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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Fingers and thumbs, Talent and hard work

She is bent over her math homework, her face buried in the impossibilities of multiplication. She sobs and insists how she can't do it, and I'm left looking at her and having to decide what to do. Is this the moment I meet with sympathy and reassurance, proposing we work on it together? Or do I assume my unflinching Tiger Mother stance, resisting what may be carefully calculated hysterics of avoidance? One choice will inevitably be right, and the other, wrong and damaging, insures this will become a scene she relives years into her future on a therapist's couch. I wish there were a playbook for moments like these. I choose B, wear my Tiger Mother face, and tell her that she'll have to finish her math. I'm certain she can do it. And the sobbing turns to whimpering and by golly, she finishes and discovers that she DID know how to do those problems and it WASN'T as difficult as it had initially seemed.

I feel a lesson brewing.

"Look at your fingers," I tell her after the curtains have closed on the sobbing scene, and she's later snuggled into my lap. "Do you know which of your fingers is strongest?"

She shakes her head no.

"It's your thumb, actually. Do you know that when you play the piano, you have to make sure that your thumb isn't playing louder than the rest of your fingers? That's one reason why you practice scales, so that you can pay attention to how each of your fingers is playing and so that you can build strength in the fingers that are weakest. And did you know that your life is like a song? It's going to take all of your fingers to play that song and be good at it."

The rest of the lecture lesson goes something like this:

Your entire life, you're going to do things that are difficult for you. And when you first begin them, you'll want to give up. I do, too! That's normal. But what do you do when you feel like giving up? 

1. First, you put on your, "I can" attitude. You can't imagine what a difference an I can attitude makes when you're working on things you find difficult and challenging.

2. Next, you commit yourself to practicing whatever skill it is you're trying to learn. No one, absolutely no one, succeeds without practice.

3. Third, you commit to working HARD and to your fullest potential.

These are the fingers with which you are playing your song of life: Your "I can" attitude, your willingness to practice, your hard work. (This lesson would have been better had I found a parallel for the pinky finger, but I didn't.)  And guess what your thumb is? Talent. Talent is the gift God gives certain people to do certain skills really well. But just like in a song, a thumb can't play alone and a thumb can be clumsy and too loud. Even for the people who might find at first that they're good at something, they, too, have to practice, work hard, and continue believing that they can.

I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength. 

* * * *

We interrupt today's violins for the brilliance of fingers and thumbs that can, talent and hard work that will.

(Watch the movie Soul Surfer with your children as a brilliant, shining example of this kind of determined faith, but beware of a scary shark scene that might frighten little ones!  It's a terrific movie for school-age children.)