(This week is the 25thinstallment of the book, “The Band Director’s Lessons About Life”, which TCRN is publishing as a series during 2020. This week, band director and spiritual author Donald Lee relates a parable about staying focused on your purpose. For a complete listing of previous episodes in this series, click here.)
EDGAR CAYCE – (Twentieth-century American clairvoyant)
“Hi, Mr. Lee. Can we not do math today?”
I had just stepped through the door of the school and was stamping the snow off my boots one sunny, cold January morning. Erin was in my grade-seven math class. Her optimistic tone made me smile as I looked up.
“What would you like to do today?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Anything else,” Erin said with a shrug of her shoulders, a hopeful lilt to her voice.
The students had just come off a long break. They had the weekend, then Monday was a PD day for teachers only, and Tuesday had been a faith retreat for the grade sevens. So they hadn’t actually done schoolwork in four days.
“Erin, it sounds like you’ve gotten into a holiday mindset and you don’t want to do any schoolwork.”
“Yeah,” she said. Her eyes lit up, and her straight blonde hair danced around her face. Erin sounded both happy that I could name her feeling and sad that I had figured it out. I chuckled and didn’t answer. But at the beginning of math class, I toyed with them.
“Hands up, those who don’t want to do math today.”
There was a shocked pause, then hands started going up all over the room. A few kids shook their heads, not quite believing their ears. I gave them a moment to think, and then I pulled the rug out from under their hope.
“Too bad. We’re doing math. Open your textbooks to page 41.” A huge groan went up, so I decided to take pity on them. Like most of us, they don’t get it.
“Let me explain what’s going on,” I said. “You’ve just had four days without schoolwork. That’s long enough to relax but not nearly long enough to get bored with the absence of meaningfulness in your lives. Breaks are always like that. The weekend is never long enough, neither is a long weekend. Even the two weeks at Christmas aren’t long enough. For most students, though, the two months of summer vacation are long enough. You start to miss your friends, you miss that sense of growth, and you miss the stimulation and activities school offers.”
“Summer vacation isn’t long enough for me,” Samuel piped in. I could always count on Samuel for attention-seeking interruptions.
“I feel the same way. But by the end of August, most students start looking forward to school. It does give you a sense of meaningful growth in your life. But now, in the middle of the school year, you are bogged down in the immediate, day-to-day tasks, and you’ve forgotten your purpose. Think about it. Why are you at school?”
“Because we’re forced to be!” Samuel blurted out again. “I wouldn’t come to school if my mom didn’t make me.”
“Yes, you have to attend school, Samuel, by law, not just by your mom. But the purpose of school is to prepare you for adulthood, to help you develop your whole selves—spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and physically—to take your rightful place in the circle of life, Simba. That’s a big purpose, which we often forget when we’re down in the trenches trying to convert mixed numbers to improper fractions. Let me illustrate what I mean by purpose with a story.”
“A certain traveler was walking through a city when he came upon some men digging in the ground. The traveler approached the first man and asked what he was doing. ‘I’m digging a rotten ditch!’ replied the man angrily. Somewhat taken aback, the traveler walked on and soon came to another man doing the same work. The traveler posed the same question to the second man. ‘I’m building a cathedral!’ was his enthusiastic response. Two different men doing exactly the same work. One man had a job, the other had a purpose.
“The moral of the story? Keep your purpose in mind. Yes, you are learning to handle fractions—a task you may or may not do much of as an adult. But you are also developing the skill of applying yourself and disciplining yourself: your spirit, mind, and body. You are learning to focus your attention, develop your brain, and expand your mind. Your purpose here is far bigger than learning fractions. You are learning to be an adult.
“So, with our purpose in mind, let’s keep our nose to the grindstone and our eyes on the goal. Turn to page 41, and let’s practice converting mixed numbers into improper fractions—in the most adult manner possible.”
We are all a bit like these students. After a holiday break, a conference, a trip, or an illness, it can be hard getting back into our work routine. We have “taken our nose off the grindstone,” to use an old-fashioned expression, and it’s felt good to take a break. We may resent what we have to do, at least a bit, and start to wonder why we’re doing it. We have lost sight of our purpose and only see the work in front of us: the toil, drudgery, hassle, the difficult situations and difficult people.
Like the opening quote of this parable says, our purpose in life is spiritual development. Our daily tasks and struggles are opportunities on the path of that higher purpose—opportunities to express gratitude, forgiveness, and love. Only by “keeping our nose to the grindstone”—that is, by constantly seeing ourselves as spiritual beings learning from a human experience—will we progress along our path. Remembering our higher purpose gives meaning to each of those otherwise miserable and meaningless chores. Amid the daily grind, keep purpose in mind.
If we know our purpose, our goal, our mission, then our eyes are on the prize. Our eyes are lifted up, metaphorically, to see the cathedral even as we toil in the mud. Then the work doesn’t seem so bad. We are digging the ditch to lay the foundation for the great cathedral that will soar toward heaven. Our daily service to others, however humble or humiliating it may be, is the path of our spiritual growth.
If our eyes are fixed on our purpose, we can travel even a difficult path to get there. Keep your nose to the grindstone and your eyes on your goal.
Remembering that we are spirit, that our goal is heaven, and that our mission is Love, helps us travel life’s difficult road.
Donald Lee is a spiritual author and speaker. This article is part of a weekly series for 2020 in which TCRN is publishing his inspirational book, The Band Director’s Lessons About Life: Volume 1 – 50 Parables on Life’s Performance Cycle, in serial form – one parable per week. You can learn more about the author at his website: www.ComingHomeSpirit.com, or order a copy of his complete book on Amazon, or get his free mini eBook and sign up for his weekly blog. Follow Donald on Facebook.