Piano in the Park

Last Monday my wife, boys, and I went to the Botanical Gardens here in San Fransisco for three reasons. One, it was free. Two, it was a great outdoor idea for our day off. Three, for twelve days over July they have twelve pianos scattered throughout the park open for passers-by to play.

As we casually meandered through the park we heard amazing piano playing coming from all different directions. While I listened to the music I started to have an internal struggle that reminded me of being a music student in college in my late teens/early twenties. While I loved to play and thought I was half ok at piano, maybe even gifted, I didn’t consider myself the best pianist in the program by any stretch, nor did I claim to be. As a result, I was reserved and sometimes shy about stepping up and sitting down on a piano bench to play. I just didn’t want to sound inferior to better players—pretty insecure, I know.

So, this was the same struggle that presented itself last week walking through the park hearing a twelve year-old boy play his classical tunes flawlessly under a big oak tree. In light of this I had zero desire to sit and play at a piano but then on the other hand I thought if this was something I could do, even half as good as my musical pre-teen buddy then perhaps it’s something I should consider. 

On our final corner at the back-end of the park before making our way back to the front gate to get the kids home for a nap we heard beautiful music, once again, this time from an older gentleman. He played the Charlie Brown theme song and flowed it seamlessly into What a Wonderful World. I was happy to stand and listen but all of a sudden when he finished and stood up I felt that conflict once more of should I or shouldn’t I get up there and play?

At the encouragement of my wife I went and sat down and announced to the four other people there that, that last guy was a tough act to follow, to which they smiled and said they didn’t care and that I should play anyway. My inner dialogue continued and I concluded something that I’ve been taught in the past…

God hasn’t created you to be the same as everyone else, He’s made you an individual so stop trying to be like them, be you, and play that freakin’ piano.

I did.

I started with a Dm7(9) chord in 1st inversion and proceeded to play my first song. Now a part of me as a pianist is that I am fully complete when I sing also, something seems to click when I play and sing…so I did despite the fact no one else had played and sang. I finished the song and looked around to find the four original people had now grown into a crowd of about twenty people so I thought I better come out with the big one: Piano Man. I announced I’d do one more as long as everyone would sing along. Changing the lyrics to make it a little more kid-friendly even elicited a laugh from the crowd. At the end they applauded and I thanked them. I ended up doing one more of my own tunes at their request and had a brief moment to explain what it was about.

This was a fun time for both me, the crowd, and the couple who did an interpretive dance routine to every song in front of the piano (#onlyinsanfrancisco), but as I walked away I thought how this opportunity could have been lost. I could have totally missed out on doing what God has gifted me to do because I was more focused on what everyone else could do instead of looking at how God has wired and gifted me.

This isn’t just about playing piano and it’s not just a struggle that I have alone, this is something everyone wrestles with at some point in their life. As a pastor of a church startup in San Francisco I can find myself doing the same thing by comparing myself to other successful pastors and church’s and thinking that I could never preach like them or lead a church as well as them. This is wrong. God has wired me in a specific way for a specific purpose here in this specific place just as He has you and this is not by accident. My job, and yours, is not to recreate someone else’s music, but to perform the music that He’s created you to play.