Yesterday, Barnes and Noble slates my daughter to perform a piano piece as part of a fundraiser for the Music Academy. Neighbors come, cameras focus, and parents beam.
But when it is her turn to perform, my daughter bursts into tears and freezes. She cannot even approach the piano.
Instead of forcing her onto the piano bench, we gather up her blue puffy coat and the sheet music in her red tote bag and travel home as fast as we can.
She slumps into the house and says over and over again, “I couldn’t do it!” She cries and falls onto the couch. She writes apology notes to the neighbors and her piano teacher.
And then something beautiful happens. The neighbors send messages that they went to the event to support her, and it didn’t matter whether she performed or not. She could turn away from a thousand stages, and they’d still come every time. My daughter, not her performance, mattered.
Her piano teacher calls to tell her that learning the piano isn’t about performance. She tells my daughter that she can choose when, if, and why she wants to perform at all. Learning the piano has intrinsic value as an end in itself. The goal was never public applause, flashing camera bulbs, and bragging parents.
Nobody is disappointed.
My daughter nods with understanding. She wipes her face and remembers that she loves to make music. And I remember the gospel truth with every comforting phone call: it was never about performance. God’s love and favor are never dependent on my good performances. The sooner children learn this, the more they might relax into the freedom that comes with being unconditionally loved, accepted, and valued.
I ask my daughter for permission to tell her story. She says, “Sure, Mom!” It doesn’t bother her anymore. She knows now that it’s never about performance. And it isn’t a public failure after all.
Journal: Am I tempted to believe my worth is in my performance?