Life is a dance; you learn as you go.
Twenty-some years ago, a country artist made a lot of money on a song with those lyrics.
The longer I live, the more I believe he was righter than rain. Life is not a read the manual once and understand how to do it kind of thing. Life is a read the manual daily, decide to do it your own way, try to do it the manual’s way, mess up both attempts repeatedly, and find yourself back in the manual wondering what you did wrong this time kind of thing.
Most of life is just a matter of having (or gaining) the wisdom, humility, and courage to read the instructions every time you even think about moving your feet. It is a matter of being able to recognize how awful we are at dancing and having the humility to ask for help. It is a matter of being able to admit when we have been stepping on someone else’s toes the entire song long. It is having the wisdom to excuse their stepping on ours. It is understanding how much we desperately need each other if we are going to do this dance together and recognizing how much we all so desperately need the teacher. It is knowing beyond all doubt that we simply cannot dance apart from Him.
Even when we read the manual, we often move mechanically – like a robot. Which is good, if you’re doing the robot, but mostly too awkward and jerky for a smooth and grace-filled dance. We become the bookworm with no experience when we try to follow the instructions apart from the teacher’s guidance and example–and we all know how difficult it is to work with someone who has never left the student library but thinks they can dance with the stars because they read about it in a book.
There are two kind of people in the world: leaders and followers. Dare I say that great leaders are those ones who have mastered the art of learning when to follow and great followers are those ones who have found the courage to lead unafraid when necessary. We are all called to be both regardless of which personality trait is dominant. All of learning life – especially Christian life – is a matter of learning balance.
For those of us who call ourselves “Christians,” the dance requires a great amount of both following and leading at all times. We follow godly leaders and we lead by example. We follow the truth and we lead in denouncing falsehood. Primarily, our purpose is that we follow Christ and we lead others to him. If we are to do well in any of these pursuits, we must first find wisdom, humility, and courage.
When I was a little girl, I just wanted to fit in. I guess every little girl does. I so wanted to be accepted by my peers. The only problem was that I was not. I just wasn’t. I did not have the right clothes. I did not live in the right neighborhood. I did not come from the right family. I did not have the right personality. All I wanted was someone to play with at recess. So, I copied what I saw the cool kids doing and saying and wearing. Instead of being who I was, I tried to be like them. Fail. Instead of seeing my attempt as flattery and friendship, they saw me as even more ridiculous. They made fun of me and stole the look-alike trinkets I thought would help me gain entry to their cool kid club.
It was summertime when the New Kids on the Block came out with their eight-time platinum album, Hangin’ Tough. I had not heard of them until I ran into a girl I went to school with over summer vacation. She started our conversation with a question: “Who is your favorite guy in the NKOTB?” I still remember the feeling of horror that swept over me when she asked. Maybe that’s why I still remember the conversation 28 years later. I pretended I knew all about them throughout the entire conversation. I even asked her, “What if someone did not know about them?” just to see her reaction. Her reply? “Well they would have to be pretty dumb.”
I ran out that very day and begged my mom to buy me their album. (Yes, I owned Hangin’ Tough on a legitimate 33 vinyl record album.) I played it continuously until I knew every word to every song. But what I found was that liking the same things that the cool kids liked would never make them my friends. Wearing the same things that the cool kids wore would never make them my friends. Doing the same things that the cool kids did would never make them my friends. It took me a while, but I learned that maybe the cool kids weren’t so cool after all and that true friendship is a gift. It is not given on the basis of pretense.
Those experiences early in life taught me when not to follow. They taught me why not to follow. God used the rejection of my peers to mold me into a tenacious individual who knows who she is – which comes with a whole new set of challenges. Being a strong individual can be counterproductive when I am called to follow. Leading has proven to be just as difficult as trying unsuccessfully to follow. It makes falling in line behind other leaders difficult because following feels like failure and comes complete with the backstory to prove it. It takes wisdom, humility, and courage to lead, and, especially, to lead knowing when to follow.
I have been trying to convince my eleven year-old to join the public speaking club. Judging by her personality, I can see she is a natural-born leader – just like her father. I know she would be great at addressing a crowd once she gets the hang of it. But…ever since I brought it up, she has been making excuses. First, she told me she cannot speak because she is like Moses. Since then, she intermittently, purposefully stutters and then makes sure I heard it adding, “See, Mom, I would be terrible at public speaking. I can’t even talk.” Right.
It just makes me think of how often we avoid taking charge out of fear of failure or fear of rejection or fear of having to stand alone for the right when we or others are being wronged. We need an extra helping of wisdom, humility, and courage to lead. Good leaders may have followers, but great leaders know their ultimate goal is to make more leaders.
How is your dance? Robotic? Painful? Awkward? Jerky? Join the club. Whether you are leading, following, or undecided, we all have something new to learn. Keep dancing and pray for wisdom, humility, and courage.