on standing in the spotlight

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

I'm terrible under pressure.

When I was in school, I marched in the band.  I love music, and I loved creating something beautiful with so many other people.  On our  own, each person's  movements and notes were meaningless.  But together we made a singular, powerful, inspiring sound.  It was  beautiful.

I loved that.

But I never really excelled in marching band.  I played well, but I was not the star. The reason is simple:  I'm terrible under pressure.  For years I auditioned for honor bands and all-state competitions, and consistently I ranked just one below the cut-off.  Every single time, the melody I played in the practice room would wobble and falter in front of judges.  I quickly realized that nervous energy does not propel me to do my best work.  Instead, it makes me jittery, easily distracted, uncertain.  I just don't perform well under pressure.

This week, I've been under some pressure in my life.  And I hate what it drew out in me.

I cried in frustration when my little boy dug in his heels.  In Costco I cried again and told my husband we weren't going to make it because he doesn't watch tv with me anymore.  I began seeing elaborate conspiracy theories, all webbing together to ensnare me.  I read into every detail, I scoured Facebook for evidence.  When the pressure was on, I wobbled and faltered.

I'm terrible in the spotlight.  I much prefer the simple rhythms of daily life - baking muffins at dawn, meat defrosting on the counter.  Another math lesson graded, another chapter read from our book.  My baby boy leaning against me, hands reaching to the sky, waiting to be picked up.  My daughter in my lap, telling the kind of stories only a three-year-old can tell.  Smoothies every weekend morning with my best friend, Friday morning hikes and the satisfaction of putting together a soup out of leftover roast and a handful of dried beans. 

I love them all.

I am good at the predictable fabric of life.  Day in and day out, over and again.  While I've had seasons of being overwhelmed by the thought of another day, thankfully they almost always ended nine months later, and right now I find a lot of joy and energy in just doing the next thing.  I love the rhythm, I love the gift of time.  I love creating something with my hands, I love nourishing my family.  And, like marching in the band, I love being part of a whole.  My hard work would be meaningless on its own, but in its context it is powerful and beautiful.  

And I wonder, what if I'm happier out of the spotlight, because God never intended for me to live on stage?

It's not a popular idea.  News media pays their bills by creating and selling catastrophes.  Social media is the whole world's chance at the microphone.  Everything in our culture points toward the drama of the individual good.  Do big things for God, make a name for yourself, build your wealth, protect your personal happiness at all costs.  Our culture tells us that what we do in the spotlight is the highest good.

Yet, it doesn't match my experience.  And I wonder if it matches yours.  What if life is better when we walk off the stage?  What if real peace is found, not by pursuing the next validation, the next big thing, but by opting out of the competition altogether?  What if we were never meant to live there at all?

I'm not talking about leaning into a gender stereotype, I'm talking about finding satisfaction in obscurity.  In tending our little field, doing the work we were given without always grasping at the next big thing.  I'm talking about finding contentment and peace in the rhythm and simplicity of daily life, and rejecting the lie that contentment is waiting with our next achievement.  

I think of the lives of the saints.  Most lived in obscurity.  They simply loved and served the person in front of them, then the next one, over and again.  Most did not spend their lives building huge ministries or inspiring crowds with their words.  Most simply plodded along, doing the next daily thing with great love and devotion. 

Is that how life is meant to be?  Do I find great joy in making soup because God created me for that very purpose?  Am I happier when I opt out of the limelight because I was never meant for it?  Was I was meant, instead, to nourish those God has entrusted to my care?  Was I created to work without anyone around to cheer for me or validate my choices?  

I'm terrible under pressure.  But I'm beginning to think I was never made for it.  Fulfillment and peace aren't found in the spotlight after all.  


  1. As always, love your writing and your spirit. I'm so glad you're in such a good place right now.

  2. This reminds me of The Little Way of Saint Therese. Beautiful.

  3. I've been wondering about all the same things lately. Thanks for sharing this.



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