenging, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s True.

In fact, almost nothing in life is actually linear. I don’t know a single person who has had a linear Faith journey, nor a linear health journey, nor a linear journey of relationships. So why should we expect a linear music journey? Why do we continue to hold ourselves to unrealistic expectations of near-perfection? It is precisely in our imperfections, in our struggles, in our failures that we are equipped to become authentic artists, for all of these things make us so utterly human.

The verses of 2 Corinthians 12:5-10 speak about God’s grace being sufficient, and His power being perfected in weakness:

“About this person I will boast, but about myself I will not boast, except about my weaknesses. Although if I should wish to boast, I would not be foolish, for I would be telling the truth. But I refrain, so that no one may think more of me than what he sees in me or hears from me because of the abundance of the revelations. Therefore, that I might not become too elated, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan, to beat me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses,* in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ for when I am weak, then I am strong.”

With these wise words of St. Paul in mind, let us ask God to make music through us. To use our very weakness, our very humanity, to further glorify Him in song. It is with all humility in our own musical imperfections that God can allow the very choirs of Heaven to be heard.


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