When David and I first got married, he worked as a teacher at a middle school. That year he learned the very important lesson that being called to middle school ministry is not necessarily the same thing as being called to teach middle school. See, David loves connecting with the kids that get thrown out of class – he wasn’t so thrilled with trying to teach a class that kept getting disrupted by those same kids. (And yes, I realize that there are some teachers who can connect with those kids and not toss them out. And yes, those teachers are incredible. And no, teachers do not get paid nearly enough.)
We have a picture that was taken during that time that perfectly sums up the entire year. In the picture David is standing outside while two of his students are working on a project at a table. Now, these students were those students – the ones who fill every youth pastor’s heart with hope and every teacher’s heart with… well… dread.
You can see the facial expression of one of the kids, and you know that once again bodily functions have somehow become the centerpiece of the project. And then you see David. He’s standing there with his face in his palm, and you can practically hear his defeated sigh.
An entire year’s worth of frustration summed up in one shot.
The crazy thing is that those kids actually did go to our youth group, and while it was by no means a walk in the park, David’s relationship with them outside of school was infinitely better than inside the classroom. Those two helped David learn about unconditional love, and also helped him realize that he never wanted to teach middle school again. Substitute teacher? Yes. In-school suspension teacher? Naturally. Middle school math and science teacher? Certainly not.
Over the years I have thought about that picture several times, specifically David’s body language. You see, I am all too familiar with the face palm.
I grew up in a musical family. My dad has sung solos in concert halls around the world, my brother taught himself to play every instrument you can think of and has music in his very being, and my mom, although not a flashy performer, is a very strong alto who hummed harmonies in my ear from the time I was born.
I, however, have been given different gifts. Sure, I can carry a tune now, and I will sing in bands, but I was not born with the freakish musical ability my brother displayed from the time he was nine months old. But this did not deter my parents from thinking, “Hey! What’s better than a brother-sister singing duo?” (Um, I know. A brother-sister singing duo where they both can actually sing…)
So my brother and I would sing together. We would put on our finest, stand in front of large crowds, and perform our ditties. He’d be the “boy with impeccable pitch” and I’d be the “little sister so horribly off-key but with the beautiful dress”.
This continued until I was seven or eight years old. At that point the cute factor wore off, and the face palming started. I’d hit a note, hear how off it was, and then I’d see the adults in the audience simultaneously lift their palms to their faces. And so I stopped singing in public.
And then I discovered interpretive dance.
I knew I’d found the answer. They’d sing, I’d dance, and there’d be no more face palming. Well… I could write for hours about the Interpretive Dance Years, but I won’t. (But if any of you happen to have the perfect movement for the phrase “rhetoric of government”, let me know.) I’ll just sum it up by saying that repetitive movements and some unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions brought back the face palms and put an end to the dancing.
I wish that I could say that my quest to avoid the face palm was limited to my performance life, but it wasn’t. Pretty much everything that I did was driven by the need to please other people. Actually, not so much for their approval, but to avoid their disapproval. I lived my life in fear of the face palm.
And I struggle with this today. What will people think? What do they want me to do? How can I win their approval? I remind myself time and time again of Galatians 1:10:
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
It is a daily struggle. But it is not my biggest struggle.
Today my dear friend and one of my favorite authors wrote a blog about connecting. It is incredible, and drove me to tears. You can find it here.
The final picture that my friend paints is one of us connecting with God face to face. And let me tell you, that is a picture I have struggled with my entire life – the idea that God wants to connect with me. Wants to look in my eyes. The Truth that He isn’t sitting in front of me with His face in His palm, but instead is waiting intently for me to look at Him. He isn’t embarrassed by my failures or ashamed of me, He just wants to be with me.
And this is my biggest struggle – to stop performing. Stop fearing the face palm. Stop doing. And to just look. Look at Him. See His love. And let Him alone transform my life.
See you soon.