Details Matter

We’ve all heard the nuggets of wisdom from our grandparents or mentors, “a stitch in time saves nine” or “the Devil’s in the details”. We’ve all probably got a story, or several, about a time when we didn’t listen to those nuggets of wisdom and had a consequence because of our haste. Let me share one of my own stories where I glossed over a few details and ended up getting needlessly upset when my lack of attentiveness was exposed.

I went to a small, religious school for elementary and middle school called the Grand Haven Seventh-day Adventist School. It was a literal two-room schoolhouse, where grades 1-4 were in one room and 5-8 were in a second room, until I started fifth grade when enrollment had shrunk so much that everyone was in a single room with a single teacher. At its peak, my class had three students. For nearly all of my 8 years at that school, another student named Robbie and I were the only students in my grade.

Since the school was church sponsored, there was a Religion class every day. One assignment that I remember well instructed us to create a model of the Tabernacle. According to the Biblical Book of Genesis, the Tabernacle was a tent that the Israelites built as the center of their spiritual life, and the literal center of their encampment, while they were wandering in the desert after their Exodus from Egypt. The Biblical account gives great detail about the construction of the Tabernacle, giving specific measurements for each piece of furniture, the structure itself, and the placement of all of the furniture inside of and around the structure.

This assignment was a brilliant one as it combined my love of math and art into a single project. I dove into my Bible and quickly compiled a list of all the components involved including their dimensions and what they were made from in my notebook. I asked my father what a “Cubit” was in modern measurements, because all the dimensions in the Bible story were in Cubits. He challenged me to search for an answer myself instead of simply telling me he didn’t know. I found several different conversions online, all of them similar but not a common standard. A quick average of the various measurements gave me the conversion I needed. I flew through converting all the dimensions in my list into modern measurements, then figured out what scale I wanted to use and converted all the full-size dimensions into the scale-size measurements so that I knew what size I needed to build each piece.

After visiting every craft store in town at least twice – and spending many nights working on painstakingly creating altars, tables, and curtains – I had a scale model of which I was incredibly proud! I’d read other sections of my Bible to figure out every minute detail of each piece of furniture so that I could try to ensure precisely accurate replicas. I’d worked hard to figure out what pieces needed to be gold, versus silver or bronze. The clay I’d used to create the furniture was baked in the oven, precisely following the directions on the package, then spray painted to match each piece’s specifications exactly. I’d found spray glue and craft sand, in natural color of course, to apply to the board on which I was mounting everything to ensure that the board looked like the dessert. The poles for the curtain surrounding the Tabernacle were mounted in gold-colored hot glue since that would stick to the sand and would look like the rounded bases in which those poles were mounted according to the Biblical account.

I had everything looking perfect and triple-checked my model to ensure that the measurements were just right. However, when the grades were awarded, I’d gotten less than a perfect score! I immediately asked my teacher why I’d gotten marked down and she said that I’d gotten the order of fabrics on the roof of the Tabernacle incorrect. I was devastated. After a long search, I found that I’d used a different account of the Tabernacle to pick the colors and order for my roof fabrics.  It turned out that there were two distinct accounts of the Tabernacle in Genesis, and they were not the same. I spent significant time trying to convince her that the assignment had not specified which Biblical account was to be used, and thus I was correct. She responded by pointing out that there were other areas where the two accounts differed; in those areas, I’d used the first account’s details to build my model. If I’d used the first account for nearly everything in my model, wouldn’t it make sense that I would use it for everything? I gave up in a huff, upset that I’d not gotten a perfect score.

Looking back on this event, so many years ago, it strikes me that if I’d taken a little more time during the planning phase of my project, I would have noticed that I wasn’t being consistent in the account I was using for my source information. Details matter, and if you rush through things to quickly it will always show up in the end product. And, when your haste inevitably is exposed, it’s a much better plan to own up and accept the result of your work! Getting upset about it and trying to vent my frustration by arguing with my teacher that I’d gotten an incorrect grade on the assignment was not a productive response to the situation. Whether it’s a stitch in your sewing, or the colors of fabric in your Tabernacle model, making sure that you’ve got the details correct is always a good idea!

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