Sunday night Cyndi and I played with
So we were rehearsing before the actual performance (always a risky thing for me since I don’t have the chops for two hours of rehearsing and another 1-1/2 hour of performing) when my friend Paul sat on the pew beside me for a few minutes to talk and to watch what we were doing. On one piece I played a tied whole note, eight beats. It was soft, and I was the only brass instrument playing at that moment, except for the army of keyboards and guitars and drums. My part was barely audible, even to me as I played it. Paul said, “When you just have one note to play you have to trust that it matters.”
He got it exactly right.
When playing in a large ensemble like that, there is so much going all the time, you have to trust that your own small parts matter and really make a difference. Of course, there were moments Sunday night when the trombones were featured and we were sufficiently bombastic and everyone heard us and it clearly mattered. But most of the time, very few would notice the difference if we had stopped playing entirely.
So how can I know if what I do matters? After all, I am not interested in doing things that don’t matter. If my contributions aren’t obvious, why make them at all? I guess you could argue that if each of us put down our instruments and played only the exposed solo parts, it would not sound good at all. The music only works when everyone plays their part, no matter how subdued or quiet. And eventually people will notice the gaps and know the sound isn’t right, even if they don’t know the reason.
Like Paul said, “You have to trust that it matters.” And isn’t that true with all those things we do as teachers and leaders and parents and spouses. We have to trust that the small un-noticed things matter. Jesus spoke directly to the importance of doing the small things right when he said, “He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much” (Luke 16:10, NAS).
One of my favorite observations is how young children want to put their own fingers on a wall switch and turn the lights on and off, all by themselves. As adults, we never make a big deal of turning the lights on, never point out, “See, switch goes up and the light goes on, switch goes down and the light goes off.” We just turn the lights on and off without fanfare and without even thinking about it. Yet, young kids still pick up on what we do and they want to imitate the actions. The small things matter. Our consistencies matter. How we live out our lives, matters.
In his book, The Gospel According to Starbucks, Leonard Sweet admonished the reader to “grow a soul that is a beautiful work of art, a soul with such sensitivities that it can pick up signals of transcendence in the most unlikely of places, a soul with such strength that it can experience the subtleties of life that separate the good from the bad, and the good from the great.” The notion of growing a soul makes sense to me, and I realize it has been my goal for a long time now even if I didn’t know how to express it so well. I often talk about my goal of aging gracefully. What I mean when I say that is that I want to grow my soul into a work of art. I think the biggest part of that is doing the small things right and trusting that they matter.
My friend Paul would never have noticed me playing that F for eight counts if he hadn’t been sitting beside me. It was a small thing; so small that I had to trust that it mattered. Maybe it is that act of trusting that turns horn players into musicians, teachers in mentors, parents into mommies and daddies, spouses into lovers. Maybe that act of trusting is what makes ordinary people become inspiring and contagious, and turns whole notes into works of art.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32