A Very Public Failure for My Daughter

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. 

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Journal:  Am I tempted to believe my worth is in my performance?

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A Short Rant (I Never Thought I’d Be Ranty)

A popular blog I read this morning suggested that one pathway to happiness is to “imitate” a spiritual master–someone like Jesus.  I cringed.  The not-flair bells rang.  I frowned and felt the same way I do when somebody tells me to just “try harder” and I’ll find holiness.  It’s just not true.  Telling a person to imitate a spiritual master to find real life and joy is like telling a cardboard box to act more like a computer in order to come alive.

Imitation doesn’t change the inherent problem I have.  I need an infusion of grace, not an imitation of one.    

Imitating a master is also like telling two people to stare at each other and imitate a relationship.  I don’t want to imitate love.  I want to be in love.  Imitation isn’t the trick.

A relationship with God is a romance.  It’s an infusion of power, of love, of joy, of deeply knowing.  It’s not imitating a master or doing what Jesus would do.  That kind of life doesn’t work.  It never has.

That’s why the gospel is good news.  I want to know Jesus and have him give me the power to live the life I’m supposed to.

Christianity isn’t a religion of imitation–of acting more like Jesus.  It’s exchanging our weaknesses for his strength, for inviting his presence into our lives, and for depending on his love and peace on a daily basis.

It’s not imitation.  It’s infusion.

I’m off to the pool.  My children have been in their bathing suits since 8:30 AM.  The towels and sunscreen are all in a row.  The snacks are ready.  The goggles are tightened.  We could sit on the couch and imitate swimming, or we could dive into that delicious water.  I think I know what we’ll choose.   Living with flair means I’m experiencing a life of joy, not imitating one.

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The Flair Disaster

Today in church, during the most reflective part, a little girl in a soft pink Easter dress spilled her grape communion juice. It trickled down her dress and pooled on the floor beneath her sandals. I was sitting two rows behind her.

Quickly, her grandpa and grandma (who happened to be the pastor and his wife!) found a cloth and began to wipe her dress and the floor. Her father joined in, trying to minimize the damage. And then, her mother–hawk-like and decisive–turned from her seat at the end of the aisle and made her way to where her daughter sat.

I felt myself bristle. Would this mother scold? Would she grab her daughter and drag her out of the church, shaming her for distracting the other worshipers? Was the Easter dress expensive, and would the little girl be punished for staining it?

The mother leaned down to her daughter. I couldn’t see the daughter’s face, but she had her head down, shaking.

The mother took the child’s face in her hands, firmly, tilting the chin up.

Then, looking clearly into that little girl’s eyes, she kissed her cheek and smiled.

It’s Easter.

Something about the way that mother held the girl’s face, something about tilting a chin up, something about that soft kiss overwhelmed me. It was a picture of God’s grace: choosing to love and not shame, lifting a face, covering a stain with a kiss. It was Easter flair.

Maybe I was so struck because I studied the emotion of shame in graduate school. When we feel tormenting inferiority because of a shortcoming, the body’s response is to look down. We hide. We cannot endure the gaze of an audience.

But this mother tilted the child’s face up. By refusing to allow the shame response, this mother locked eyes with her daughter and gazed with love and unconditional acceptance.

Later, I saw that little girl laughing and running around at an Easter egg hunt. The bright stain on her dress made no difference to her. But it could have.

Living with flair means I take a face in my hands (even if it’s my own), tilt up the chin, and choose to love regardless of the deep stain. Who isn’t walking around with grape juice on their clothes? Who isn’t that child? Who doesn’t need a love like that?

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