by Bil Mooney-McCoy
Back in the previous century, when my son was a toddler, he would build elaborate constructs from Legos. When finished, he would look up and say to my wife or me, “Look at I made!” And we, being the greatest parents ever, would fawn over his creation as he explained that it obviously was a contrabassoon, or an ankylosaurus or a gondola car. (We went through obsessions with orchestral instruments, dinosaurs, and train cars, respectively.).
That was a long time ago and that little boy is now an amazing young man who plays drums next to me each Sunday at Life Church. And he still takes delight when Dad gives him an approving smile when he executes a well-placed 32nd note triplet run on the toms.
Being noticed for what we do or make is something we will always feel a need for. It helps us feel affirmed, to know that we are of value and significance. This is part of being human and I do not believe that it’s innately wrong or changeable. But it can be a source of vulnerability.
I had an epiphany on this last weekend. My wife (her price is far above rubies) took me to a concert, a choral performance. The first few groups presented pieces primarily in the European upper-class tradition, what we call classical music. No slight intended, I loved it. But on my way out the door, I realized something.
Thinking about the conductors and the accompanists I’d seen that night, folks clearly schooled in the classical traditional, I realized that, in that world, I’ve always felt like an outsider, or even more honestly, a wannabe. Sure, I can read the alto clef; I know what obbligato, appoggiatura, and maestoso mean; I know the English horn is neither. But, my sight reading is not very good and I do not have the chops to play Mozart’s piano concerto in A. Were I to find myself in the company of those performers, I would feel “less than.” Not just “less than” in the classical music world, “less than” period!
Do me a favor: admit that you’ve felt this way, too.
So, processing this today, here’s my takeaway: two points to ponder, four principles to practice.
1) My identity must be in Him alone
I’ve often paraphrased the late Brennan Manning: My primary identity must be that I’m someone whom God loves. If it’s in anything else, I will always feel “less than.” Face it: no matter how talented and accomplished we may be, we are all toddlers playing with Legos in comparison with the One who created time, nuclear fission, marriage, and tulips.
2) My usefulness is contingent on availability than on ability.
My high school youth leader, the late Wayne Anderson, once said, “If God can speak through Balaam’s ass, then I guess he can speak through me.” I Cor. 1: 26b-27 says it slightly less bluntly: “Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”
Now, to get practical:
1) Admit it
I believe it’s important to recognize when feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, not being legit come up. This provides a chance to apply the previous points to a specific context. A sense of freedom is emerging in this process for me, that I need not carry all the inferiority baggage I’ve been schlepping (Hey, I went to Brandeis – the Yiddish works!).
2) Keep growing and learning.
Though I may not attain the level of mastery in classical musicdom as the conductors on the program last Friday, there is no excuse for not continuing to study and practice and develop. So, from time to time, I analyze a Bach chorale or remind myself of the differences between French, Italian and German augmented sixths.
3) I need to appropriately show what “I’ve made.”
Just as it was great for our son to want to show off his creations, there are times for each of us to share what we bring to the larger community. Last week, I posted a guitar video. I struggled – “Am I being presumptuous?” “Is it really good enough?” What’s my real motivation?” I finally told those voices to go to Heaven and take a U turn. And folks have been blessed by the video.
4) Lastly, given our innate need for affirmation, it’s really important to take interest in each other’s work and efforts.
Let’s be honest: when we see someone shining, it’s very easy to feel threatened, to mentally compete. It takes ten electric guitarists to change a light bulb: one to change it, nine to say, “I could have done it better.” Busted!
And we who are in a mentoring, teaching role absolutely have to nurture and pour into the next generation. I remember fondly two professors at New England Conservatory (Malcolm Peyton and the late George Russell) who took significant interest in the compositions I wrote for their classes; they both helped me begin to see myself as a talented composer. I also remember a professor who was too self-absorbed to take interest in me. I don’t remember his name. Or care to. May that never be said of me!
BMWK – do you ever have moments when you feel “less than.” If yes, what do you do to move past those feelings? Please make sure you check out the Bill’s guitar video…it’s beautiful and inspiring.
Bil Mooney-McCoy is a native of Boston, married for 33 years and father of three adult children. A computer programmer, freelance musician, and ordained minister, he has been a speaker or facilitator presenting on topics including sexual addiction, marriage and relationships, music ministry, and racial reconciliation. His passions include his morning coffee, finding new guitar chords, creating killer PowerPoint presentations, and watching how fast his oldest daughter can text her friends. Click here for more information about Bil Mooney – McCoy https://www.newcitymusicboston.com/lessons/