Just like Ray Steven's fictional pirate, there was a time in my life when I wanted to sing and dance in bright, shiny pants. Paychecks and the need for decent insurance were fairly unimportant, but the idea that my name could be in lights on Broadway was intensely appealing.
In college, I became a bit of a character actress--unafraid to do something crazy on stage and often going off-script to get a few extra laughs. Fully committing to the comedic character meant I could interact with the audience in a way I never would have in my own clothes. To this day, there are people who remind me of my antics as Captain Hook's sidekick in Peter Pan--a part I played 14 years ago. (Truthfully, though, how could people forget the fact that I sat on the Dean of Students' lap and stuck my foot in his face compelling him to smell my feet?)
My antics on stage may have gotten me attention from the audience, but they never did lead to the one thing I really wanted: the leading lady. As a matter of fact, I played boys more times than I cared to admit (and I would be lying if I said it never got to me). It was fun, but I started to feel like I would never be chosen for raw talent. Instead, I was designated to the sidelines for my sideshow abilities. I kept thinking that if I could do it better--really commit to the character and sing my butt off--I might finally gain the approval of the casting agents and find myself in the limelight.
I never did get the lead (and most of my twenties are proof that I would gladly perform for praise), and I struggled to shake the approval seeking behavior I cultivated in that time period. I was needy--clinging on every person's word trying to hear something that said I was awesome or worthwhile.
And then God pulled my heart toward women's ministry.
I didn't end up there because I had a deep yearning to lead a group. I was just looking for an accountability partner--someone to meet up with once a week for Bible study and prayer. After two failed attempts, I finally stepped out on a limb and hosted my first ever women's Bible study. (That's a bit simplistic, but it's also not the point.)
I wouldn't call the first study an overwhelming success, but it definitely lit a fire in my heart. In a few months, I saw God knit a community using a few women and the truth of His word. Over the course of seven or eight studies (I can't remember the number at this point), our numbers fluctuated but there was a core group of women who turned my heart upside down. They challenged me, encouraged me and broke my heart for a world that needs Christ.
(Even now, I have multiple handwritten cards I pull from a drawer when I'm having a rough day.)
And while I can describe that experience with a deep, deep sense of gratitude, there were always the frowns. You know what I'm talking about here, right? They're probably better categorized as the looks of disapproval, and every person everywhere has experienced them in some capacity.
Frankly, I'm no stranger to the frowns. As a praise and worship leader, a women's Bible study facilitator and a from-childhood-to-adulthood attender in the same congregation, I had been exposed to my own fair share of the frowns. They can rattle you--particularly if you're the type of person who needs approval.
But approval is exhausting to mine. It's not easy to chip away at rock for the tiny diamonds revealed as the result of all that effort. And let me be honest: no matter who you are or what you're doing, the frowns will always find something at which to frown.
Initially, the frowns bothered me. I have cried over rude comments and ill placed pieces of advice. One time, out of frustration, I asked BigBro what I was doing wrong. "How can I fix this situation?" I pleaded. I was in a place where I would've done anything, including stepping away from the ministries I was called to for that season. In BigBro fashion, he shrugged his shoulders and said, "You do what you're called to do regardless of the frowns."
Not stellar advice for someone who needed the praise of the masses. (Or, at the very least, to avoid the criticism of the minority.)
I was ready to throw in the towel because who wants to continue down the path of most resistance? So it was in that time that God began one of the slowest burning processes of my entire life: purifying my heart from approval-seeking behavior.
I've always been a fan of Francis Frangipane's quote: "To inoculate me from the praise of man, He baptized me in the criticism of man until I died to the control of man." Praise is a seductive force. Like a siren, it beckons and we ignore all the warning signs until our ships are obliterated on the surrounding rocks. We end up drowning in the falsehood of our own self confidence.
Those criticisms ended up being a navigational tool: I wouldn't go this direction because it would offend this group. I wanted to avoid this topic because it could lead to hurt feelings. I wanted to step away from this group because I was stepping on someone else's territory. If I could eventually get it right, I just knew people would see how great I was so I "dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and dodged" until I boxed myself into a corner.
In that corner, I realized the show was over. No curtain call. No final bows. I wasn't being groomed as the leading lady because I was never supposed to be the focus.
Sometimes I feel like Christianity has become such a show. If we do this or we say that or we write this or sing that we will finally gain the respect and admiration of those around us. And if that happens? We can finally feel good about what we're doing in the world.
But what I'm praying? Is that my heart will not be shaken by praise (or seek it out) because it doesn't belong to me. My confidence after all is not in myself but in the God who created me and developed anything useful enough to be called a skill. A confident heart rooted in the knowledge of Christ doesn't require her name in lights--she just needs Jesus.
Perspective. Whoo. It doeth my heart good, y'all.