Christmas with family is always magical, but this year proved even more magical than expected. Late in the evening, as most of the family had already gone home, I lingered at my brother Steven’s home, enjoying some extra company. My nephew Jesse came into the living room where Steven and I were talking and brought with him a toy he had found in his Advent calendar. It was the notorious cup and ball on string. Notorious, because of the inevitable frustration everyone gets when they can’t get the ball into the cup. He played with it for a few moments then handed it to me to try. It’s been a long time since I’ve even picked up such toys, because of the frivolity of the activity, and the inevitable frustration it entices. But in the spirit of Christmas and togetherness, I humored the moment and gave it a try. After several attempts I admitted to everyone, “I’ve never successfully done this before.” And lo! Just as I spoke those words, the ball fell squarely into the cup! I couldn’t believe it! I had never done that before!
Jesse then took back the toy to try himself, but to no success. That is, until he got the idea that the magic words are: “I’ve never successfully done this before.” And magically, just as he said those words, the ball again fell squarely into the cup!
Excitedly, Jesse handed the toy off to his mother, Dana. She tried for a few moments without luck, and without trying the magic words. Jesse told her that she had to say the magic words for it to work, but his mother didn’t want to say them because as she explained, she had successfully done it before. I suggested that she revise the words to say: “I haven’t successfully done this in a while.” Sure enough, when she facetiously said those words the ball fell squarely into the cup! The four of us could not believe the amazing luck!
It was lastly my brother’s turn to try his hand at it, but without saying the magic words. Perhaps he, like many, didn’t see the connection between the words and the results. But after hitting himself in the head with the ball a few times he too relented and said those magic words: “I’ve never successfully done this before.” The four of us agreed that it was a Christmas Miracle when the ball fell squarely into his cup too.
This once-in-a-lifetime, you-had-to-be-there moment was a beautiful bonding experience for us, and it got me to thinking about its greater meaning. I had long given up toying with such an activity, deeming it frivolous simply because I was incapable of doing it, because I lacked the skill. And because I lacked the skill I labeled it senseless child’s play, something below myself. Yet, there the four of us sat in awe as we each, one at a time, succeeded at what was once deemed silly and impossible. It got me to wondering what else have I given up on and deemed silly and below my station, simply because I lacked the discipline and patience to give it an honest effort. Surely, mastering the cup and ball on string is of little consequence, but it serves as a healthy reminder that “whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much.” Today I suggest that if you find yourself struggling with a small matter, just give it a little more time, and maybe even try some Magic Words.