How To Overcome Comparison & Connect to God Wherever You Are With Michaela Gentile
Michaela Gentile, 30, is a worship leader, songwriter, and former Montessori and preschool teacher. She lives in Redding, CA, with her husband, JP. Michaela has that rare quality of personifying both childlikeness and maturity with ease. Our conversation came back to the same value over and over again: the pursuit of truth and the one who holds it. She is candid and unashamed, thoughtful and an expert excavater of the inner world. Michaela is exactly who she is, whether onstage and leader or off.
What’s one of your life’s main themes?
Definitely worship. I’ve bounced around in my life with what I think I would want to do or what I feel passionate about. One minute I’m like, “I'm gonna be a calligrapher, and I'm really gonna change the world with calligraphy!” The next minute I want to be a marriage family therapist.
So I've been really hard on myself for never “sticking” with anything. Once last year, I was in worship and saw this montage of myself at all different ages in my life, different places where I've been in worship—from the time I was little till now, just flashing before me. I felt the Lord say, “You've actually never given up on this. This is who you are. You're not a quitter. This is just your passion in life.”
Even now, there's so much going on at Bethel— tours, songwriting, leading worship at church, etc.
But the thing that keeps me centered, whether I'm on a platform or not, is worship. It’s my life and it doesn’t stop here. I’ll be worshiping forever.
How would you define worship?
Connection to God, adoration, sometimes it feels like an exchange. But worship itself is giving praise to God, who's worthy.
It could look like music, but in life it’s just the simple choices you’re making that nobody sees. Choosing to posture your heart in a different way than you may be feeling.
What has been the connection between identity and intimacy in your life?
The times where I feel most connected to the Lord are the times when I'm actually most connected to my own needs.
There’s no separation with him. The times that I feel disconnected from Lord are the times when I've gone and gotten my needs met outside of him.
A huge part of identity is knowing the things that you need and knowing the right place to get those needs met.
Did you ever have a moment of realizing you were getting your needs met outside of the Lord?
Several years ago, I was leading worship at Grace Center and we were having a conference. Jessie Early is my BFF, my ride or die, and at the time, we were the only two girl worship leaders.
There had been a number of things that had caused me to wonder about my place. They had asked me to lead, and then a guest that they had asked months before last-minute decided that they were gonna come, and so I kind of got bumped out. But one of the other worship leaders was like “No, just lead with me!” But that point, nothing is enough. You know, you’re already hurt, you already feel like an outsider.
They had just asked Jessie to come up onstage and do something and I was feeling really hurt. I was comparing myself, thinking, “Aright, this is where I get replaced. Nobody needs me.” Which sucks because she's one of my best friends, so I felt terrible for even thinking that.
The Lord came really close and said, “You know, I would love you if you did this or not. You could live for the rest of your life and never operate in this gift, and I would love you just as much—and other people would, too.”
I needed that moment, because I needed to be on that stage. I needed all of those people, I needed their affirmation. I needed them to need me.
I realized I had been so wrong. Not long after that, I moved out to Redding and the Lord had me not be a part of the worship community for two years. It was like he was saying, “I just need you to know how loved you are without doing this and without getting this need met.”
Were those two years really hard for you? Did you feel frustrated with the Lord?
Not at first, but after about a year of not doing any worship, it did wear on me. I had people from Nashville calling saying, “What are you still doing there? Move back, you can have this position.” It was really rough, but I felt that even though all the things I wanted were in Nashville, God was telling me to stay here.
It was not glamorous or fun. I was working at the Barnes & Noble cafe just hating my life. But I remember so clearly one day seeing the choices before me, and the Lord was just like, “Are you gonna choose obedience or opportunity?”
I thought, “Okay, I'm gonna choose obedience, because I don't think I've done that. I've always chosen what I thought was right for my life.”
That's what separates us from the rest of the world—we don't just choose what we think is "right” for us, we choose what God chooses.
When that season changed, it was beautiful and everything I hoped it would be. I got to walk into a worship community that already felt like family because I had gotten to know them for the past two years. I didn't have to start from ground zero.
What challenges have you overcome in your identity or value?
When I moved to Nashville I was 14 or 15 years old and I had been homeschooled my whole life. I had no friends when I started going to a public school.
I felt the Lord really lean in during that time of transition for my family. I spent a lot of time alone in our basement playing piano — playing and writing my own worship songs. I started leading worship in youth group, but as I got older, I kind of got away from songwriting because I just didn't really think I was very good at it.
When I was in my early 20s, I went to this songwriting weekend. All of the women there were sharing about their lives and where their songwriting came from — “This is the trauma I’ve experienced, these are all the people that I know that have died” — just terrible, heartbreaking stuff, but through it they were able to process all their pain with music.
I thought, I’m the shallowest person in this room. I've had a really good life. I don't even know what I’m gonna write about. The things I've gone through are so minuscule compared to all these women.
It could have taken me out, but I knew it sounded like a lie. So I went to my room and asked the Lord about it: “This is what I’m hearing, is it true? God, you have to tell me the truth. ”
And he said, "Your song comes from hope. You're standing on the other side of everyone else's storm, holding up a flag saying “Hey! There’s somebody over here — it's okay!”” It didn't feel cheesy. It felt meaningful to me, there was a purpose in it.
It showed me that I’m not shallow, and it's not that I don't have anything to say. The choices that my parents have made have brought me to a place where their battles aren't my battles anymore. I processed that with some of the ladies the next day and they were tearing up — saying, “We pray that’s what our kids say.”
What has songwriting shown you about intimacy with God?
