“Our identity rests in God's relentless tenderness for us revealed in Jesus Christ.” ― Brennan Manning, Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
My daughter decided she wanted to take ballet lessons when she was two years old. It was the first of her extracurricular selections and I was apprehensive. I knew she would follow through; I just wasn’t sure how the experience would progress for all parties involved. Becca is the most delightfully stubborn creature I have ever known. She makes determination downright cute. She’s small and scrappy like my tiny great-grandmother, Golden Marvel Bartlett. I just wasn’t sure how her no-nonsense personality would work in a toddler dance environment. The shadow side of her two-ton resolve was that no one could force her to participate in something she had already decided against.
Sure enough, she’d spend that first year of lessons happily suited up, standing in the right spot, quiet and focused, intently listening to every word her teacher spoke, watching every move demonstrated time and time again, but rarely moving herself. She would just stand still, hands clasped, pinching her left thumb.
I’ll never forget her first recital. Her class took the stage in their precious little pink tutus. Becca was on the end of the dance line, stage right. I knew she knew that routine. But as the music started to play, true to her pattern, she froze. It wasn’t stage fright or nerves; it was just what Becca did. The tiny dancers spaced out around her fumbled through their pirouettes, plies, spins, and twirls, but there she stood—counting headlights on the highway—staring a heat-vision hole through the audience. Becca wasn’t dancing.
“Dance, Becca, dance!” I said in a loud whisper from the third row. “A year’s worth of lessons and she just stands there!” I lamented to my wife. And that’s when the mysterious Spirit of God rushed in—yet again sanctifying another of life’s seemingly mundane moments. “Just look at how beautiful she is standing there,” I heard God say. I forgot all about the dance recital and just looked upon my precious daughter—perfect and brilliant. I started to smile. My heart became full with how much I loved her. I was so proud of who she was just standing there. I felt a sense of warm pride wash over me. That’s my daughter—my child. And in that very moment God affirmed His similar love towards me.
I’m a Type-A, people-pleasing workaholic with mild OCD and an honest work ethic 50 years gone. I’ve spent most of my life defining my worth by what I do. Working in ministry has made this complex even more complicated. I know in my head that God loves me for who I am—I’ve even preached that truth to youth for 20 years. I’ve claimed Romans 5:8 and John 3:16 as my favorite Bible verses for three decades. But the stubbornness that lives inside my daughter comes honest, and actually trusting in my own heart that God’s love for me was really unconditional and kind—not at all based on my performance, rather rooted in His hesed was a separate matter than my knowledge and proclamation. I was, unintentionally, in the thickness of striving for God’s favor in my accomplishments. “The way you see your daughter now is the way I see you, my child. You don’t have to do a single thing to gain my love. Your worth is found in who you are to me. I don’t love you because you dance, but I did create you to dance.” Dance, then, wherever you may be, I am the Lord of the Dance, said he. And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be, and I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.
“Dance, Becca, dance!” I cheered aloud again, with a whole new understanding of my urging. I wanted to see her turn and sway not for my approval or anyone else in that audience, but for her own joyous delight. Thank you, Sweet Ballerina, for helping me see the heart of the Father. Thank you, Lady Wisdom, for breathing your Truth into a toddler’s ballet recital.