Wednesday, September 22, 2010

On the Right Track
Don’t Chuck Your Banjo in the Fire
(written 1/2009)

Recently I started running at the BYU track in the early morning hours with my neighbors. To say that run "with" them is not entirely accurate. Actually, they kindly drive me there and then leave me to my own fate while they glide around the track for forty-five minutes like gazelles.

While they run, I attempt my own routine of running, then walking, then running again for about 30 minutes, after which I have to stop and start “stretching out.”

I suppose I could feel self-conscious that I am not as fast as they are. I could feel really badly about my lack of physical fitness. I could wallow as I watch them and many others lap me time and again. But instead, I just keep on moving around and around, knowing, that even if I am not the fastest, strongest, leanest person there, still, because I am there, at least I am on the right track!

The other day I ran into two old friends there. One I had known in Berkeley sixteen years ago. The other I had known in Philadelphia twelve years ago. Now it seems they live across the street from each other in Provo! It was fun to walk a lap or two with them and catch up. What a great place to meet people! Later that same morning I saw Sister Susan Tanner (recently released General Young Women’s President) on the track. I’ve never met her personally, but just seeing her there gave me a thrill. I caught her eye and we exchanged warm smiles. I felt a beautiful spirit in her presence. Talk about the place to be! Wow! Wonderful people are on the BYU track at 6 am on winter mornings. This is good to know. And even better to experience.

There are lots of other folks there too. Some remind me of my grandparents. They don’t move too fast, but there they are, plodding around every corner. Some are hunched and stooped, but they keep on going with smiles on their wrinkled, well-worn faces. Others are younger. Two couples actually had strollers on the track! One gal walked with her baby in a Snugli. Some are in groups chatting away. Others are very alone, tuned in to their own music. Each of these people is someone I would want to know, though each of their stories is unique.

pondered how the track was much like the church. All of us come to the church from a different place. Some of us are recent converts, maybe we’re just starting out and feel like we aren't as fast yet as we'd like to be.  Others have pioneer ancestors who paved the way and who seem to be able to sprint for miles! But wherever we are on this “track,” we are each at our own pace and yet, all in it together. We may walk for a time with a certain group of friends, then, we grow and change. Perhaps we reconnect with special friends at a later time. Perhaps right now we are just “going it alone,” marching to the beat of our own “drum.” But surely, if we stay on the track, surely we will eventually become faster and stronger! Not tomorrow, but perhaps in the next generation, our children and theirs will be sprinting as leaders on this track.

It does not matter where we are on the track. It only matters that we are there! If we are on the right track, Elder Bruce R. McKonkie lets us know that we cannot fall off of it!

“. . .You don't have to be perfect to be saved. If you did, no one would be saved. The way it operates is this: you get on the path that’s named the “straight and narrow.” You do it by entering the gates of repentance and baptism. The straight and narrow path leads from the gate of repentance and baptism, a very great distance, to a reward that’s called eternal life. If you’re on that path and pressing forward, and you die, you’ll never get off the path. There is no such thing as falling off the straight and narrow path in the life to come, and the reason is that this life is the time that is given to men to prepare for eternity. Now is the time and the day of your salvation, so if you’re working seriously in this life—though you haven’t fully overcome the world and you haven’t done all you hoped you might do—you’re still going to be saved. You don’t have to live a life that’s truer than true. You don’t have to have excessive zeal that becomes fanatical and becomes unbalancing, what you have to do is stay in the mainstream of the Church and live as upright and descent people live in the Church—keeping the commandments, paying your tithing, serving in the organizations of the Church, loving the Lord, staying on the straight and narrow path. If you’re on that path when death comes—because this is the time and day appointed, this is the probationary estate—you’ll never fall off from it, and, for all practical purposes, your calling and election is made sure.” (Bruce R. McConkie, “The Probationary Test of Mortality,” address given at the University of Utah, Jan. 10, 1982.)

My brother Nate plays the banjo. With this wonderful skill, he has toured all over the world, spread much joy and had many missionary moments. He is so good, in fact, that one could possibly call him the second best banjo player in Utah. The best banjo player in Utah is a natural-born wonder named Craig Miner. Craig plays the banjo as if it were a classical guitar: effortlessly.

Recently, Nate began teaching my 11 year-old son how to play the banjo that he just got for Christmas. Thinking that he is no good, my son has decided, after three lessons, to quit banjo forever. My son reasons that compared to Nate, and compared to his cousin (another beginning student), he is not very good. Nate explained to my son that Craig Miner is better than he is. He then said, “Should I therefore just throw my banjo into the fire? Just because I am not as good as Craig, should I just give up and be nothing?”

I thought about that a lot. Nate has done so much good all over the world because he plays the banjo so well! It would be unthinkable that he should quit just because there exists some other person who happens to be better than he is!

I have this nagging habit of constantly comparing myself to other women in the church. I don’t do it with any malice. I just know and recognize that I am not as good as so and so at ____________. Therefore, I should not have this calling, these children, this house, this car, this body, etc. etc. I talk myself out of a whole lot of good because I am not the “best.”

I think the “right track principle” can be applied here. If we are all in this together, and yet, each on his own journey, then it doesn’t matter how good I am at something! I’m still on the right track! I am in the right place at the right time and I am doing my personal best. As I endure to the end, I will gain speed, accuracy, strength and skill. But no matter where I am now, or later, I am still doing good, just by being there! And who knows? I might just be providing the example that someone else on the track needs to keep going! Or maybe I am an example to some outside the track who see me go in each morning and see me come out with a smile! Maybe they are wondering, “Hey, what am I missing in there?”

So, whenever you are tempted to compare yourself to someone else or if ever you decide that your current level of skills and gifts are not “good enough” to share or to build the kingdom, remember! Don’t chuck your banjo in the fire! Just keep on going! You’re on the right track!

P.S. For anyone who has already read this, forgive me. It's been on my mind lately and I thought I'd share it with the new readers too. Thanks!