My kids and I used to have a small Lionel train set in a corner of my tool room. Ten years ago we dismantled the small set with dreams of a bigger and better train set in a newly created basement room called the Train Room.
We dreamed of the perfect train layout with switches, freight yards, and realistic scenery; with a moving crane, sawmill, draw-bridge, and coal dump; and with cities, tunnels, mountains, and farms. It would fill the new 15 by 18 foot Train Room.
Our quest for perfection derailed us. We dreamt of glory, and for ten years we did nothing. We ran out of steam. The Train Room became the junk room, a closet in which to hide things that belonged nowhere else.
It also stored the dusty train set that we dismantled ten years ago.
The day before Christmas, my kids suggested we re-assemble the train set in the new Train Room. We cleared the “closet” out (never mind where all that junk went), we put the table up, we rewired the accessories, and we set the trains back on track once again.
It was a blast. Doing something adequately was far better than doing nothing perfectly.
What was our problem?
Our ten-year derailment arose from a blend of exposure and comparison. The internet (and a small library of train books) exposed us to the world’s greatest train sets. We saw realistic landscapes that rivaled a Rembrandt, and we saw wiring diagrams that would have shamed Star Trek’s Enterprise.
Exposure to the world’s greatest layouts made our plans—in comparison—seem puny, hardly worth the effort. So we improved our plans. Soon the train set was to be so elaborate—so magnificent—that it was hard to know where to begin.
So we didn’t begin, and the set collected dust in the corner of the forgotten dream closet. Until the day we decided to do something—even though that something was small.
I see this pattern everywhere
At the end of my life, my train set will matter very little, but the ten year dust collection got me thinking.
How many other desires—some of real significance—do I let gather dust because my standard is too high or because I compare myself to others? How many times have I failed to take the first step because I feared it wouldn’t be magnificent?
Which makes no sense. Do I really think da Vinci’s first painting was the Mona Lisa or that Michelangelo’s first sculpture the Pieta? My longing for perfection—or magnificence—creates in me the inaction of apathy.
For years I have wanted to write a book about Hearing God, but the ideal of perfection left this dream to collect dust next to my neglected train set.
I’ve let what I can’t do stop me from doing what I can do. Which is stupid. This year I’ll write my Little Book About Hearing God. I’ll offer what I’ve been given, not held back by what all there is yet to learn.
The first step
I’m an optimistic guy, yet there is much I don’t do because “it” won’t be glorious. My desire for doing something great, coupled with seeing others do “it” brilliantly, leads me to inactivity. Or hiding my dream in a closet. I am sidetracked by insignificance.
In the Parable of the Talents, three servants are given three different sums of money to manage. The first receives five talents (a huge sum of money), invests it, and doubles it. The second receives two talents, invests it, and doubles it. The last receives one talent (still much money), and he hides it in a closet (oops, I mean he buries it).
I’ve always felt sorry for that last guy. To begin with, he is given the very least, and to end with, even the little he has is taken away. Would he have done better if he had more to begin with?
I now realize the parable is not about a once in a lifetime chance; the parable is about a process. The guy with five talents once had only two; before that, one; and before that, maybe only a denarius. As he used what he’d be given, he was given more.
As we use what God has given us—as we actually drive it down the tracks—more is given. Whereas when we don’t use what God has given us—as we let it atrophy—we lose the little we have. Waiting for perfection makes a train wreck of our talents.
I’m not talking about a mere bucket list
Something ordinary (a train set) triggered my thoughts, but I’m not concerned with mundane goals. I’m not suggesting we plan to visit the Grand Canyon, learn to fly, or climb Mt. Everest. Life is not a game of trains; it is a wild adventure of really living.
We each have a call from God, a special gifting, something the world desperately needs; we have something to offer to the world. We can start by offering a cup of cold water.
God wants us to give of ourselves and out of ourselves: maybe to compose a song, write a book, care for a poor person, offer some wisdom, or bring an insight.
Let’s not allow what we can’t do prevent us from doing what we can do.
Join me this year by coming out of the closet. (Hmmm … maybe another metaphor is needed.) Join me in un-burying what’s been given to us and then bringing it to the world, unapologetically, unreservedly, and without shame at its smallness.
This year let’s begin to do something worthwhile—one step at a time. Let’s get back on track.