|(c) 2013 Andrew Carmichael|
This morning in worship we sang a song I really like. Unfortunately I rarely hear it anymore, since it has reached the ripe old age of 20 years. The chorus proclaims:
We will dance on the streets that are golden
The glorious bride and the great son of man
From every tongue and tribe and nation
will join in the son of the lamb.
The words and the melody stir something inside me that make me want to dance. But I don't, unless I'm in the privacy of my own home, preferably without even family members around.
On Friday evening I went to see a student of mine perform in the musical The Secret Garden. She did a great job, as did all the teenagers in the show. I'm impressed by the acting and singing talents of so many youth. I'm also somewhat envious, because when I was that age I didn't have the courage or self-confidence to try performing. I was terrified to get in front of people, afraid of looking like a fool. It's the same fear that keeps me from dancing when I hear a song that moves me. I'm afraid of what others will think of me.
I am afraid of failure.
Now in the middle years of my life, I look back with regret at opportunities I might have pursued, at talents and skills I might have developed, at fun I might have had, if only I had not been afraid. I cannot undo those past events, but I can choose whether to continue to live in fear. Even now I still want to cling to what seems to be safe. I don't want to speak out on issues, lest others reject or criticize me. I don't take big risks because I don't want to fail.
However, I am slowly—ever so slowly—becoming comfortable in my own skin. I'm growing bolder in my willingness to speak my mind, even if I expect that it will not receive a positive response. I'm trying new things, like singing with a praise team and running for exercise. I'm not up to trying out for a dramatic role yet, nor do I know of any opportunities to do so, but I see myself developing greater confidence and boldness. Even as I grow more willing to try new things, I'm also more comfortable accepting that there are some things I don't want to or cannot do. I don't have to be all things to all people, and I do best to operate in my strengths rather than bemoaning my weaknesses.
At the same time, I am learning to affirm more fully and genuinely the talents of others. I am letting go of the need to show that I'm smarter, better, stronger... whatever is-er. God has given each of us a unique set of gifts, abilities and interests and I can appreciate what others have, such as acting, even if I don't. I recognize more and more that everyone doesn't have to be, act, look, think, dress like me. Nor do I have to conform myself to what others do or think. Our society may compel that, and our churches even more so, but God doesn't. God created and embraces diversity. God celebrates it.
Perhaps one of these days I'll be so bold as to dance during worship, even if ever-so-slightly. That's a big step and I'm not sure I'm ready to take it. But I hope I will eventually. I want to embrace fully the identity I have in Christ, no longer worrying about the expectations or judgments of others, but celebrating the me that God has created me to be. For part of the great redemption story is that God sets us free from fears and bondage of all kinds. God liberates us to be all that we were meant to be, in all the colorful diversity, uniqueness and beauty that this entails. The song I quoted at the beginning speaks to this as well, reminding us that before the throne of God will dance women and men from all nations, languages and cultures. It promises to be a colorful celebration and I look forward to being a part of it, dancing with reckless abandonment to the glory of God.