I was speaking with my counselor today and I brought up my take on the parable of the talents which I posted here a few months back. He was so moved that he suggested that I submit it to the Ensign, the monthly publication of articles from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I just checked and they are no longer accepting unsolicited articles, but he did point out something that is important that I forgot to mention in my previous posting. So I figure I had better add it.
Now, in that previous post, I mentioned how we treat talents that we are less gifted in. I said that as a society, we tend to belittle the abilities of people in the areas where they have less talent. I should have also mentioned that, oftentimes, we ourselves are the ones who denigrate our less exceptional abilities. I have found, especially, that it seems that those who are exceptionally talented in one or a few areas, are particularly quick to throw out the talents where we are less gifted.
My particular experience in this matter is no exception. Heavenly Father has gifted me with a lot of knowledge and understanding in many areas. Throughout my scholastic experience, I typically scored at the top or off the charts in both language and analytical skillsets. Because my talents in these areas were so extreme, it made it very easy for others to define me by my abilities in those areas and focus on them, which often made it hard for me to realize that other skills were valuable or worthwhile, at least for me. It also made it hard for me to think that putting forth effort towards a talent in which I was less skilled would be fruitful. In other words, if it wasn’t as easy for me as scholastics, I would generally quickly give up.
One such area was music, particularly vocal performance. Now, I come from a very musical family. My parents met in orchestra in college, and my grandfather was the head of the music department at Rick’s College (back when it was a 4 year college, before it was a 2 year, before it was a 4 year. 🙂 ). So I took a number of years of piano lessons and played various instruments in band for 7 years in middle and high school. But I just did it; I never considered myself talented or applied myself well. And while I would sing in church, I certainly didn’t consider myself a good or even decent singer.
But when I started college when I was 17, something interesting and miraculous happened. I was in a new town, and on my own for the first time. In this new town I was, of course, in a different church ward (that is, a different congregation). No one there really knew me yet, and being a young, transient college student in a college town made me unexceptional. But one month after starting there, the first counselor in the bishopric (the ward leadership) came to me with a very puzzled look on his face. After talking to me for a few minutes, he said that the bishopric had felt very inspired to call me as the ward choir director. He didn’t know why. Usually that is a calling that goes to people who have exhibited knowledge and experience in choral music, of which I had none. But they felt inspired, and I had been taught not to reject callings, so we agreed I would do it, despite my trepidations.
Now, at the time I was attending university under a full ride scholarship. Tuition, fees, books, room, and board were all covered, but I saw very little actual cash. So I had been wondering how to pay tithing — that is, give a tenth of my increase to the Lord through the Church in gratitude for all He has given me — on this. I decided with this calling that the answer was surprisingly simple. Since the primary increase was in education, I would tithe my classes. Not only would I attend Institute classes (free religious classes held just off campus), but I would use some of my elective credits to take classes specifically designed to help me with this calling. It was too late to do it that first semester, but starting the next semester and for every semester thereafter, I took vocal lessons and/or choral group classes.
When I was ‘set apart’ (that is, given a special blessing to give you the gifts you need to do well at a calling, or assignment, in the church) for that calling, I was told that it would bless me for the rest of my life. I had no idea the magnitude of how true that would turn out to be.
Through the music classes I took as my tithing, I found not just a love for vocal music, but a passion for it. While music had heretofore been only a 2-talent skill for me (or so it seemed), I found myself increasing in skill and loving it. Suddenly, I was finding joy in an area of my life I didn’t know existed. While I only held that calling for about a year (and frankly I didn’t do a very good job at it), it planted a seed of joy, experience, and understanding that has remained unmatched to this day. Even more than just the joy I have received from the music itself, I gained an understanding that being ‘unexceptional’ in an area does not mean you should ignore it or bury the talent. We can all improve. And working on things is far more important than excelling at them.
So now, it makes me a little sad when I hear people say, “I’m not any good at that.” Which always comes up as an excuse to avoid trying. I hear it especially when it comes to singing, a simple skill which requires no instrument or equipment but the voice you have already been blessed with. God really doesn’t care whether or not you sound like an opera singer. He doesn’t care if you look like Chris Hemsworth, know physics like Albert Einstein, serve others like Mother Theresa, or play baseball like Babe Ruth. He cares if you try, or if you quit. So put some effort into it. That’s what counts.