Do you remember that saying? It came from old western movies. The picture is of a rowdy saloon where a whiskey drinking cowboy takes aim on a supposed card cheat. At that point, all bets are off. The other patrons are just as likely to draw a six-shooter or break a bottle or rickety chair over someone’s head. Even the bartender isn’t exempt from the mêlée, as he’s likely to produce a shotgun from behind the bar.
Then there’s the piano player…
The piano player is innocent. He’s just trying to do his job. While he may not be the greatest musician, he just showed up to work to do what he’s paid for. He’s doing the best he can.
I play the piano, or at a least I try to play the piano. I doubt many, even a saloon keeper, would pay me to play. I’m no professional. Far from it. Even so, I’ve been surprised over the years how many times I’ve been asked to play (and asked to repeat it later).
Playing in public has always made me nervous. When asked, I generally look for excuses. When I haven’t been able to avoid it, I’m certain disaster awaits. I know I’ll embarrass myself. I know my hands will be shaking so much that I won’t be able to keep my fingers on the keys, or my legs so much that I won’t be able to to keep my feet on the pedals. I know I’ll miss a critical note or key change. I know I’ll lose my place. I know the audience will notice every mistake and judge me harshly.
How often do we assume what others are thinking and feeling about us?
How often do we internally agonize over unfounded beliefs?
How often do we respond negatively because of irrational fear, perceived slights or perceived disrespect?
How often do we fail to take positive action when we should, because of those fears?
How often do our worst fears actually materialize?
Here’s the truth about all of those scary things that I’m sure I “know”…
They almost never happen.
I am truly my worst critic, not just in playing the piano but in most areas of life — and I then assume that others are judging me just as harshly.
I’m not so naive as to believe that I’m never judged by others. I also know that such judgement is sometimes unfair. How do I know this? Because I sometimes judge others in that way.
My sweet wife sometimes gets to see the worst in me. It’s probably most frequently displayed on the road, with my frustration at all of the “idiot” drivers. I am quick on the horn.
But, as much as I hate to admit it, she has the perfect way of catching my attention when I rant at vehicular malefactors. Seven simple words (I had to count them on my fingers):
“What is God trying to teach you?”
Through gritted teeth, I answer….. “Patience.”
Although I stumble though life in many ways, I am a great believer in grace. Both giving and receiving.
While there are certainly exceptions (relatively anonymous social media is the worst), I like to think that most people habitually extend at least some grace. They overlook the flaws in us that we obsess over. If they didn’t, someone would always be drawing a six-gun.
When I’ve played the piano in public, I’ve never had someone come up to me later and criticize me (nor threaten to shoot me), even when I made some pretty obvious errors. On the contrary, every comment I have received has been gracious, and I continue to get requests to play.
People extend grace to me every day. And here’s the wonderful secret about that:
Grace, by definition, is undeserved.
If our perfection, or the perfection of others is the standard, we’ve all failed and there is no hope.
The piano player in that old west saloon was a person with flaws and fears. He had much going on in his life that no one else in that saloon could possibly see. There was much more to him that the time he spent with his hands on the keyboard. Some joys, some struggles, some failures, some tragedies — the things of life.
Like all of us, he was in great need of grace
How much grace have people extended to you? How much have you extended to others? We all need more of it flowing in both directions.
“To whom much is given, much will be required.” Luke 12:48
Who do you know who needs just a little grace from you today?
Don’t shoot the piano player. He’s doing the best he can.