Wednesday, September 25, 2013

True Story: I'm Competitive

There's something about me I don't like to admit. I've carefully hidden it for years. The first time I remember I was six and my family was playing the game, Life. I enjoyed lining up my "money" under the edge of the game board and removing it like a cashier, which was my dream job at the time. After all, cashiers got to push such fun-looking, chunky buttons. And the scanning, "Beep, beep..." But I digress. 

During this particular game, my "cash drawer" was almost empty. Especially at the top end. It dawned on me that I wasn't going to win and I felt two things. First, this was an appropriate thing to happen to me (I had a bit of a victim mentality) and second, I didn't want anyone to see me feeling humiliated, because that would be So I pretended not to care. When I knew I couldn't compete, I acted as though I'd never wanted to.

But I am competitive. When I say that word, I see angry people in sport competitions or tempers flaring over a table game. I'm way too disciplined for that kind of competitiveness so I assumed I'd dodged this character flaw. Turns out, mine's just a sneakier version that I bottle up inside. I remember actually telling myself, "It's alright, Self. Be cool and maybe you'll catch them from behind." The secret weapon; the steady tortoise. It was the only hope I had. 

But why was it so important to win anyway? To be the best? Somewhere along the way, I got the idea that the one who's BEST at something is the only one who's important. That's why it's shameful to fall short of best. I need to know I have value, so I strive for the tippy-top. I refuse to accept anything less. So if proteges and experts make up a tiny percent of the human race, that kind of thinking deems all others worthless? This makes no sense so where did we get this idea? 

I have no idea, but I can point to one instance where my thinking's been skewed. Thanks to technology and wealth, I can easily choose the very best to enjoy. Imagine a pioneer family who rarely had company. The only music they enjoyed was the music they themselves could make, unless a traveler passing through happened to share his or her talent while they spent time together. Do you think they dissected the performance or smiled with wonder at the variety that added to their joy. 

I too, sit in my living room and get a hankering for some music. But I choose the very best orchestra to play my very favorite arrangement of Canon in D, if that's what strikes me. They make no errors, which pleases me. But this same me has to decide whether or not to sing for church. I'm spoiled by the habit of thinking only "the best" can be enjoyed. When I compare myself to my favorite voices, I wonder who in their right mind would want to listen to me? 

About a year ago, I was missing some musicians that no longer shared their talents at church. I loved them because the lyrics they sang were amazing and the melodies were thoughtful and rich. I was even stewing a bit, thinking, "Why doesn't someone sing songs like those anymore?" Then I remembered I can sing, or did in another life, so maybe I should stop complaining and start contributing. 

This made perfect sense until I got up front and was so nervous I couldn't breathe and my mouth was so perfectly dry, I actually choked on my tongue a little. While I sang the song. It was an easy song. I could sing it first thing in the morning after falling out of bed. But I couldn't sing it without breathing and so what came out was the wobbliest sound I've ever heard. Afterward, people told me, "I didn't know you could sing!" and I thought, "You are probably still wondering if I can..." 

The job I did might have been pleasing in the smaller churches where I grew up, but we go to a big church, where people get up front who aren't so scared and their voices come out smooth. I felt presumptuous. Where did I get the idea I was good enough to sing here? I imagined folks saying, "In a church this big, there wasn't anyone better than that?" These were my low moments. But I want you to see the competitive mindset in all it's ugly glory.

Now, there's a video. Thanks to my church's bigness, it's preserved for all time, or at least a while, over here. As is the entire service, so if you want to see what I'm talking about, you'll have to scroll down to the big player and pick Oct 27, 2012. I start at 22:41, which you can skip to once it loads that far.

So now you know I wasn't exaggerating. Or you think I have a sweet little shaky voice, but usually it's not, so this didn't scream "Your best EVER!" But I'm not the person I used to be and I didn't freak out. I believe flawed things can be a blessing and even enjoyed. I clung to that all through the song and after. It was during that song that the speaker's baby first moved. It was during that song that people said they were inspired. They thanked me. And I did my darndest to be gracious, although the part of me that doesn't get it tried to shout, "You haven't seen anything yet! Just think how I would've sounded if I was BREATHING!"  

Could it have been more? Yes, if I were alone or the audience was actually in their underwear. But that's not what matters. It was enough. Enough to bless. Enough to be enjoyed. A lady who's children are grown suggested I find an old person who's in a home to take my young kids to visit. "Even when they are babies, just lying on the blanket, old people love to just see them and have little ones around." I thought about that, surrounded as I was by little ones. Drowning in little ones. What would it be like in a nursing home where you rarely saw newborn arms jerking and legs kicking. She said as they grew, they could share their talents like drawing and singing with their friend. 

That's when I saw the light. Long before my kids play concert piano (no - that's not on the agenda), they can share their gift. We don't have to wait until it's all polished and perfect to present it to the world. We can do it now, trusting that it's enough. We are enough. Which makes it time to share. 

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