Last semester, I had a few experiences in my violin lessons that felt like personal parables.
I started studying with a new teacher in January (my previous teacher broke his shoulder on New Year's Day and needed to drop some students). At my first lesson, we discussed the repertoire I'd be learning that semester. The conversation went something like this:
Professor Woods said, "I want you to learn the Tchaikovsky violin concerto".
"Are you sure you think I can do that?"
"I know you can. As humans, we sometimes put ourselves in boxes. We construct ceilings for ourselves. This week, I don't want you to stress out, but I'm asking you to bust through the ceiling. Be smart, effective, and creative. See how much is possible. I want you to memorize the first two pages by your next lesson."
I didn't think it was realistic. (Have you heard the Tchaikovsky violin concerto?) But I decided to exert the faith necessary to give it a try. I removed my ceilings of doubt and went to the library to check out the music. I listened to the part all week and practiced as efficiently as I could. I enjoyed my practicing immensely that week. By my next lesson, I had the first two pages memorized. And it was a more solid, dynamic, musical memory than I'd ever had before.
Lesson #1: Don't put yourself in a box. Bust through the ceiling! Our self-imposed constraints are fearful, mortal constructions. God sees no limits on our possibilities.
A few weeks into the semester, Professor Woods told me that my left hand needed work. He wanted me to change my "handblock", which means that I'd have to spend at least a couple weeks playing nothing but the most basic scales and exercises. It was a big deal. It could take a long time for the new muscle-memory to assimilate into my playing. I remember asking him,
"Do you promise that if I do this, it will eventually help my playing?"
"Annie, you've got to trust me. I promise that if you make this change, it will be worth it. Your intonation will improve, your vibrato will "ping" more, and you'll be able to play fast passages with more agility."
In retrospect it seems like a small change, but it took a lot of trust to go back to square one. I remember telling God, "Okay, this is a decision I'm making, to exert the faith necessary to change this. Please help me. Please bless that it will be worth it."
It was tedious at first. I could feel different hand and finger muscles working. I practiced in front of a mirror all the time to make sure my wrist was in the proper place. After a couple weeks, I graduated from scales back to my repertoire. By the end of the semester, playing the violin was noticeably easier. The Tchaikovsky fell under my fingers. Even fast runs and double-stops were clean and in tune. This simple (although not necessarily easy) change had made a big difference in my playing.
Lesson #2: Small changes, when thoughtfully chosen and diligently implemented, can lead to life-changing blessings in our lives. I can feel Heavenly Father saying, "Annie, I promise that if you make this change, you'll be closer to me. You'll have more peace, more stillness, more happiness in your life. Trust me."
Both of these lessons have root in the same principle, one I have learned before and will continue to learn as long as I live: Trusting God is worth it. He sees us for who we truly are, and can guide us perfectly because He's not limited like we are by our fearful, mortal misconceptions of ourselves. We are His children.