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Thought's from a Musician's Heart


As a Christian musician, I often have pondered why God gave us music. Is it to praise Him? Of course. But is it anything more than that? In recent years I’ve come to understand why music is so important to me: for me it often functions as an emotional guide through life’s ups and downs.

In the 2015 Pixar film Inside Out we see personifications of various emotions inside the head of an 11-year-old girl named Riley: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Because Riley is generally a cheerful girl, Joy is generally the primary emotion inside Riley’s head. Joy often ignores and tries to suppress, in particular, the character Sadness, thinking that feeling sadness is always negative.

This is a pretty good representation of how I dealt with emotions through much of my life. I always saw myself as a very steady person, but it also meant I didn’t experience much depth of emotion. The first time I realized that I probably needed to grow in the area of expressing my feelings was when I didn’t even cry at the news of the death of my grandfather, the first of my family members (and I have a big family!) to die in my lifetime. I kept myself in a state of shock and denial, not allowing myself to fully deal with what I had lost.

Fast forward to fall of last year, when my family and I decided to leave the field we had been serving in overseas, teaching music for the past three years in East Asia, and prepare to move to a new mission field (among other reasons, the political situation seemed to be closing the door on the opportunity for us to return after being stuck in the US due to the pandemic). Though this decision was difficult, I never allowed myself to consciously grieve the loss of our relationships we made from the past three years, and only thought about it logically and objectively.

Just a couple days after this decision I was watering a new planted lawn at my parents-in-law’s place, listening to Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony through my headphones. Seemingly out of nowhere, tears started flowing. In that moment I recognized the immense value of music, particularly for me, to feel the depths of emotion that I don’t normally allow myself to feel in “real life.” Anyone who has cried, and that’s all of us, knows that crying gives us relief, even if what brings on the crying is not a pleasant experience. In the stages of grief we must feel the depths of emotion before coming through our experiences as better people.

At the end of “Inside Out,” Joy finally recognizes that Sadness was needed for Riley to experience an emotionally healthy life in all its ups and downs. For me, the best music draws out all kinds of emotions at various times, even emotions I can’t really give a name! Many people approach listening to music as a hobby, or something to make them feel happy, but I believe music should be much deeper than this. God gave us music not only to worship Him, or only to make us happy, but at times it can help us move through the stages of grief and find ultimate healing.


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