Define yourself radically as one beloved by God. This is the true self. Every other identity is illusion.
Brennan manning, Abbas Child
My tiny hand gripped the smooth pine barre, as I stretched myself from the tip of my toes to the top of my head. Wishing myself taller I willed my body into the arabesque posture, only to be snapped out of my daydream by the brutal tone of my ballet teacher, who reminded me that I should be practicing fourth to fifth position with the rest of the girls in a perfect row.
I was one of the 7 young girls lined up in pink shiny leotards, black leather ballet shoes and tight buns in blonde nets sat neatly on top of our heads; our images multiplied endlessly in the huge mirrors that filled the walls. My teacher told me I would never make it as a professional ballerina because I was too short, and even though I was eight years old she could tell by my physique that I would never be tall enough.
Still, I dreamt. And even though my heels always ached and my tummy filled with nerves, she would call out that my neck should be more extended like a swan, bottom squeezed in, tummy tucked and shoulders back and stop wriggling! I hated my ballet class, yet I was so desperate to go back week after week. I was so desperate to prove that I was wonderful and surely my teacher was mistaken. I dreamt of being on points and performing in The Nutcracker. During my dreaded classes, the 5 minutes of free dance is what made me come alive, that was what I was living for. The tedium of being in line diligently would dissolve as I would dream myself into a Degas painting; I filled the stage gloriously, the spotlight lit me up like an angel as I spun in pirouette’s and twirls.
The ballet phase surely faded, it was never meant to be, and my pernickety ballet teacher was right; I grew to 5 ft 2 and I would never be a famous ballerina. Throughout my childhood I was always drawn to the stage; I loved to perform. I loved Drama and studied Theatre at University. I performed at The Edinburgh Festival, it sounds marvelous but actually was a bit of a flop. Not that I was terrible but my heart was never fully in it. I was never excellent; I was good, but not excellent by the world’s standards, I was always pretty average. Or to use another word: Satisfactory.
One of my school reports during my primary years said I was Satisfactory at everything! In every subject I got Satisfactory, and I will never forget the joke that was made that I was Miss Satisfactory. I thought it funny but deep down words carry weight and they get lodged in our subconscious and before we know it they become us. The lie that what I do became incredibly important. My identity was being shaped and I learned the lie that we must be great at something and succeed in something grand to be worthy. What we do, rather than who we are takes centre stage.
Have you seen the film Florence Foster Jenkins? It’s recently aired on the BBC. Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant do well to bring the poignant story of this eccentric lady to light. Florence was an amateur soprano, she became famous for being what Steven Pile claimed, “The world’s worst opera singer, no one before her or since, has succeeded in liberating themselves quite so completely from the shackles of musical notation.” Unbeknown to the general public Florence was dying from Syphilis, she had money and connections in high places, she believed she was wonderful, even though she was a terrible singer she promoted herself. Her doting husband, Frank Jenkins tried his very best to protect her from “the mockers and the scoffers” and continued to encourage her to believe in herself despite the criticism. Frank loved her unconditionally and he would do anything to protect her from the ridicule that would eventually be her downfall. Her desire to be loved and admired by many was eventually what took her to her grave. What a heart-wrenching story! Frank’s devotion to her was profound, his adoration for who she was, was clearly more important than what she did.
The world has told us that what we do is who we are. But should our value be in who we are not what we do? I belong to my beloved Father and I am his beloved child and what I do or how I do it places no value upon who I am. I can dance before him in the most ridiculous fashion and he dotes on my every move. I can make a huge mess of things and he just smiles. Just as my little boys are so desperate to show me their moves and grooves my heart melts because to me they are perfectly imperfect, their quirks and mistakes just make them even more adorable. And so it is with God, he values our relationship with him far above our successes.
I’ve lived my life so far with such a desperation in my heart to be good at something and when I feel I’ve fallen short, I’ve felt despair. But, a new thing is rising up in my heart, a new song, and that is that I have finally discovered something that I am good at, and it’s not a good dancer, mother, wife, teacher, writer, speaker, cook or even a friend. It’s not for the world to judge. It’s better than that.
I’m good at faithfulness. I’m a prodigal daughter and I came home. And since I came home to the loving arms of my Daddy God I haven’t let him go and no matter what happens to me, no matter what calamity comes my way my faith grows stronger. I know that as I dance into the arms of my beloved, He adores my every move. He’s proud and pleased because I have given him my whole heart and I am faithful. And sure enough because my Daddy is creative, (He is the Creator after all) I too am creative and some of the things I create are good and some might even be grand, but that is by the by.
For what really matters is who I am and whose I am. And when I close my eyes, I’m dancing in an entirely different court. I lose myself in pirouettes and twirls and I am wonderful, and as I look up to see my father watch in adoration, He has the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen, they are like pools of piercing fiery blue, so full of love for me, so full of affirmation that when I look deep into them I begin to see myself. My true self. For I am His and He is mine; everything outside of that is an illusion.