“The real things in life are rarely center stage.”
(Fred Rogers, The Giving Box )
Monday, I celebrated two significant birthdays: a natural one—51 years old and a spiritual one—30 years old. It just blows my mind how fast life moves. Blink and you are in your fifties. Once again, the milestone of a birthday made me reflect.
On my 6th birthday, as a first grader at Holy Spirit Catholic School in Jacksonville, NC, I had to stand on the “white line” that ran in front of the convent. Center stage for the entire school to see. Instead of playing with my friends, I stood alone. Humiliating is the best way to describe that moment in my life’s story. If memory serves me, I was talking too much. Surprise! Surprise! It seems that from a very young age, my inability to remain silent was an issue (smile). I do remember my big sister, Susan, coming over to console me. God bless those nuns, but why, oh, why did they choose this type of external punishment? I was six. Seriously, just take me outside and talk to me. Rarely does external punishment precede true repentance.
What stands out in this memory isn’t the humiliation—I was six, nor the looks from the other children. What I most remember is missing out on playtime and the fact that I was standing all alone on that blessed white line. All alone—or so I thought. Looking through the lens of hindsight, perhaps God was preparing me for His purposes and plans. He knew I was going to talk too much. He knew I was going to have to stand alone. He knew I might ruffle the feathers of established religious expectations (represented by the rigid legalities of the nuns, who I actually really loved—Sister John Maureen and Sister Theresa) and sometimes color outside the lines or step “off the white line” of expectations and restrictions, even when they are administered by people I love very much. I also remember wearing little white go-go type boots with my uniform—just to add some spice! At six, I knew it needed some flair.
One other very important lesson stands out from my time on the white line: I missed out on playtime. It seems, from a very young age, the devil himself has had a very strong foothold in my life. Those formative years, when 85% of your personality is developed, were spent in the presence of very rigid nuns who unknowingly impressed this rigidity on my tender frame. Not only did I talk too much, I also innately wanted to do the right thing, so I suppose I somehow equated obedience with being sure I “towed the line.” Don’t have too much fun. Live life according to the standards of someone else–even if those standards are NOT God’s true standards for enjoying life.
Why do I share all this? Because this week, I heard someone say, “Don’t hog your journey. It’s not just for you.” This thought resonated deep in my soul. I recently asked God what my role in the body of Christ is. I heard him whisper, “Be a vocal cord. I gave you a voice. Speak the truth. Use it wisely.”
I don’t always use it wisely. Sometimes, I still talk too much and need to put myself on “the white line.” There is one big difference, though, now it isn’t about humiliation, it is about repentance and renewal. Currently, I’m involved in an eight-week Bible Study on “The Helper” by Catherine Marshall.
This week’s reading including these amazing thoughts:
“The heavenly Guest [The Holy Spirit]
made known his presence in my heart.
He began talking to me at odd moments throughout the day.
Sometimes even as I would open my mouth to speak,
there would be a sharp check on the inside.
I soon learned that the Helper sought to prevent careless
words or critical words or even too many words. Nor
would he tolerate even a trace of sarcasm, or faithless words of doubt or fear” (p. 84)
This year, I am even more committed to true heart change. Getting to the heart of the matter. Spending more time back stage than center stage. As Mr. Rogers said, “The real things in life are rarely center stage.” I want to work on really making sure my vocal chords are in great shape and good standing before God. If that means I have to take a few timeouts on the white line, then so be it. The bottom line:
“The Holy Spirit has not been poured out on you or me to prove how great we are,
but to prove the greatness of the Son of God.”