When I was twenty years old I had an intense interest in songwriting. I wanted more than anything in the world to sign a publishing contract and have some of my songs recorded by major artists. I knew it was a brutally competitive industry, but many people had told me that my songs were pretty good. More importantly, I felt that I was “special” and God would make a way for me, without much effort on my part. Of course, now I know that there is a name for that: it’s a mental disorder called Delusions of Grandeur. To a trained professional, this kind of magical thinking would have been a small signal that my spiritual life was dangerously bordering on a psychotic break with reality. But never mind, because back then, all this crazy God-talk fit perfectly into my hyper-holy spirit-filled outlook on life.
So I entered a few songwriting contests. That was the extent of my plan. I sincerely believed God would take care of the rest. One of the songwriting contests led to a publishing contract with an upstart publishing firm out of Los Angeles, headed up by a well-known and reputable artist. Lo and behold, it did appear as though God came through in delivering the goods on this far-fetched dream. Soon I received actual correspondence with a real, live music executive and producer – a name I actually recognized from the credits on the liner notes on some of the albums I owned! First order of business: this guy wanted me to craft my songs to sound more like the Psychedelic Furs. It was the early 80′s, after all. I got right to work.
“Praise God!” I thought to myself, with a combination of excitement, spiritual arrogance, and a sudden validation of artistic superiority. I made an extra effort not to sound too show-offy at the next bible study meeting. I found that if I pressed my lips together real hard and furrowed my brows slightly, it gave off the right effect of modesty. When it was time to share our prayer requests and praises, I waited until a couple others had shared, and then I chimed in. “Umm, I have a Praise.” I was looking down at the floor, concentrating on maintaining that sincere expression on my face. “I was signed to a contract with a publishing company, and I am just so thankful to the Lord to that He is choosing to use my gifts and talents to touch millions of lives.”
Notice how I said that I ‘was signed’ to a contract rather than “I signed” a contract. There’s a big difference, you know. It made me sound like I was pursued by several publishers who all wanted a piece of me, a rising star among songwriters. What I left out was the part that said, “This was the only thing that happened to show up, and I have never met these people in person, and all they heard was a couple of songs, and I know nothing about the publishing industry or what the heck it was that I signed.” I continued: “See how child-like faith can lead to miraculous results?” This I posed as an important lesson in humility for those lesser-talented friends sitting around the circle at College and Career fellowship group that night. They nodded enthusiastically, saying how they knew I was special all along, from the moment they saw me first leading the worship team.
Unfortunately, within a matter of months, this publishing company went out of business, and that was that. The phones were disconnected. No more correspondence with a fancy LA music producer. No more false modesty to worry about with my friends. I just sat, paralyzed, on my bed in a dejected trance, listening over and over again to the gravelly voice of the Psychedelic Furs on my turntable, singing, “Heaven – is the whole of your heart… And heaven – don’t tear you apart…” What does that even mean? I didn’t know what to do next.
Twenty-eight years later, I’ll tell you what I should have done next. What I should have done, was to get off my ass, pack my suitcase, move to Nashville or Los Angeles, where all the action was, and try beating down the doors of other, more established publishers and record companies for a couple of years. If it didn’t work out, then, fine. Go to Plan B, back to graduate school. Or even to plan C, which didn’t exist yet, but certainly could be arranged. At least I would have given it a shot. But I was too afraid and intimidated by the unknown.
Instead, I figured it was the end of the road for me with music. I gave up – quickly, easily, and without hesitation. I didn’t mention anything about this to God, because I knew we would both be embarrassed by it. I wanted to spare Him the awkward conversation. The novel experience of “not getting exactly what I wanted from God just when I wanted it” didn’t fit into my theological framework at the time. How could God set up such a tease, handing over to me something that I had dreamed about for so long, and then just snatching it away? Why would God do that to me? It didn’t compute. So I just kind of buried it, and went on to graduate school to do something else.
I was good at academic life. I knew how to go to lectures and study and write essays and take exams and get really good grades. I liked the way it was already structured for you, and all you had to do was show up on campus and plug in. The only decisions you had to make were housing, a meal plan, and your choices of coursework. But I couldn’t stop thinking about that music business thing — getting in a plane by myself and going to a big city where I have never been before, where I didn’t know anyone, and then finding a job and an apartment and meeting new friends, this I could not fathom. On top of that, the thought of actually taking initiative, making phone calls, scheduling appointments, approaching complete strangers about doing business? Competing with other musicians who were probably more talented than I was? This was terrifying to me. I couldn’t do it. You might as well have asked me to jump out of a flying airplane.
I occasionally have a recurring dream which goes like this:
I am in a concert hall stadium that is packed with thousands of people. I am standing in the wings, off on the left side of the stage, looking out at the vast crowd. The stage is empty except for a beautiful black grand piano set up in the center. It suddenly dawns on me: the crowds are waiting for me to perform! I start to panic. And I’m thinking, “How did I get myself into this? I don’t know what to play! I haven’t practiced anything for years! This is so wrong!” But the time has come, and I am pushed out onto the stage. I walk slowly to the piano, pull out the bench, and sit down. I look down at the keyboard, trying to remember what it was that I am supposed to do. The crowd is patiently waiting. I am utterly terrified.
To be continued….