Songwriting is really wild because I think I used to sit down and have a plan, but it wasn't until recently that I’ve just been just playing a lot more. I’ll just be playing and I'll be moved by something and all of a sudden I'm singing lyrics and then I'm sobbing because I'm like, “Oh, wow — I haven't dealt with this issue. I’m really hurt by someone, etc.” It’s really interesting how it comes out in song. Songwriting makes you really mindful of what's going on in your inner world.
What would you suggest to women who want to access that or connect with God that way?
Obviously for me it's music, whether I'm playing it or just listening to it. That's what moves me.
I think that the Lord is really intentional about when he brings things to the surface.
I always know to ask a question or to dig deeper when I am triggered beyond what seems normal, like if I am replaying a conversation over and over in my head or if I have gone past replaying a conversation and I'm literally making up a different conversation with someone in my head.
When I notice myself getting upset or worked up, I’ll journal. I'll write down a question that I have for the Lord. I’ll write it out or ask for a picture and if I'm not hearing anything, I'll even Google different verses or promises from the bible to find what God says about it.
What has relating to the Lord this way taught you about intimacy?
One of the things that drew me to Montessori teaching was this whole concept that it’s the teacher's job to be an observer and follow the child. If a kid is constantly choosing puzzles, I'm not going to try and take him away from that. I'm going to engage with that and start showing him other puzzles.
I feel like the Lord does that with us. He's following us and waiting to breathe on something that we already love.
Maybe it's as simple as inviting the Lord into what you love and seeing what he has to say.
Talk more about this idea that intimacy is available whether you feel it or not.
Knowing that God is always speaking in some way, even if you can't feel it. We grow in authority when we choose to believe that he's still for us even when we can’t feel him.
A few weeks ago I was journaling, saying “I can’t feel you, I don't hear you talking to me at all, I'm so frustrated. I feel super alone. And the Lord was just like, “You don’t worship me because you can feel me. You worship me because I'm God.”
If we just worship things that we felt, we’d probably worship a lot of things. I’d probably be worshiping Coldplay right now.
What’s one tool you’ve discovered for unlocking intimacy?
Journaling. I love writing out questions and seeing the response. Another is the bible. I’ve been a Christian my whole life and just recently I’ve discovered I have so much passion for the word. Any question that I have about God, it's in there.
Was there a time in your life you didn’t feel as excited to read the bible?
I’ve never loved reading my bible. I just don't think I ever knew where to begin — it's a big book, there’s a lot going on, there are so many translations.
Sometimes in the church environments I’ve been in, we’re talking about life stuff more than we’re reading passages and going through them.
Last year I was teaching the preschool kids about when Jesus goes into the desert. He's attacked in his identity and he uses scripture. He doesn't say, “Oh, didn't you just see the Holy Spirit landing on me? God actually said in an inaudible voice I’m his son.”
He wasn't using things he knew about himself. He wasn't using things that God had personally spoken to him or his personal declarations. He used scripture.
That made me realize I really need to know scripture. There are times I can’t declare myself out of something — I need to find something that was important enough to go into the bible to use.
Now I’ve found podcasts to listen to that go line by line through the bible. I love the Message and the Passion translations. I get them on audiobook so when I'm cleaning, I’m listening. I'm not going to wake up at 5:30 every morning and read my bible, I’m just not. But I have a lot of laundry to do and I'm going to listen. Sometimes that just helps me process it more.
What does it look like to engage with the Lord through worship leading?
Things could be swirling in sound check, things could be hard in life, but as soon as I get up there something happens and I feel so clear. I feel centered. I think it's just the grace of the Lord to lead no matter what.
And when I don’t feel like worshiping, I don't discredit what the Lord is doing. If I’m not feeling it, I'll find someone I know in the crowd who's going through a hard time and focus my attention on them. Worshiping in the midst of that moves me.
There’s going to be times you don’t feel anything or don’t feel close to the Lord, but you do it anyway because that’s sacrifice.
Recently I started actually trying to prepare beforehand. I know I’m gonna lead in three weeks, I can start being prophetic right now. I can start asking the Lord right now what he wants to do, what he’s unlocking, and then what songs do I pick to serve that? Then in the moment, there's zero pressure to prove yourself. I’ve already partnered with the Lord in preparation.
How do you deal with comparison?
Here's the deal: half of the struggle of comparison is that most people beat themselves up feeling it to begin with. I've gotten to a place where I just get really honest about it. If I need to cry, I will cry for as long as I need to. I'm not conjuring evil thoughts about the other person, but I’m going to share it with the Lord: “Hey God, I'm hurt. I’m sad. I'm disappointed.”
That’s the first thing — I’m not going to beat myself up about being disappointed.
The second thing I do is identity repair work. I check in with the Lord and ask him to remind me who I am. I remind myself who I am and what I’m called to.
The third thing I do after that is this blessing I made. I insert the person's name into it and say something along the lines of “I bless you. You’re free from my judgment. Every good and perfect gift is coming to you.”
The whole point of comparison is to spiral you out to the point where you feel insecure and you don't know who you are, so you just get caught in judgment towards the person that you’re comparing yourself to. I try to flip it on its head — I’m not going to get fixated on what I don't have. I’m going to bless this person, whether I feel it or not.
Another thing that keeps me from getting caught comparison in the first place is having clear vision. If I know exactly what I'm called to and what this season is meant for, when I see someone getting something that I'm not getting, I can remind myself that I’ve talked to the Lord about it and it’s not for me right now. I can remind myself what we’re focusing on.
Lastly, realize when you want something and just ask the Lord for it. If you’re seeing something someone else has and want that, too, don’t be afraid to ask him for it.
. . .