I’m not sure when it started. The timeline of my childhood memories blurs, so I rely on what I’ve been told. My parents have always said I sang before I talked. The melodies of “Shop Around” and “Sunshine on My Shoulders” crossed my two-year-old lips frequently.
I perfected the art of performing at an early age. I learned how to put on a show. I mastered the skill of becoming someone else to earn the approval and love of those in the audience. If I feared belonging, I impersonated someone who would belong. If someone had expectations, I not only met them, I exceeded them to make sure the person would be pleased—and I wouldn’t be rejected.
After decades of operating this way, a significant problem arose: I couldn’t keep up with the circus act. Living this way requires enormous effort and a ton of work. It exhausts a person. I grew weary, unable to meet the expectations. Working so hard to belong and then not fitting in drained me.
Fear settled in. I wanted so much to just step off the stage and drop the act, but I wondered if I would ever be enough. Would anyone ever accept me? If people knew the real me, how would they ever love me?
Fear shackles shame. Fear shines a spotlight on shame, saying, “Dance!” All of us long to be fully known. To be told we have value. To be loved as we are. We fear it will never happen. It’s something we don’t advertise outright because that would just be plain crazy. So instead, we parade around, silently begging for the approval of others while we do our song and dance, all the while fearing we will never be known, valued, and loved at all. So we sing. And dance. And parade around.
Psalm 27:1 says, “The Lord is my light and my salvation—whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—of whom shall I be afraid?” With this kind of God—a God who gave His life for you—on your side, you don’t need to fear.
Yet, we still struggle with fear. We still wrestle with belonging. We still fear we aren’t enough and never will be. We still grapple with putting forth enough effort to be valuable in God’s eyes, as though we have to earn His love. Shame shouts, “It’s impossible for us to be loved in our broken state,” and we believe it. We may believe God knows us, but it’s difficult to imagine God knowing us and loving us anyway. It seems too good to be true.
God gave us a gift of grace, unmerited favor. We do not deserve the forgiveness or the acceptance, but God gives it anyway. We are saved by His grace, not by anything we have ever done (Ephesians 2:8). Nothing we can do will ever erase our sin and shame. Our sin can be covered only by the blood of Christ. God made a way for us to step off the stage. We no longer have to live afraid.
You don’t have to perform anymore. You can come out, come out, wherever you are. Just as you are. Grace is yours. You are forgiven. You are seen, known, and deeply loved by the Creator of the universe. You are free.
About the Author
Laura Dingman spends most of her time creating and leading worship experiences that help connect people with the story of God. She has served in vocational ministry as the Creative Arts Director at The Creek, a large church in Indianapolis, for over a decade. She loves to show people where their story intersects with God’s story. She enjoys belting Broadway, laughing hysterically, reading great books, and living life with her favorite two people in the whole world, her husband, Matt, and her spunky daughter, Abigail. She is the author of I Am Found: Quitting the Game of Hide and Seek with God, Ourselves, and Others and This I Know: Trusting Your Unknown Future to a Known God. You can learn more about her journey and connect with her at lauradingman.com.