This last weekend the women of my church put on a retreat. Like pretty much everything my church does, it was an amazing, DIY, all hands on deck experience where literally every woman in attendance contributed to in some way, whether that be planning, crafting, cooking (oh, the snacks!), speaking, singing, writing Bible verses on note cards to place on everyone’s beds, making a million espressos, etc., etc., and so on and so forth. Several women were asked to share part of our stories, or testimonies. Because I’m such an organized planner, I clearly waited until the last minute and sat down on Friday morning and wrote it all out. I figured since I’d already written it (mostly), I might as well polish it up and post it here. By polish, I mean add at least another half page.
So…I’ve decided we’re all best friends. And since we’re all best friends you get to know some things about me that I’ve up to this point really only shared with a few close friends. Totally not juicy…don’t get excited…but I feel like we don’t walk around sharing with the world our moments of, “Here’s where I felt really vulnerable and exposed and like a giant idiot.” But we should. So here it goes.
God and I have been working through being ok with the way He made me since He and I got our start back when I was around 7. I’m an introvert. As a kid I’d cry at parties or go completely mute. Then I’d beat myself up later, replay conversations for hours at night, and wonder why everyone else could be ok but not me. I’ve recently turned into a more outgoing introvert, but that comes with entire Saturdays spent mostly in isolation. God and I have worked through being not just “ok” with who I am, but pretty excited about it. I went from hearing really clearly from God that the way I was thinking about myself was straight up rude to that ratio flipping to where, honestly, I’m pretty happy with who I am and how I look. That took some tweaking and refining and some lessons in self-care. And God never affirmed me by comparing me to anyone else. He never said, “Don’t worry about your weight…look at Adele, people think she’s beautiful!” or, “Your nose isn’t as big as so-and-so’s,” or, “Julianne Moore is not the prettiest red-head out there…you are!” Because that gives me confidence either on the back of someone else’s or because I’ve torn them down. Both are ugly. Both say that God isn’t enough. God said, “You have what you have because I chose it. It was my choice as the sovereign and all-knowing guy that I am, the God who loves you and made you and likes the result. I thought about it and decided that size 10 feet were definitely the right choice here.” If I ever start to get into some hateful self-thinking (which is always the result of comparing myself to others or to some standard from the world) I think about Him telling me, “Hey, I’m right and they’re wrong. End of story.”
So here I go, armed with all kinds of confidence and self-assurance, into a challenge that the previous me would have completely run from. Worship team. Singing. With a microphone. In front of all the people. And I think, “This is scary, but God and I have got this! I know I’m totally ok no matter what happens! My security is in the Lord!” I was certain that in no time I could just carry over all the lessons I’d learned and applied in every other area of my life. After jumping over a few quick hurdles, I’d be sparkly, happy me and we’d all be the bestest of friends.
Except that’s not how it went. It went like me walking into rehearsal terrified that everyone would think I was bad or weird or would end up wishing I’d just stop coming. It went like me shaking through entire services and finding a quiet place to cry in between. I felt dumb all the time and like a burden. I felt like people were just dealing with my presence. And it went like that for years.
There is nothing anyone on the team ever did to make me feel that way (in fact, it’s sort of a collection of the nicest people ever), but there I was, just like when I was a kid, crying at the party or retreating so far into myself that there were literally no words in my brain. I couldn’t live the experience, I was just surviving. And it made me so mad because hadn’t God and I fixed this already? I have all the tools, all the right thoughts, all the prayers, all the scriptures. I’d practice and practice to refine my skills and be a better singer, expand my range, become louder and less mousy. And still I’d show up at rehearsal and on Sundays and repeat the same horrific experience. Over and over.
I was SO MAD. Mostly at myself. Never having been one who sticks with a challenge just because it’s challenging, I did a weird, anti-my-personality thing. I kept showing up. I decided I’d keep showing up until someone asked me not to. Besides, if my fears were founded, I wouldn’t have to wait very long. And I’d cry if I cried and fail if I failed. God had put me in this spot and it was really hard and I wanted to know why.
