My 15 year-old daughter had been playing cello for a few years and was as at an impasse. Though she was pretty consistent about practicing, she didn’t seem to be improving and was losing her love for the instrument. She was frustrated with her playing. She began to practice less because she hated her sound. Her instructor (we’ll call her the bad cello teacher) spent most of the lessons lecturing Lizzy for not practicing enough. The more her teacher lectured, the less Lizzy practiced. She thought maybe she should just quit. Instead, we found a new teacher.
The first lesson with the new teacher (we’ll call him the good cello teacher) was a revelation. With a few small specific suggestions the good teacher helped Lizzy improve dramatically. She came out of that one lesson playing so much better. Now practicing was fun. She enjoyed it. She practiced more. Every lesson the good cello teacher’s pattern of teaching continued. As she played he gave her small concrete suggestions of how to improve. Most of these suggestions were “Do this…” not “Stop doing that…” If she did have a particularly busy week and didn’t practice as much as she should have, he didn’t waste time on lecturing. Instead he made the most of her time with him, teaching her how to be a better cellist.
Sometimes I become overwhelmed with all my inadequacies and there’s a non-stop lecture in my head much like the one my daughter received weekly from the bad cello teacher. (It’s not really fair to call her bad. She was just a college freshman with no training in music education.) Sometimes I feel this overwhelming discouragement sitting at church as I think over the past week and all the things I could have done better. I used to think this negative harangue in my head came from God. But that’s not how God teaches us.
God is like the good cello teacher. He doesn’t waste time telling us all the ways we are inadequate. Instead, he gives us specific small suggestions that help us improve. He doesn’t tell us. “Oh! You’re a terrible friend. I can’t believe you did that blah, blah,blah.” Even if in some instances that might be true. Instead, if we turn to Him for instruction He might say, “You need to apologize …” or “Pray for so and so…” You get the idea.
Overwhelming negative feelings about ourselves don’t come from God. Some come from our own limited perception and some come from Satan but they never come from God. So I’ve learned to ignore the bad cello teacher in my head. Instead I listen to the Spirit, which is easy to recognize because it almost always gives specific, doable instructions. Do I follow through on every positive prompting? No, just like my daughter couldn’t always get the timing right or hit the right notes. But the good teacher kept giving her instructions and she kept making small adjustments and–most importantly– kept playing and together they made beautiful music. The best hour of my week was sitting in on those lessons. (Lizzy’s now on a mission in Bolivia)
Has the bad cello teacher stopped lecturing in my head? No. And to be honest sometimes a string of negative thoughts about myself can make me just want to quit. But then I remember all that negativity doesn’t come from God. I ask God what I need to do and He usually gives me –through the Spirit–a specific small suggestion. And when I follow through I see miracles. I get that sure, steady feeling that I’m an instrument in Lord’s hand.
“And this is a blessing which hath been bestowed upon us, that we have been made instruments in the hands of God to bring about his great work.” Alma 26:3