Marching band season is in full swing at our house. Two of our 3 children have just begun their freshman and junior years in high school as members of the band. This will be our family’s 7th year with the program. Our eldest was first to participate, eventually becoming assistant drum major as a senior. You could say we are veterans of the program with all our experience – we’ll have logged 10 years by the time our youngest graduates.
Summer band camp is a must for all members of the band, but it isn’t the fun kind of camp. For 2 weeks in mid-August the kids get an early start on learning the upcoming season’s program. They work and train very hard for several long hours every day, usually outside in the hot afternoon sun. They practice music, marching drills and formations, learning new skills and techniques. They focus on proper posture, how to march and perform in unison as an organized group, how to conduct themselves with professionalism; they even exercise and run laps around the track.
It’s hard to say which stresses are more challenging: the difficulty of the music and drills, pressure to learn so much in such a short time, or the heat and dehydration. Practice is monotonous and hot. It gets boring, tense and often seems as if little progress is being made. Sometimes the instructors yell. Sometimes kids have to sit out and rest from heat exhaustion. I’m still surprised that they choose to continue and push through, honestly.
Early on in band camp the kids begin relying on a tool called a dot book. It’s just a small spiral notebook depicting patterns of dots on each page, representing a student’s position on the field at each point in the performance. It marks where they begin and how they move on the field during the songs. That book is crucial: it coordinates everybody to the music and to each other. It’s key to practice and must be memorized. You could say it’s foundational.
The first band practices begin as organized chaos but everyone plods on, focusing on their dot book until they learn how to follow along. They also learn how to coordinate their drills while performing the music, which must be memorized. But they continue progressively adding layers of skills until all the elements combine as a complex production.
It’s pretty special to see them parade onto the field with palpable energy and excitement, wearing formal uniforms. They pour their hearts into the performance to an appreciative audience and proud parents who are happy to reward them with a standing ovation. We know how hard they worked and how much they accomplished. All the heat, pressure and stress of band camp was worth the goal of this moment!
Recently after band practice I listened to our kids’ conversation on the car ride home. Although they are enthusiastically committed, they typically vent out their complaints: the repetition and monotony, harsh conditions, tough messages from teachers with high expectations, unclear directions, difficult personalities, evolving and unforeseen changes, lack of progress. As I listened it crossed my mind that they could actually be describing my faith walk. I’m committed but complaining about similar things, just plodding along, uncomfortable, frustrated, discouraged by the cares of this world. There are seasons where this is generally the norm more than the exception. God never promised we would live pain-free.
During those challenging times I especially need to focus on my own “dot book.” It’s an apt metaphor. The bible is the foundation of my faith and God calls me to study it and depend upon it. Without it I lack focus and direction. His word is instructional and authoritative, but also comforting, encouraging and enabling.
Proverbs 30:5 says, “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.” In Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
We find shelter, guidance, wisdom and training in scripture which sustains and equips us for lives intended to do God’s good work. We need to press in and spend time studying the bible to know it well, absorbing its wisdom and practical instruction. Committing to regular bible study and prayer benefits us and also honors God, because it transforms our minds and enables us to be used for his good purposes (“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” -Romans 12:2)
Perspective is important too. My kids have admitted that what helps them endure the challenges of band camp is focusing on the purpose of practice and what they are working toward. The promise of an exciting performance is the goal which really motivates them. After two intensive weeks they have learned so much and they’re anxious to show it off; this is why they continue on.
The goal which motivates me should be Christ. The process of sanctification is not easy, but worth the struggle because of our ultimate salvation and reunion with Christ. Paul says in Philippians 3:8,” I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” And in vs 13-14, “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
We are urged to persevere by following Christ himself as our example in Hebrews 12:1-2: “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Christ is both the goal and the example! Let us march on, fixing our eyes on him.
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
How does God encourage you during times of struggle? Share your favorite bible passages with us!