A “Few Things” Thing

If you want your dream to be
Take your time, go slowly
Do few things but do them well
Heartfelt work grows purely
If you want to live life free
Take your time, go slowly
Do few things but do them well
Heartfelt work grows purely

“The Little Church”
by Donovan
            This lyric is from an old song – part of the soundtrack to an equally old film I watched awhile ago. It’s sung by the characters as they finish the rebuilding of a ruined church building. The line that popped out at me, causing me to tap the fifteen second rewind to ensure I’d heard it accurately, was this: “Do few things but do them well”. I hit the rewind several more times, longing to extract every bit of meaning possible in the words, like a connoisseur of spirits, allowing a well-aged wine to rest upon his palette. This idea about Few Things has burned in my heart for some time now. It started when I heard Rob Bell say in a talk, “You know, the reality is that we can really only do a few things.” 
            Every now and then, a revelation like this occurs – an idea presents itself, and for some reason, it doesn’t go away in the same manner that nearly everything else does. Not only does the idea remain in your mind, but it comes to light again and again in various ways. You might say that God himself is trying to send a message. Or you might say that your own self is causing you to notice something important, obvious even – something that’s been there all along. I’m not smart enough to know which is which, or how all this stuff works, but I’m content to assume that the Few Things concept is one that’s important for me to pay attention to right now. 
            Do few things. Nobody wants to hear that. This is the era of the do more. It’s the time to be more. Our technology has endowed us with abilities that are superhuman. With our techno-wizardry, we can be here and there and way over there, all at once. We can answer any question, unlock any door. We can say “yes” to everything. 
Do few things? Sure, dude. Watch me leave you in the dust of my success, while you plod through life, doing your few things. I will do many things, and I will rule you! I will accomplish more, all the while growing smarter, thanks to the inexhaustible ocean of information I am able to access with a simple tap. 
            I’m ashamed to say that this has been the message of my inner self for years now. I may not always say it out loud (though sometimes I do), but I’m embarrassed to say it’s my attitude much of the time.
            Of course, there is another line in the song to consider. “Do few things” is followed by “But do them well.” That’s the trouble with doing many things – we can do them, but when each activity or experience is drowning within the noise of a thousand others, we cannot master anything. Of all the things we do, not one gets our best. This leads to a lack of fulfillment, which leads to disillusionment, which leads to sadness – a void within the soul – and this, it seems to me, is worse even than death.
            I write this from an Atlantic City hotel and casino, where I’m away on a work trip. I haven’t toured the entire casino, but I estimate roughly three quarters of the large gambling floor is taken up by slot machines. I’ve spent some time in one of the slot machine areas; it’s the only place I’m legally allowed to light up a cigar to go with my evening coffee. As I sit there, I wonder why the machines are so many; it seems there are at least twenty machines for every slot machine user, and I wonder again how a person decides which machine is the one to park his butt on and start spinning for dollars. Which one’s going to be the winner tonight? 
            Earlier tonight, a gentleman approached me and asked whether I was playing the machine I happened to be seated beside. I stood and relocated, allowing him the elbow room he desired to win his fortune. I felt like asking him, “What is it about this machine? There are at least a hundred others crammed into this section of the casino; what strikes you about this one? Help me understand what you’re doing here.” I didn’t have the nerve to ask, particularly as I watched his mood sour when that magic machine promptly took his dough and returned him nothing but a smattering of mismatched icons. I observed him as he rose from his chair, already scanning the room, hoping his next instinct would be the correct one. This man has a void within his soul, and the fix for tonight is to pump cash into one loser machine after another, in hopes that one will pay off. And what if one does? Most likely, he’ll take those winnings and lose them on other machines.
It strikes me that most of us are very much like that poor old guy at the slot machine. Life grants us hundreds more choices in activities and experiences than we ever have time to partake in, so we wander about, rather aimless, indulging in as much as we can, and when we settle on something to do – a job, a service, an investment, a relationship, a hobby – we are really just guessing. 
Maybe this will be the thing that brings me life. 
Life has become a vast wasteland of slot machines – machines that take from us something so much more valuable than our money – they take our time.   
            What if we came to embrace the limits of our own humanity? What if we focused on just a few things, and we learned to do them well? In my own, meandering way, I’ve attempted to isolate those few things for myself. When responding to the question of “What should I do with my life?”, you often hear this response: “What is the thing you feel like you could do forever and you’d never grow tired of it?” Personally, I don’t know if there is truly such a thing, but there are a couple things I can never seem to get away from. One of them, I am doing right now. I could water it down and describe this thing simply as “writing”, but I think that writing is merely the vehicle. I choose writing because I have this inborn obsession with words, but it’s really about more than words; it’s about thoughts. It’s about presenting ideas in a manner that may move you to look at things a different way. 
            When I consider this – inspiring people to see things a different way – I break out in goosebumps. This is it. This is a “Few Things” sort of thing for me. But it’s not enough to simply know this. What do I do with that knowledge? If I want it to bring me fulfillment, thus joy, thus an unfractured soul, I need to master it (in as much as it’s possible). To master it, I must focus on it, and in order to focus, I need to NOT focus on some other things. It takes work to focus; more and more each day; it takes work. I suppose that’s a given with anything worthwhile.
            What is your Few Things thing?

10 replies »

  1. Beautiful post, and so true. We cannot serve too many masters or juggle too many items at once; we end up dropping balls or wearing ourselves out. You’re so right – don’t worry about what others are doing — do what one loves and do it well, and there will be a grand smile in one’s heart.

  2. The noise of the machines, the plastic lights & colors, the old man takes a drag and depresses the button… wretch. One of the things I do is build community, and this guy is missing out.

    • Preach it, man. I will say that the whole scene was a growth experience for me. Believe it or not, I managed to find serenity in the midst of all the chaos, and it was there among the plastic and lights that I felt the Few Things inspiration.
      Of course, I probably would have felt differently had I not been wearing noise canceling headphones. 🙂

  3. You have a great voice and I certainly encourage you to keep writng. If the book you are working on is anything like the reast of these stories, you have great future ahead you you, Luke. I enjoyed meeting you last week with the SSWSG and hope you find one that works for you. J

  4. Wonderful post. I’ve always seen the casinos pretty full of players. Maybe that’s what they do well. Personally, I get the part about doing few things, it’s the doing them well part that has me stymied, but nevermind. Ever read Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories? The ones where Nick goes fishing. It’s mostly about that purity, that art, that is inherent in doing things well.

  5. Good stuff Luke. I’ve been learning this over the years. I used to be a hobbyist for a hobby trying everything that sounded interesting. My budgets (time and money) can no way support that, nor should they. I’ve also referred to myself as Mr. Mediocrity because I do many things pretty well but nothing excellently (my wife hates it when I say that). As I grow older I’m trying to do only a few things. Sometimes I fail and it’s still too much but the important to me stuff is coming out for sure. Thanks for the reminder.

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