This was a realization I had the other day and I’m wondering why it took so long.
Some of it might be the fresh perspective I had after spending the summer working Sat/Sun mornings at Starbucks. By doing that, I missed church for the better part of two months. The first Sunday I was back, I was looking forward to the worship set since that’s the part I felt I was actually missing (I listen to sermons a lot anyway).
But, as I was standing there, I guess I was just a little more sensitive to what my mind actually does most of the time I’m out with the congregation instead of up with the band.
You see, I’m usually part of the band (usually on electric guitar). Worship for me comes more naturally with an instrument in my hands, even though I don’t sing and play when I’m up there (or on any other occasion). But, I’m completely focused on what I am doing in the context of the worship service and my playing is my worship. I might not be singing, but I’m not mentally somewhere else.
Singing is a different story. One, it’s not something I do much of, so I’m more focused on the actual mechanics of what I’m doing rather than the content of the song’s lyrics. Two, I’ve subconsciously programmed myself to think about other things when music is playing. I didn’t do it on purpose, but that’s what I’ve realized is happening.
Actually that’s not true, I kind of did it on purpose. Basically, I use music when I’m studying to facilitate focus, but I also use it when I’m driving to process things. Pretty much every other time I listen to music, it’s to think, and never about the lyrics of the songs. Because I do this in such high volume (quantity, not necessarily decibels), my subconscious inclination when music is playing is to start thinking about life or some deep philosophical thing only I would think about.
Live music compounds this issue because as you might guess, I’m not the guy at the concert singing my lungs out to every song (or screaming them out more accurately). No, I’m the guy in the back with a good enough view to see all the musicians simultaneously so I can enjoy the sonics with my ears and analyze the playing technique with my eyes. I find that it is usually musically inspirational and tends to jumpstart my imagination, but once again, in no way connected to the lyrics of the songs.
So, bring all of this into a Sunday morning context and to say it is hard for me to focus on singing is an understatement. Realizing this, I can now do something about it (knowing is half the battle right?), though I’d still rather be playing.
Hopefully I don’t swing too far in the other direction, which could also be a problem, you know because of that theology degree and everything. It’s hard to find a worship song that doesn’t have some theologically ambiguous line, accidental heresy, or less than accurate interpretation of some biblical passage. Even “In Christ Alone” has a hiccup in one of the lines that is not theologically accurate (you’ll have to spot it on your own). Most of the ones we sing at church are super solid, so I doubt that would be a problem, but it’s a least still something to keep an eye out for. Especially when you’re Mr. Analytical.
The moral of the story is that if you’re having trouble getting into the worship at church, maybe you should think about how you interact with music in other contexts. Since I use it to listen to and think, that’s what my default on Sunday morning. Other people’s default might be to just mindlessly sing along simply because there is live music playing. I don’t know. What I do know is that I can’t just think “well I guess this is just who I am, so it’s ok.” It is just who I am, but that doesn’t give me a free pass to not engage in worship on Sunday mornings when I’m out in the seats instead of up on the stage. It means I have a “natural” tendency that works against my desire to worship and knowing what it is I can now work against it.
I say “natural” because it sort of goes with my personality, but it’s also a lot of “nurture” on my part. Nurture can be changed though, and slowly but surely, I think I can nurture myself into being more attentive on Sunday mornings. Not in a legalistic sort of sense, but hopefully in a graceful (meaning full of grace) way.
In the meantime, I’ve got some thinking to do, and I know just the album for it…