I'm in love with my new shoes. They arrived by mail last week, and I couldn't wait to try them on. For they're not just any shoes, but black T-strap character shoes for a play I'm doing. I'm tempted to sleep in them.
"Character shoes," for anyone unfamiliar with theater, are sturdy leather pumps with two-inch heels and soft soles for dancing. These shoes are the standard issue footwear of actresses and dancers everywhere, and work for nearly every time period setting, every costume design, every character—hence the name. And I hadn't owned a pair for almost 20 years.
Today these shoes represent a new life stage, the rebirth of a long-dormant part of me. They are, quite literally, helping me step into myself again. I've loved theater ever since I played the role of Mrs. Santa Claus in my third-grade Christmas pageant. Once I heard the applause, I was hooked. I participated in countless plays during high school and college, and even did some community theater after graduation.
Then I moved into "real" adulthood—work, church, kids, husband, friends, mortgages, car payments, bedtime stories, house projects—and I couldn't figure out how to make time for eight weeks of nightly rehearsals and three weekends of performances. Although I missed acting, I told myself that part of my life was over.
But every time I saw a play, even if only a second-grade production of The Grouchy Ladybug, I wanted to be on the stage, to participate in the creative process, to sing with a full orchestra backing me up. So this spring I worked up my nerve and auditioned for a show. And I got a part. I'm slightly disconcerted to be playing the mother of a college-age son, especially since the last time I was on stage I played a 16-year-old, but I'm thrilled nonetheless.
Throughout those intervening years, I excused putting my dreams and passions aside in the name of serving others. But I did myself a disservice. Life isn't an all-or-nothing operation. I'm wrong to think my loved ones can survive only if I let them suck all the life out of me. Yet this belief is the common curse of women. We assume the only way to be good friends, good daughters, good mothers, good wives, good bosses, good coworkers, good anything is to put aside every one of our interests and devote ourselves to others. We think having our own dreams and hopes and plans is selfish.
Yet when the apostle Paul wrote in many of his letters about God's gifts to us as individuals, he emphasized their essentiality to a community's spiritual health. Each gift has a value and purpose, Paul explained, because each comes from God. "There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work" (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
I no longer believe I'm "selfish" to honor my God-given dreams and gifts. In fact, I might be more selfish to think I'm so vital to the lives and well being of others that they won't be able to cope if I'm not there to show them how. I don't "serve" those people at all when I give up for their sakes everything that matters to me.
And I don't illustrate to others the importance of developing our gifts. My 11-year-old daughter has big plans for her life. If anyone can figure out how to be a veterinarian/Broadway star, she can. Certainly, the realities of adulthood will temper those dreams. But I never want her to abandon them altogether. I never want her to doubt they matter. And I never want her to forget who she is and how God created her to be. I want my daughter to walk where God leads, whether onto a stage or into an animal hospital. And if she's wearing character shoes when she does, that will be fine with me.
What dreams and passions have you put aside in the name of serving others? How could reconnecting with yourself actually honor God and benefit others?
Copyright © 2010 by the author or Christianity Today/Kyria.com.
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