WORDS // SARA THOMAS
Bright white lights kick on, the stage curtains sweep off to the sides and the show begins. You’re center stage and the hammering in your chest feels all consuming; you feel it in the shaking of your hands, the pounding in your head, and the pitter-patter of your being. But you breathe out that first line, or take that first pirouette and suddenly it comes back to you. The show goes on, the audience laughs, cries, and sighs and. End scene.
The theater has often called to me but I have found that my “performing act,” so to speak, goes beyond the stage. This performing soul has made cameo appearances in a very different field: the classroom. When school work looms over me, when obligations hang heavy, and when I’m up late yet again pulling off that paper due tomorrow, it often will leave me standing center stage wondering what my next line is.
There are usually two routes that follow for students who find themselves in such a position, both options taxing the performer of all energy. The first way that the semester can play out is that the student is able to masterfully juggle the dynamic of school, a job, a social life, and beyond. Elegantly pirouetting and concluding with a standing ovation, this student is the performer many strive to be. The second way is simple: failure. Whether stumbling over lines, tripping mid-spin, missing cues, or technical difficulties galore; whether a literal F scrawled in red ink on a final or the emotional failure of not measuring up, these performers are devastated by their performance.
My dear performers, where have we come to put our identity? So much of my life has been wasted not leaving the performing at the theater and carrying it beyond the stage. Performing well in school and relishing in the affirmation. Performing with a sideshow of juggling, impressing those around me with the wide range of activities and the high level of busyness I can maintain. Performing as a successful student, ideal child, and the type of friend your mom would want you to hang out with. What everyone didn’t see - what my real talent was - was being able to wear my facade, my mask that hung so flawlessly, and on a daily basis. Senior year of high school I wound up exhausted and miserable, but all the while reminding myself how happy I was with my performance.
When my identity is in performing, my show is shallow, weak, and above all, fake. Though the performing arts are not inherently evil, Satan takes this art form and taints it when applied beyond the bounds of theater. It robs me of Christian community as my brothers and sisters become competition at an audition and my focus becomes measuring myself, whether in self-hate or in self-glorification, in comparison. As the semester marches on, remember you are not valued by your performance. The grace of God is not lurking in the audience, waiting to see if you have earned the grace given to you.
I am reading through The Mingling of Souls: God’s Design for Love, Marriage, Sex, and Redemption by Matt Chandler and he reminds the reader that “[t]here is no sin-past, present, or future, that has more power than the cross of Jesus Christ.” Many of us perform in an attempt to feel that we have earned the grace given to us, to compensate for our sinful nature and our shame. I think there is a part of me that desires to perform well for God to be deserving of grace, to put on a show for God. But you and I cannot earn this grace given to us. God is not interested in your performance, in the masks you juggle and in the roles you play. He sees you blunder through all your lines, mess up the routine, and completely ruin the show and you know what the best part is? He is already giving a standing ovation. Do you see the beauty of grace and love from our God?
Dear performer, put down your mask. Your value is not in your works, your performance, your grades, in your best week or your worst. Dear sister, your performance is undue and grace is waiting to accept you as you are. The only type of performing I hope this semester and this year holds for you is dancing for joy for the sake of dancing for joy, not for the standing ovation.
PHOTOS // MEAGAN BOURNE | LETTERING // SAM PALENCIA