In the early 1980s, I considered myself to be quite the thespian. My brother, Bobby, and I were regulars at the Park District Community Theatre where we performed in such classic plays as, You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown and Alice in Wonderland, the only difference between the two of us being that he always scored one of the leads whereas I was consistently relegated to a chorus/prop-mover position, otherwise known as an “extra.” This identity warranted many a trite pep talk from the director and my parents on the importance of embracing an optimistic spirit - “There are no small parts, only small actors…” they’d predictably reassure me. So in the interest of those friends and grandparents dedicated to adolescent dominated, sub-par entertainment, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and decided to make the most of it.
In “frozen” sketches, for example, like when Charlie Brown mentally stepped away from a baseball scene for an intimate monologue (sung as a solo) while those of us in the outfield paused mid-action until the song was over, I prided myself on staying insanely still. “Is that little girl in the red cap even real?” I imagined the twenty plus audience members murmuring amongst themselves. “I didn’t see her blink once the entire time.” Later on, in a classroom setting for a musical number called “Book Report,” I vowed to wow them by pouring all of my energy into the craft of faux conversation. “Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon,” we were told to say to one another, looking interested, laughing casually, while the big guns (i.e. Lucy, Schroeder, Peppermint Patty) were delivering real lines, scripted lines, in the foreground. I had made peace with the very valid possibility that I would never be a star, but I refused to be held back by the intrinsic limits of my given character; I would make sure that each show shined brighter because of me.
Frizzy hair, a cross-country move, and a hormone heightened, debilitating sense of self-awareness, all worked together to melt my “can do” attitude into an unassuming puddle of insecurity. I reasoned, most self-protectedly, that I certainly couldn’t fail what I never tried; lack of ambition was the quickest and surest cure for disappointment. Thus I permanently quieted the naggings for fame and fortune, learned to live within my social, intellectual, and financial means. I named and claimed an inconspicuous persona, staying contentedly under the radar, blending into my current generation like one muted voice in a choir. I made peace with the very valid possibility that I was called to pursue a life of anonymity. I was obedient to a fault, overly submissive to a skewed amalgamation of God, my fears, and good manners.
For all of those for whom an effective spiritual prescription is keeping quiet, letting go, and being taken down a notch or two, there are the just as many more who are super duper comfortable with their timidity, and we all know how well comfortableness and faith mix together - like oil and water, Packers and Bears fans, blue Play-doh and white shag carpeting. We are the group with a million excuses: “I’m just a mom…and a flighty one at that. I’m a convert, a guest in this historic Church. I am flighty mom convert who would do best to leave the evangelizing to the experts, the seminarians, the clergy with their answers and photographic memories for dates, rubrics, and Scripture.” The story of a tongue-tied Moses being called to give an unwanted speech to the wicked Pharaoh makes us tremble in our boots. “But being asked to do something I totally stink at,” we try to convince ourselves, “would be disastrous. It would take a miracle for that to work out…oh, I get it. That’s the point.”
“Perfect humility dispenses with modesty,” said C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory. There’s a very fine line between arrogance and doubt. Biting off more than one can chew can both choke the overly zealous and increase the spiritual appetite of the undernourished. Taking great leaps with conviction can promote pride in those addicted to the limelight yet also form a much-needed backbone in the anxious. The trick, I’d imagine, is staying open, keeping prayerful, being willing to do whatever it takes (like either asserting or restraining oneself) to make sure the Kingdom of God shines brighter than the gaudy, neon glow of worldly passions. To let others do all the participating is to bury a borrowed talon, and we all know how well that went over – like a lead balloon, a wine-less wedding reception, a spotless doorframe amongst those marked and bloodied by trust and sacrifice.
We all, every brave and fearful one of us, have an essential part to play in the attainment of salvation, for ourselves, for our neighbors, for our enemies. God is offering me another chance to rise above the intrinsic limits of my given character. I can, most gracious Savior, if You lead me. I will, if You ask, regardless of the dreaded consequences and upheaval of my placidity. I accept that such a radical departure from my comfort zone would only highlight Your power and mercy. I believe I’d find my voice, if You so desired. So where from here? I’m ready and waiting, but please take over quick before I lose my nerve. Faith of a mustard seed, right? That’s all that I need to get started? Well, curtains up then on this role of a lifetime; may I portray Your love with genuineness and precision. And for now, perhaps, my mean impersonation of a mannequin might come in handy – no flinching, no distractedness, just a sustained and ardent longing for opportunities to come alive and sing my heart out.
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