I’m a pretty shy person. When I tell students that, they always look a little shocked and say, “But you’re a teacher!” I know, as a teacher I have to stand up in front of groups of people every single day and speak and lead. This is why I was so hesitant to go into teaching in the first place. Fortunately, I eventually discovered that once you know your students, teaching is not the same as public speaking. It’s building relationships with students through the material, so once I get beyond those initial days of new classes each fall, the fear and shyness usually subside.
Being an introvert, I don’t particularly enjoy the spotlight. I don’t want people looking at me for any prolonged amount of time. I don’t like talking on a loudspeaker, for instance, or dancing in a silly video of all the teachers that the whole school will see. I read some verses once at my church one Sunday, and the entire week prior to that day, I felt so anxious about it, worrying over what I would wear and whether my voice would sound weird. (I know, right? As if anyone there would care.)
However, I’m starting to realize that there are certain situations in which I actually want to be recognized. When it comes to an area where I feel skilled or qualified, I crave some attention. While I don’t necessarily handle praise very well at times, I still desire that recognition. I grew up doing all kinds of music–piano, flute, and singing–and I sometimes miss the praise I would receive after a successful performance.
There aren’t so many opportunities for me to sing for an audience anymore. I sang many national anthems at the high school where I teach, kicking off their basketball games each winter. Hearing my voice ring out powerfully through the gym gave me a sort of thrill. I also used to sing solos at my old church, and even though my body trembled with fear each time, it was always one of those “glad-I-did-it-now-that-it’s over” situations. I liked it when fellow congregants came up to me and told me they loved my song or that it moved them to worship. I loved it when my then-boyfriend (now husband) said my voice gave him goosebumps and made him want to cry. I loved feeling like I was truly good at something.
Being a grown-up with a more realistically attainable job than that of professional musician, I find myself missing the days when I could have my own tiny piece of the spotlight. Yes, nerves were always a factor, but that anxiety was tempered by the confidence in my ability to sing, along with the pure joy it brought me.
Nowadays I feel a bit left out when I’m not asked to sing for events or groups. I feel like I’ve lost that part of who I am, and the people who don’t know that I sing and play the piano have an incomplete picture of me. It’s like they don’t really know me. Even though my performing days are gone for now (other than singing silly songs for my son), I still think of myself as a singer. Just the other day, the song “Someone to Watch Over Me” popped into my head, and nostalgia hit as I recalled how many times I used that piece for local theater auditions.
Music isn’t the only arena where I feel like I’ve lost a piece of myself over the years. Maybe it’s partly because our society is set up to praise youth and their accomplishments. Just take a look at the constant awards ceremonies that parents today are asked to attend for their kids. You get a trophy for practically everything when you’re young. (Kindergarten graduation? Okay, I know the kids must look super-cute in their caps and gowns, but still. Really?)
I always felt accomplished in running, in music, in writing, and let those things provide me with a false sense of who I was. I was special because I was good at those things. Yeah, I did work hard at times, but much of the time, I just enjoyed cultivating my natural abilities.
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the pride and satisfaction of a job well done. Yet, how dangerous it can be when we let our abilities and accomplishments cloud our perceptions of who we truly are. Yeah, this is where I’m going to get “spiritual”. I think that gradually, I’m learning again to rest in who I am in Christ. It’s an ongoing process, one that can be painfully eye-opening. I remember a similar adjustment as a freshman in college, and again as I entered the workforce. We all search desperately for a place to belong, a place to feel talented and valuable and significant. Perhaps the saddest part of this is that so many are trapped in that never-ending cycle of strive, strive, strive to be the best, which apart from God, doesn’t lead to satisfaction at all. It leads to disillusionment. I do believe that only in Christ can we find our true identity.
“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow–not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below–indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” –Romans 8:38-39, NLT
“But now, this is what the Lord says–he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: ‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”–Isaiah 43:1, NIV
What an awesome reassurance! Even if I built up an incredible list of accomplishments throughout my life, the euphoria wouldn’t last. It wouldn’t be enough. It wouldn’t bring lasting peace and joy. What I need is to know whose I am. I don’t deserve anyone’s applause, but I’ll take what Jesus is offering–perfect, unconditional love that will never fade or disappear.