Then came the Christian Musician Summit this past fall. Signing up for that, I thought, “I’m going to feel like a giant imposter because I literally know zilch about music, but here’s a moment to learn something new and bond with my people.” I was pretty sure it’d be an amplified version of how I felt at rehearsals. All these super awesome musicians who know way more than I do and are already best friends are going to be wandering around, talking their music talk, and I’m going to feel like a scared, mute, idiot. Sure. Let’s pay money for that experience.
But, once again, my expectations were way off. It was a great weekend, I learned lots of things. Side note: I feel like the world can be divided into two groups of people—people with whom I have shared a hotel bed and people with whom I have not. There’s a special, trusting place you get to with another human being, to whom you are not related or married, when you sleep side by side. I’m trusting you to not steal the covers, have previously trimmed your toenails, and not engage in unwanted spooning. Traci nailed it. We’re sisters for life.
Aside from finding my chest voice, learning how to blend better with other vocalists, and having lots of fellowship time with my team, one of my major take-aways was from this guy, Tom Jackson, who works on stage presence with major acts in Nashville. People like Taylor Swift plan a major tour and he comes out to tell them how to have the most amazing show ever. He talked about how being better at being in front of people comes from giving everything you can to the people in front of you and that the enemy of that is self-consciousness. Your energy should be pointed out and not in. It comes out of humility, which is not that self-battering, self-loathing thing we often think it is, but accepting the role you’ve been called to do and serving the people you’ve been called to serve. You don’t have to have it all together. Someone (spoiler alert, it’s Jesus) got it all together for us so we don’t have to.
It hit me that my problem was not in thinking wrong things about myself, it was in thinking about myself at all. I hadn’t been sending any energy out. I’d been taking all the energy, all the things I’d been receiving from God when I’d pray over and over again for Him to come through for me, and spending them on myself. It would all just tumble around in me, battering against all my fears, not doing any good at all. I realized what had been happening was that my ability to love our church and love my team in the way I’d learned to do in nearly every other setting of my life was being thwarted by this fear and constantly thinking about myself. Was I going to be ok? Was I going to look dumb? Was I going to feel like an idiot for being scared even though I knew all the right things to do so I wouldn’t? Oh, dear God, patch me up, make me whole. Fix this.
The thing is, He already had. He’d already gotten it all together so I didn’t have to. He said, “Hey, now that we’ve got you feeling good and thinking all kinds of healthy thoughts about yourself…let’s stop thinking about you so much at all.” I’d been making myself the most important thing in the room. The only thing that mattered was that I was ok. God said, “Let’s give actual humility a try. No the false humility where you think you’re less, but the real humility where you think about yourself less.” Then He gave me 1 John 4:18, which wasn’t new to me but had never been spoken so directly to me from Him. God never speaks to me in an out-loud voice (because I’d probably pee myself), but there’s this thing that He does where a thought so clearly slices through my own pattern and stands in such contrast that I know the source is holy. He said, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear because fear involves torment.” And I’d been tormented, folks.
It was like He was saying, “Hey, just be loved. And don’t be loved so that you can feel better about yourself, be loved so that you can love.” Verse 17, just before the “no fear in love” part, says that love has been perfected in us so that we may have boldness. If one word sums up the thing I did not have all that time, it’s boldness. You can’t be bold when you’re pretty sure you’re about to screw it all up. The thing I get to be sure about now, though, is that I can’t actually do that. Standing up, putting myself out there, and trying doesn’t ever end in flames of failure. It ends in grace. At the end of the day I get to say, “God loves me. I love these people. I did the best I could.”
In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.
**As an afterthought, Tim Keller has written a book that addresses this concept of humility in much more depth and with more scriptural support and wisdom than I ever could. If you want to check out it, it’s called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness. If you ever pick up anything he’s written, you won’t be disappointed. Promise.