The letter also explained my “instant dismissal rules.” The trick to instant dismissal rules is to have very few, but to enforce the few you do have without fail. Suddenly you are being treated like a professional instead of the little old lady down the street who teaches a piano lesson or two to pass the time. I was a professional, the professors told me, with 13 years of training—about as much as a doctor, so I did deserve to be treated that way. I went over the letter at an interview before ever accepting a student—especially the instant dismissal rules--and the parents signed it and kept a copy.
My instant dismissal rules? If you miss seven lessons in the year, whether excused or not, you are dismissed. If you miss three consecutive lessons, whether excused or not, you are dismissed. Those two were as much for the student and his parents as they were for me. If a child was missing that much, he wasn’t getting his parents’ money’s worth. It also wasn’t fair to my two year waiting list to have to wait for a spot held by a child who was seldom there. Since the applicants had come from that list themselves, they understood that point immediately.
My last rule was this: if you miss the Spring Program you are instantly dismissed. Why? I spent at least $200 a year on my annual program in recital hall rent, refreshments, paper goods, printing, and props. Besides solos, we always had group numbers, and if one child missed, it wrecked a whole piece for several students, not just him. And finally, this was my advertising; this was how I showed the parents that I was worth the money they were spending. A wrecked Spring Program was a business disaster.
In 35 years I think I invoked the instant dismissal rule only twice. One student was ready to quit anyway, so she simply didn’t show up for the Spring Program. She knew exactly what she was doing, and since I halfway expected it, I managed to keep the damage to a minimum.
But another time, a young man who was doing very well didn’t show up and had not called ahead. (Yes, if there was a legitimate emergency I was not a Hard-Hearted Hannah.) No one else knew where he was either, and I had to scramble at the last minute to find an older, accomplished student who could pinch hit for him with no warning.
The next morning I called his mother and told her he was dismissed and why. Her reaction? She was furious. “We had company!” she exclaimed, and I then made mention of the policy letter she had signed, telling her that her company would have been more than welcome. “That old thing? I haven’t even looked at it since you handed it to me. How am I supposed to remember all that stuff?”
Any time I tell that story, people are horrified at that mother’s attitude. Her son’s piano lessons obviously meant nothing much to her. Yet while we will shake our heads at that story, we often do the same thing to God. Imagine the mother above had been talking about the Bible. “That old thing? I haven’t even looked at it since you handed it to me. How am I supposed to remember all that stuff?” I have a feeling some will try the same line on God at the end of the “term,” and will find out the God enforces his instant dismissal rules too.
My Spring Program was also an awards ceremony. I managed to find enough things to award that any child who worked at it even a little could win something. Only a few walked away with first or second place trophies from State Contest, yet anyone who came to every lesson, or met the make-ups I offered for excused absences, could win a perfect attendance ribbon. If a student went away empty-handed it was because he didn’t try, and for no other reason.
God is going to be handing out awards too, and you get the big one for simply following the rules in the policy letter and doing your best every moment. Pull it out today. He does expect you to read it. He does expect you to remember it. He doesn’t even mind if you bring your company with you. But don’t expect Him to change the rules just for you.
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. Rom 2:6-8