Happy New Year to all of you! I hope you had a marvelous Christmas season and are ready for a new year of teaching. I didn’t get nearly as much done as I had hoped, but I think I’ll be saying that the rest of my life! Today’s Monday Mailbag question is perfect for the launch of a New Year because I know it reflects emotions that every one of us can relate to experiencing at various times throughout the year:
I look at your site and see the many fun things you do. I have printed some of them and use them once and then forget them. I am wondering how you are so organized. I want to be a better teacher, but I am loosing momentum (as are the kids) and I feel incorporating a lot of your activities would help so much. I am just overwhelmed as to how to incorporate them. Do you have a curriculum as to what your focus is each week or just tips on how to do it? My kids are all in different methods, which is confusing to me. They don’t practice well, and I am just feeling like quitting. But I know it is teaching them a talent they will use throughout their lives. Do you have any pointers to help re-spark the interest in me as a teacher and then the students as well?
As I prepared to respond to this question, I realized that my answer will be multi-faceted. So I’ve decided to do a short series this week on 5 Secrets to Re-igniting Enthusiasm! Most of us will be resuming teaching this week after several weeks off and most of our students will have hardly touched the piano during that time. The way we start off this first week will set the tone for the rest of the semester. So I hope this series will provide all of us with some inspiration and practical ideas to make this the best year yet! For starters, I’d like to share an article I wrote for our local music teachers association newsletter last year at this same time. I hope that others will join in and share thoughts and suggestions as well!
Do you have time to read this newsletter? Ha! I can hear some of you laughing now. You muse, “There’s barely enough time to keep up with the responsibilities of daily life, let alone stop for a few minutes to read a newsletter.” There is a house to clean, a studio to organize, a lesson to plan, a dinner to cook, a church service to prepare music for, a family to serve, a festival to send in forms for, a piece of repertoire to practice, a list of people to call, a student to teach, an inbox of e-mails to reply to, a load of laundry to wash, a meeting to attend, a website to update, a letter to write, a flyer to design, a bill to pay, a group class to prepare, a song to arrange…anyone feeling exhausted and overwhelmed? Is there a key to keeping up with everything, and retaining your sanity in the process? 🙂
I’ve been reflecting on this question a lot lately because I’ve been asked to speak at an event on the topic of contentment. Some well-meaning person on the committee decided to dub my talk, “School of Contentment.” Little did I know that that meant God was going to take me through this school in preparation for the talk! Since so much of my life is invested in music and teaching, I’ve naturally wondered how contentment, or a lack thereof, plays out in the life of a music teacher. Sadly, I don’t have to think long to come up with examples of discontentment. I look around at other teachers and feel discontent that I don’t have the level of knowledge and skill that they do. I listen to their students and feel discontent that my students don’t perform as well. I sit in my chair during a student’s lesson and grow discontent over their lack of progress. I look at my friends in other professions and feel discontent that I don’t make as much money as they do. I breathe in the fresh morning air and feel discontent that I will spend the afternoon in the basement teaching. And the list goes on.
How is it that I can be in one of the best situations in the world and still find myself struggling with feelings of discontentment? The apostle Paul indicates in Philippians 4:11 that he had “learned in whatever situation [he was] to be content.” As I pondered this verse and delved further into studying, I was struck by three realizations:
- Contentment can be learned. Even one of the greatest apostles in history had to learn contentment. His school for learning? beatings, shipwreck, imprisonment, hunger, and more. My to-do list is sounding better already! If he could learn it in the midst of such trauma, surely it is not out of grasp for me.
- Contentment is necessary in every situation. Discontentment is not specific to my life, my situation, or my profession. It is something that must be dealt with by every person – healthy and sick, fat and skinny, wealthy and poor, teacher and lawyer. If the grass looks greener on the other side, it’s because I’m watering on the wrong side of the fence. If I would put as much energy into growing right where I’m planted as I do into wishing that I was someone or somewhere else, I would be enjoying a lush green lawn right now!
- Contentment is a state of the heart that transcends one’s physical state of being. Paul goes on to say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Aha! The secret revealed. It is the presence of Jesus Christ within me that is the antidote for a discontented heart. He has promised to sufficiently meet all my needs and to never leave me or forsake me. When I am depending on Him to meet all my needs, I am able to endure difficult situations and keep giving and giving of myself without ever running dry or losing my joy.
I am already noticing a difference in my attitude and teaching the more I reflect on the source and importance of contentment. The many responsibilities that make up my day don’t have to pull me in a hundred different directions. Because at the heart of them all is a unified desire to please the Lord and to let every lesson that I teach, every dish that I wash, every letter that I write, every note that I play, be part of the overflow that comes from a heart that has found contentment in Jesus alone. That is the source of my hope, my creativity, my energy, and my enthusiasm!
Remember, if you have a question you’d like to contribute to next week’s Monday Mailbag, leave it in the comments below or send me an e-mail sometime this week with Monday Mailbag in the subject line!