Today I sang special music in church again — both services — and received the usual shower of applause and compliments afterwards. To each compliment I gave a warm smile and a thank you, and to the applause I gave a bow of acknowledgement before moving aside to let the order of the service resume.
I enjoy appreciation of my musical talent, but find myself feeling conflicted when receiving those compliments in the context of a worship service, where the focus is not supposed to be on me, not on the performance, but on the worship. In some respects, there was an especial irony today, if taken a certain way: the song I sang was God and God Alone, with the words “Let everything that lives reserve its truest praise for God and God alone.”
I remember back in my Houghton College days that Lee Schaarschmidt, a music ed instrument major, seemed to deflect all praise for his musical performance from himself with an almost signature gesture heavenward (with my usual lack of visual memory, I cannot be certain, but I think it was the forefinger pointed upwards. Others who remember that specific better, feel free to correct me).
I have often contemplated that reaction, and while it may have been the right thing for him, were I to try it, I would only feel that I was bringing more attention to myself by trying to avoid it.
My father encouraged me, and taught me, to accept the praise gracefully, without making any more emphasis. I have found that works well for me.
And since then, I have learned that, just maybe, I didn’t fully understand what is going on when people appreciate a performance in church. Not that I claim to now.
As a performer I give to God as I give to and lead the congregation. The congregation joins in this, and returns by giving in return. They give praise to God, but as God’s love overflows, they also give back to me. Just as they receive from me, I need to learn to receive from them, to let the giving be a continuous flowing, and not stop it, either by my own aggrandizement, or attempt to avoid the same.