Learning About Joy from Cello Lessons

November 9, 2021  - By Neidy Hess

What Cello Lessons Taught Me About Joy–An Article by Well-Watered Women

My son’s first cello lesson of the year took an unexpected turn. As his teacher formulated his weekly practice plan, she emphasized that his goal for his practice session was to simply show up with joy. As I listened, a mixture of awe and confusion colored my disposition. No minimums on practice time, special drills on certain scales, or anything related to the actual cello playing—just joy.

But I had arrived at my son’s lesson fully equipped! After five years of cello studies, I thought we’d get right to it. My notebook laid open in my lap, my colorful pens awaited their color-coding strategy, but his teacher started in a different place. I had to trust her judgment.

After a few days of encouragement, I noticed how differently he arrived to his practice sessions—more eager, focused, and attentive. His change inspired me; I longed for these attributes to build my faith. If his approach toward cello practice could change, then so could my perspective on my spiritual disciplines. As it turned out, the spiritual discipline of joy perfected my faith and helped me see more of Jesus. 

Joy: The Mysterious Spiritual Discipline

When I think about spiritual disciplines, I find it easy to practice things like prayer, patience, or self-control because they have a more obvious, outward application to honoring God. They appear to have readily defined checkboxes and outlined ways to practice them, just like ordinary tasks. Laundry? Check. Send that text? Check. Prayer? Check! Joy, on the other hand, is a more nebulous, undefined practice that is sometimes characterized as only a feeling instead of a right, worshipful response to God’s glory.

So what is joy? Gretchen Saffles says, “The root of joy is holy happiness in God’s sovereignty and a deep appreciation for the cross.John Piper defines biblical joy as “a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world.” This definition is different from the cultural definition of joy where we look to material things or people to bring us a spark. 

Biblical joy requires a consistent practice of turning to the cross. We are to hold fast to the hope set before us and seek the beauty in what God promised and created (Heb. 10:23). And because Jesus was faithful, we can reflect the same faithfulness right back to our Lord. Much like my son’s joyless attitude toward cello practice, I was going through the motions of life without having the right relationship with our God. I could either trudge through life and forget the promises of God or choose joy to help perfect my faith. 

Perfect our Faith through Joy

Before my son received instruction to practice with joy, he often lamented playing cello, and practice felt like pulling teeth. He isn’t alone; I felt this way when I tried to read through the Bible in a year for the third time! Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” 

While the ESV uses the word pleasant, the Greek word is chara, which means “joy.” Discipline begins with the understanding that joy doesn’t appear like a good feeling at first. Especially in this context, finding joy is challenging and, at times, painful. But it leads to righteousness. The eventual yield of righteousness requires a frequent and constant practice of joy. The promise is that we will one day taste this delightful fruit, and it is that hope that builds our faith. 

When we begin with joy and hope, the Spirit offers an unrelenting blessing in the form of faith restored and reaffirmed. Our hope assures our faith (Heb. 11:1). It is in that perfected faith that we can endure the drudgeries of everyday life. And in turn, we’ll find ourselves hoping for righteousness and, ultimately, looking to Jesus.

Look to Jesus for our Joy

There’s a reason why my son and I trusted his cello teacher with his instruction. Besides her accolades, she genuinely guides students to a deep appreciation for music. If it weren’t for her, we wouldn’t have lasted more than a single lesson. She modeled practicing joy.

Jesus is the perfect model of human joy. He carried human burdens and bore the weight of our sin on the cross, yet Jesus did not struggle to carry any of this with brooding or complaint—he carried it “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb. 12:2). The righteous work displayed on the cross justifies our transformed spirits.

Joy transforms our experience as sinners because it recognizes the good news that Jesus came to save us from our sinful natures. In tending our joy, we find that we can share in God’s holiness and abandon our previous sinful tendencies (Heb. 12:10). 

Jesus not only perfectly remembered the joy set before him; he ran toward it! The pain and trauma of the cross were subservient to the truth that God the Father awaited his arrival into the kingdom of heaven. The joy that Jesus displays empowers us to mirror his worshipful response. We can echo his race, and we don’t have to do it alone! He is the one that perfects our faith (Heb. 12:2). By beginning with our joy, our faith is refined and helps us run the race toward God’s presence, a race that Jesus completed for us. Let us come to the throne of God with hope-filled souls and practiced joy so we can experience the beauty of Christ’s redemption.

Meet the Author:

Neidy (pronounced nay-dee) is a Mexican-Guatemalan creative with a love of Georgia peaches, sweet tea, and cold brew coffee on tap. She currently lives on the Iowa side of the Omaha metro with her three incredible niños and firefighter-paramedic husband. After navigating life as a military spouse, she now works at her church as the lead big kid who loves the gospel, otherwise known as the children's curriculum coordinator, and the Exhale content manager. You can find her on her website, Instagram, or every month in her newsletter.

Rachel Dee

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What Cello Lessons Taught Me About Joy – An Article by Well-Watered Women

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