Thursday, December 09, 2010


I don't play the piano well. I wish I did, and if I had practiced more, like my mother suggested, I probably would. But I enjoyed too many other things as a child and I didn't give enough time to it.

But you know what? I play well enough to give service with my meager talents. When I took early-morning Seminary as a ninth-grader, I was the only one who played in the class. One of the few hymns I could play with both hands was "Choose the Right," so we sung that. A lot. When one of the boys started complaining about how often we were singing that, I got over my self-consciousness about not playing with both hands and we branched out into a lot more hymns that I could play with just the top-hand.

The next year (or maybe the next semester, I don't remember which), I was in a class with only one other person who could play the piano, and her skill level was only slightly higher than mine. So Rebecca Swenson and I both sat at the piano. I'd play the top hand, she the bottom, and together we played a larger variety of hymns for the class to sing along to.

Since then, my talents at the piano have improved, but not enough for me to feel like a real piano player. When I was first married, I was asked to play the piano for Relief Society Homemaking nights, and I was intimidated at first, thinking I could only play a handful of hymns. But I went home and went through every song in the hymnbook. It turned out, I could play fifty of the hymns well and I made another list of fifty more I could play with some practice and effort. Then I gave the list of what I could play to the song leader, and we went from there.

A wonderful piano player told me once that she gets so nervous every time she plays. I thought that was interesting, because I never get nervous playing the piano anymore. I figure that if the group is desperate enough to ask me to play, then most likely, no one else plays better than I would -- and if they did, they're welcome to it! -- and my playing will have to do.

No, I'm not a highly trained and skilled musician. But my meager talents, such as they are, are enough to offer service in the absence of someone better trained and more qualified. And I think they are acceptable.

Last night, I was disturbed after reading a condescending blog post, one in which the author, a highly trained musician, was critical of a church organist's wrong notes.

Frankly, it made me angry that she would use her education and training as a mountain from which to look down on others. It reminded me of a time in the Book of Mormon where the people began to turn against God. It says, "And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches. Some were lifted up in pride, and others were exceedingly humble." (3 Nephi 6:12-13)

Pride is a an interesting sin. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, "At its core, pride is a sin of comparison, for though it usually begins with “Look how wonderful I am and what great things I have done,” it always seems to end with “Therefore, I am better than you.”

If God has given you talents and opportunities greater than the people around you, then good for you. What a blessing in your life to be able to offer those gifts to the world! But don't look down on someone with less opportunity or less talent.

My mother grew up on a dairy farm in Idaho. Her parents saw to it that she had lessons on the organ at the local Church building and she learned enough to play the hymns well (much better than I did). She never got the chance and probably doesn't have the talent for Julliard, but you know what? She filled our home with music and I never noticed any wrong notes. She also provided many a congregation with organ accompaniment because there were so few in our congregations trained in that instrument. She was self-conscious about playing because she knew she wasn't the best, but she was willing to do it anyway.

As a new photographer, I find great joy in taking pictures. I love taking in the world around me through my camera. Photography is an art of interpretation. I take a scene and choose to frame it according to my skill and then adjust my camera's settings to capture it just the way I want it (where should my focus point be? How much of the background should I blur? Do I want to show motion or have it stopped?)

Sometimes the work feels highly creative. Often I enjoy it.

But here's the real truth about photography. It's just a cheap imitation of the real thing.

Because whether it's a landscape,

or a portrait
I didn't create any of the things I take pictures of.

Oh yes, I like to think I had a huge part in the creation of those eight children who make up the bulk of my photography, but really, when it comes down to it, that "huge part" pales in comparison to the part God played in their creation, in my creation, and in the creation of the world.

Instead of looking down on those whose efforts aren't up to our standards, I think we should recognize that to God, we're all amateurs. Even the most beautiful music offered by the most talented person is just a child's offering compared to the majesty and works of God.

We are His children, and creation is part of our divine heritage, but all of the materials are given to us from Him. We also owe much to the people who came before us. My husband makes beautiful things out of wood. But God made the wood, other hands invented and refined the woodworking tools, and my husband was introduced to his craft by several talented teachers. So who should get the credit for my husband's creations?

Pride would have us forget all that went into the development of our talents. If I've gained any photography skills (and I hope I have, though I still have much to learn), it's because of many, many people I'll never know, meet, or credit. Many people developed the tools I use for my craft -- cameras, lenses, computers, software, and more. I've studied dozens of books written by people I don't know who were trained by still more people and still more books. I've also studied the work of other talented photographers. If I ever become a great photographer, it's only a small part "me" and a large part "others."

We are all here on earth to learn, grow, and improve. Yes, some of our efforts are awkward. We hit wrong notes. We stumble. We make mistakes. Yet, I like to think of our loving Heavenly Father accepting our offerings with patience, love, and joy.

I like to think of it as I do the creations my children make for me. Last month, I celebrated my 33rd birthday. All over the house, I found post-it notes like these:

My six-year-old used her talents with a pen to create homemade cards for her mother. She left them on the stairs, on the walls, on my computer, in the kitchen. A writer, with his skill with words, might cringe at the misspellings. An artist might scoff at the lack of color, the roughness of the drawings.

But a mother? I felt nothing but joy and affection. Sarah's sweet offering was given in love.

And that is what's important.


swedemom said...

That was simply beautiful. I really appreciated this post.

I am a fairly accomplished singer. Many years ago, in a singles ward, a young man with special needs asked if I would sing a duet with him in Sacrament Meeting. I agreed. But practicing was a special sort of torture for me because he was totally tone-deaf.
We practiced for over a month. This young man practiced so hard, while my effort was minimal. I'm very good at sight-singing and not much was required on my part.
What I realized during those practice sessions that this young man was giving his whole heart to the Lord. He couldn't sing a note well, but his heart was pure and beautiful. The offering he laid at the feet of the Savior was accepted. When we actually sang in Sacrament Meeting, I felt the Spirit so strongly and felt happy to be singing with him. And the lesson I learned, I have never forgotten.


Wendy said...

Wow, and yet again we have more similar experiences. I loved this article!!

You also have a great way with words!! I call it, "being able to say what several others want to say, but lack the right finesse in trying to put it on paper".

But you are right, those that are more advanced in certain areas can tend to be come across almost too judgmental and/or even prideful.

I should come by and visit with you again sometime. I miss those little moments we had some great discussions.

Mama Rachel said...

Thank you for writing such a lovely, heartfelt blog post today! I really needed to hear it! :-)


Mostly Diane said...

Well put. Thanks for a nice post.

Natalie said...

Loved your thoughts on this subject, thanks so much for sharing. I love that quote from president uchtdorf. And thanks swedemom for sharing your experience. What a great lesson.

Kacy said...

Well said.


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