Blog | Lindsey Smallwood

Dancing

When Learning Looks Like Failing

Best of...Lindsey Smallwood

Over at Middle Places, we're thinking about learning this month. Turns out, my own learning hasn't been pretty lately...

Learning looks a lot like failing right now.

Like when I tried to teach a new song to kids at our church's VBS program last month. I hadn't practiced the motions before I started and ended up tripping myself and tumbling dramatically to the carpet. Much to the delight of the assembled four-year-olds watching my slow motion dance-tastrophe. 

Or the long strange silence reverberating through the sanctuary on a Sunday in June. The room should have been filled with the sound of the congregation reciting the Apostle's Creed. Except I assisted in worship and forgot what came next. Just totally forgot, even though I held the program in my hand. The silence might have gone on forever had the choir leader not stood up from his seat in the loft and prompted me that now would be a good time to affirm our faith together. In my flustered state, I called for the offering instead.

Nothing like standing up in front of 500 people and getting it all wrong.

Sometimes the failing looks less embarrassing and more endearing. Like this picture I snapped of my two-year old last month. Those sweet little shoes are on the wrong feet, but they’re on at all because he did it himself. He’s learning, figuring out a new skill one piece at time.

That’s the thing about learning anything that matters. Most of time making mistakes is part of the process. Experimenting and trying and failing and trying again.

I didn’t know this when I was younger. A lot of things came easily to me, especially academics. In fact, school was so easy for so long that when I began to struggle with upper level math and science courses in high school, I just assumed that those were beyond my abilities, that I wasn’t a science person. The truth is I hadn’t yet learned to persevere when things didn’t come easy to me.

But God in his great grace has given me a lot of opportunities to learn to persevere since then, challenging jobs, a long-term relationship and especially parenting  have all been spaces of learning how to fail — and try again. In all of these contexts and more, I’ve noticed the best and most important things in my life require carrying on even when it’s hard, even after you fail.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he reminds them of the calling to grow in our understanding and bear with each other. He writes:

Let us not become weary in doing good,

for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Galatians 6:9

 

Don’t give up! Keep on doing the right thing even when you’re weary, even when yesterday you made a spectacular mess of things. When we’re building toward what really matters, we keep our eyes on the final result, the harvest God has planned, not the ways we get tripped up on the way there.

Like the sweet VBS kids who managed to learn God’s truth through music despite my terrible dance moves. Or my son, who’s continuing to build skills allowing him to fulfill God’s purposes in his life someday.

And me. I’m signed up to assist in worship again next week. You better believe that I’ll be practicing in front of the mirror in hopes of avoiding another thundering silence. But ultimately I know I’m learning to lead, that the opportunity to work on a church staff and serve our congregation is a way that God’s growing me in this season.

Learning sometimes looks like failing. But as we persevere, even when we’d rather sit in the back row and not risk embarrassment, we move closer to the good things God called us to do.

This post originally appeared at Middle Places. 

Liturgical Dancing, A Bike Light, & Enya {Kari Wilhite}

Lindsey Smallwood

Oh you guys - today I get to bring you something special. Kari Wilhite is a writer whose words seem to dance and sing. She and her friend Holly collaborate on a blog I always enjoy reading called Dreadlocks and Goldilocks - go check out their pictures to see which one is which. Today Kari is sharing about how God used a silly moment in her living room to turn her heart. 

We were at a definite low-point in ministry, if not the lowest.  At our church for 13 years we were at a leadership stalemate that was tearing us apart.  For the bulk of our marriage I had been a fan of ministry but the situation we were in brought me to the point of wanting to hit the button that said “just forget it.”  My husband and I were not in agreement and the leadership conflict was taking weeks to mediate instead of just one simple evening meeting.  I gave my husband the silent treatment par excellence for the first time in our 20 year marriage. I would not budge.

One particular evening 3 of our 4 children engaged in a theatrical dance.  It was an out-of-the-ordinary experience and one I could not have anticipated; it must have been birthed in God’s heart. I am sure the kids felt the tension in the household between their father and I, although they had no idea what was going on with “church” stuff.  It was as if their movements were giving physical witness to what was happening within us.

And we just watched...

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I wanted to just
get them in bed
so I could too
hoping
tomorrow he would be
closer
to an answer.

I was just done.

Instead, God escorted me
to watch them,
our children,
dance
in an hour of
spontaneous theatrics.

I sat in darkness
arms folded
trying
to muster up
smiles of encouragement
for the cast
as he sat
across the room
in frame similar.

Enya played
beautifully loud
drowning out my
inner discourse
the shoutings of
“I’m just done with this church!
Just make a decision!
Let's make a change!
We don't have to be in "ministry" to serve Jesus!
Why won’t he listen to me?”

Bike-light became
strobe light
in-sync with deep, dark notes
past play-times it annoyed
but that night
its pulsating
soothed my nerves.

And they danced.

They took turns.
They danced alone.
They danced together.
They watched their
        silhouettes flash on the
        wall behind them where lonely fiddles hung.

They moved with the force
        of the strings
        and the drums.
They embraced one minute.
They dramatically, gently
        shoved to the ground
        the next scene.
They shadow-boxed,
        laughed, gave commands.
They switched roles of
        nurture, angst
        rescue, celebration
        respite, safety.

My agitated soul
God just held still
for that hour
as we watched this
play from heaven
from the innocence
of my babes.

At the time
I could only receive
half-heartedly
and now
I see it with
grace-clarity
with
extreme
gratitude.

This unexpected
gift from
another dimension
echoed my pain
nourished my depths
strengthened my moment
in a most
beautiful display.

///////

We made it through that leadership dilemma/opportunity/challenge and we are still at our church. It took time, prayer, vulnerability with friends and even some therapy. I am grateful and overwhelmed by God’s grace and provision in bringing my heart back around to falling in love again with where we are.  

///////

Kari Wilhite used to be a "pastor's wife" and now wholeheartedly enjoys being "Kari" who happens to be married to Steve, who happens to be a pastor. She loves befriending the disabled, solitude in her backyard, watching the Brady Bunch with her kids and doing spoken word at a local coffee joint. Kari lives in Bonney Lake, WA with her husband and 4 children. Find more by Kari at her blog, Dreadlocks and Goldilocks.

///////

Lindsey again. Don't you love how Kari paints us a picture with her words? Is there a season you need to "dance through" this week? Hop on down to the comments and to share your story (and thanks) with Kari.

Do you have a story to tell? Check out my guest post guidelines, I'd love to hear from you.