Music has always been a part of my family. In fact, my dad taught me to read music during Sunday morning church services while we sang through the hymnal. As I followed along I'd listen to my dad's bass, my mom's soprano, and my aunt's tenor blend together to create a beautiful song. And when I was confident enough to sing hymns it seemed natural to choose the alto parts.
Looking back I can see the significance of these memories. And it's not just fond nostalgia of how I learned to sing. Over the years I've figured out it's when I sing alto I'm closest to God—I meet Him in the harmony.
It's rare I admit this because I know how it sounds. I mean, how can a blend of noise bring someone to a place of worship? I don't know either. But I do know it's not the words or the tempo or the instruments used or even the song that get to me. It's the harmonies. In fact, a perfect one, three, five can bring tears to my eyes. And if I hear a vocal jazz quintet? I probably won't sleep that night.
A few months ago I was singing in the worship band at church and something happened I'm still mulling over—someone stole my harmonies. Really! The band had practiced and we had our parts lined up, but once the service started I found every time I started to sing someone was already singing my part. I wasn't sure what to do. Keep singing the duplicate part? Find another harmony? Drop out completely?
Another use of the word “harmony” is when our relationships are in agreement. Of course we'd all like that and yet it is so difficult to live at peace with one another. If we're not getting in someone's way we're singing the wrong parts. We misunderstand each other and often put our own agenda above everything else. And on top of everything we nitpick.
It's easy to find little things we'd like to change about each other. So easy. And those little things soon get on our nerves, and then we find even more things we don't like. And pretty soon it turns into a big deal, and we have to say something about it. Or do we?
In Matthew 7:3 Jesus uses this familiar analogy:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” (NIV)
Often the things we dislike in others are the very things we'd like to change about ourselves. But it's easier to concentrate on what others should change than what we should. Jesus tells us to examine our own motives and conduct instead of judging others.
A surefire way to live in harmony is to extend grace. I've discovered two questions that can help me stay on track. When I find myself paying too much attention to the speck in my neighbour's eye I ask myself these two questions: “Does it matter?” And, “What is the motive behind my nitpicking?”
Because I was so distracted by someone “stealing my part,” I missed out on what could have been a wonderful time of worship. But by asking “does this really matter?” and “what are my motives?” I'm convinced living in harmony and extending grace means overlooking these instances and instead focusing on meeting God in whatever way that looks like.
And I've learned this doesn't always mean literally singing alto. Sometimes it means stepping aside and allowing someone else to meet God there.