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Imperfections and Improvement: A Practical Parable

By profession, I am a teacher. I teach choir to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. Given all that happens in middle school, singing can be a challenge. You have changing voices (or, worse for some kids: unchanging voices), the pressure to look cool, shifting social landscapes, evolving relationships with members of the opposite sex, and on and on. All of these things can make singing extremely difficult.

In light of that, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. I remember one year I had a class that just sounded awful. We worked and worked and worked and worked and by the time the performance came, we did a pretty decent job. It wasn't world class, but it wasn't bad. In fact, it was pretty good considering our progress.

An adult heard the performance and said something a bit critical, although basically true about the way the kids sang. I found myself getting defensive--but not about my contribution. I found myself getting defensive for my students. You have no idea, I thought. You clearly don't remember what it's like to be afraid someone will make fun of you. You have forgotten how frightening it is to stand out. Do you not remember the fear that your voice might crack in front of a girl? Or, do you not realize how sensitive it is for some of these girls to appear in public because they are so conscious of a changing body? Have you really forgotten the days when being uncool or lame was a fate worse than death?  

I was not unaware of the deficiencies of the performance. I didn't think it was better than it was. In fact, I imagine I knew better than anyone in the audience exactly what the shortcomings were.

But I understood everything else going on in the lives of these students. I saw what a major challenge it was and I saw how much they had improved. I saw their progress and effort and was delighted. Their performance had a special beauty to me because of the improvement and effort I had seen.

And, seeing that, my focus was not on what they lacked. It was pride in what they had done. I loved them for their efforts, for trying and improving, even when it was hard. I loved them, in fact, because it was hard.

I often feel the Lord must get very tired of my mistakes. He must get frustrated with my constant imperfections and all of my flaws. He is surely more aware than anyone of just how far I fall short.

Or, could it be that he understands just how difficult mortality is? Perhaps he sees the efforts and improvement and is able to assess the full picture. Is that why he's commanded us in very absolute terms to not judge and criticize each other? Might he be aware of the progress we are making and rejoice in the improvement seen there? Do our honest efforts and growth bring his smile on us, in spite of the objective flaws inherent in our performances?

I think there is reason to hope.

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Braden Bell is a husband, father, teacher, director, and writer. He's the author of The Road Show, and The Middle School Magic series. His next book, Luminescence, will be published in March. He blogs about all of the above at

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