The Place of Music in Our Personal Lives

It was a windy spring evening when a friend stopped by. She brought pizza and tidings that she was scheduled to work the evening shift at the restaurant. Would it be okay if I watched her nine-month-old?

As she raced out the door, I scooped up the sleepy, emotional heap of boy. As I rocked him, I sang. He quieted, his dark eyes boring into mine as he absorbed song after song. I exhausted my song repertoire and started again. It wasn’t until the third revolution of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” that I wondered what would happen if I stopped singing. Would those little eyes close?

I stopped. A tiny brown finger lifted to poke my mouth. “Aaaah,” he urged me to continue. My second-rate soprano and repetitious cycle of songs had captivated him. Why?

Since the first records of music, we see that music has been much more than simply words. Moses and Miriam used song as an expression of triumph and thankfulness to God (Ex. 15). David and the other psalmists express deep feeling in both their anguish and their joy. In early church history, Paul encourages the church to use songs to teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16).

Hang in here with me while I brainstorm some of the reasons why music is important in our personal lives. (And, because I am bound to forget an essential point or two, you are welcome to offer your own ideas in the comment section.)

Music is beautiful. It draws us into its expression and gives us space to lay aside our guard. When we make music, we express ourselves. Music can help us put perplexing emotions into something tangible.

Music can be worshipful. Have you ever prayed with the words of a song? Or maybe you have created your own music to your own prayers? I often sing while I am working around the house, offering up my song as a prayer to the Lord.

Music takes us places. Do you remember where you were the last time you heard or sang a particular song? Music is a link that transports us back in time or space to individual memories.

Today, my mind goes back ten years to that night on the warm concrete of a Mexican rooftop. There, I contemplated the night sky and let my running tears fill in the gaps of my prayer of repentance. God spoke His answer with the music from a passing car: it wasn’t too late to start again. And today, when I hear or even think of that song, I am there on that same warm rooftop, contemplating the same night sky.

Sometimes the memories are not so specific but powerful nonetheless. Children’s songs especially transport me back to my childhood. “Daniel, Daniel, Daniel, Daniel, Daniel in the li- li- li- li!”

Music unites. Have you ever sung in a chorus, a band, or a special singing group in church? We share an experience together when we sing together.

I remember one time while practicing for special singing, my sister and I simultaneously realized that our blaring alto (two of us) was drowning out the soprano section (six of them). We burst into such laughter that the song screeched to a halt.

Sometimes, we even have an “our song” from a certain era, event, or relationship.

Music helps memorization. Do you remember the books of the Bible in order? I know adults who mentally sing the song to themselves to find those obscure minor prophet books.

I can still sing the being and helping verbs to “America the Beautiful.” In high school, a classmate and I tried to memorize Shakespeare’s Sonnet 60 to “Jingle Bells.” “Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore,/ So do our minutes hasten to their end – Ha! Ha! Ha!” We gave up when the words stopped matching the rhythm.

Music calms or energizes us. As a child, the best way I knew to avoid the kidnapper under my bed was to sing. It calmed me and almost convinced me that he wasn’t there after all. Almost. (Please tell me I was not the only one who routinely performed a flying leap into bed.)

Now, I often play some sort of instrumental music in the background as I do my “secretary work.” I like to think that it subtly keeps the grey matter working. My roommate listens to fast, upbeat music while she cleans the house. The feather duster and the mop fly.

By these examples, we see that music is useful for a lot of good in our personal lives. But not all of the uses of music are so noble.

Sometimes music is used as a distraction rather than a tool.

I know, because sometimes I use it this way. Sometimes I distract the lingering sadness of a disappointment by playing music. Sometimes I let music whisk me away in “good ol’ day” memories instead of facing an unpleasant present. In short, sometimes I turn to music to distract me rather than turning to God to heal me.

Lately, I’ve begun to notice how I use music. When I am honest about my motive, there are times when I deliberately chose to turn on music. Other times, I deliberately turn it off. Music is good. But the truth is that too much of a good thing is not a good thing.

God wants to speak with us. Of course, He speaks through music and other voices around us. But only if we’re listening. Sometimes, it might take silence for us to find a place for our hearts to say, “Speak, for your servant hears” (1 Sam. 3:10).

 

unknown profile Trish Kauffman lives in Western Europe and works with immigrants. Because of the nature of her work, she has chosen a pseudonym. She is energized by open conversations that point to Jesus. She also loves being part of a community, reading, touring out-of-the-way places, and organizing (as long as some spontaneity is in the mix). She used to think she liked language-learning until she started learning Arabic. For her, the hardest part about living away from home is leaving behind family.

3 thoughts on “The Place of Music in Our Personal Lives

  1. Well written, Trish. Your observations on music as a distraction challenged me. I’ve noticed in my own life as well that music can help me to process what I’m experiencing or hinder by enabling me to avoid those experiences. I love music, but recently I’ve been learning to make space for silence as well. Thanks for putting that into words.

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