I used to think I could really sing, but now I know better. Now, certain friends and family members of mine would argue with this statement, so let me clarify. I sing well enough. I sing well enough to harmonize with my husband and kids in the car, well enough to sing out during the acapella part of the worship set at church, and well enough to sing a phrase or two in front of my seventh grade students to illustrate a point. I would add lullabies to this list, but I was once silenced by my two-year-old daughter as I sang her to sleep. Her mouth full of pacifier, she didn’t make a sound, but instead covered my mouth mid-chorus with her chubby little hand. Smiling politely from behind her paci, she closed her sleepy eyes, let her little arm fall against me, and drifted off to sleep.
Like I was saying, I used to think I could sing. As a matter of fact, when I was just seven, I felt ready for the stage. I had been singing my whole life, after all. I had a microphone of my very own and everything. Then, one Sunday evening, a woman in my mother’s church ensemble got sick and couldn’t make it to their performance. Convinced that it was meant to be, I was glad that I had chosen to wear my special bell-bottomed overalls with the red rick-rack trim that evening. All the way to church, I begged my mother to let me take the woman’s place.
From the back seat of our station wagon, I made my case. “Please, Mommy,” I pleaded through the gap where my front tooth had been only weeks before, “I can do it! I don’t sound like a little girl anymore. I sound just like you. Listen.” Smoothing my long braids to each side, I closed my eyes, leaned my head back, and filled the car with my loudest and best vibrato. I tried very hard to sing with emotion like the Gaithers did, adding a twang here and a breathy note there. For effect, I ended my audition with an extra long note that took a couple of breaths to complete.
When I finally ran out of air, I opened my eyes. My little sister sat beside me on the bench seat wide-eyed and silent, her mouth hanging open, no doubt amazed by my talent. Anxiously, I met my mother’s gaze in the rearview mirror. She didn’t applaud, but I knew why. She needed her hands to drive.
I don’t remember how she turned me down, but she did and managed not to hurt my feelings in the process. I remember feeling genuinely sorry for the ladies that they would have to go on without me. I never once thought that the problem might be me.
I also used to think that I was spiritually mature. For instance, I remember being a child who never took the Lord’s name in vain and thinking that those who did must love the devil. I remember putting money in the plate and wondering why the person next to me didn’t. I remember memorizing Bible verses with my family and taking every opportunity to quote them in front of people that I knew did not memorize Bible verses with their families.
Of course, I was just a child when I did those things, but my childish behavior didn’t stop when I grew up. In college, even after having made some terrible mistakes of my own, I was still quick to compare myself to others in areas that I felt I had mastered, praying, reading my Bible regularly, and loving people whom some had trouble loving. Years later, as a minister’s wife, I was a little too quick to judge and correct at times, wearing my position like a policeman’s badge when I was feeling particularly spiritual. Looking back, I know that God worked through me during that time, but it hurts to think that He worked in spite of my faults, not as a result of my noteworthy obedience and faithfulness. Honestly, on this side of that chapter in my life, I wish I had it to do over again. I would be kinder, more patient, more forgiving, and more hospitable this time around. Although I truly loved the people in the churches where we were blessed to serve, this time I would love them more sincerely and sacrificially.
Even now, I would like to say that I have learned my lesson and grown up a little bit, but just this morning, a fellow believer did something that caused me to shake my head and “tsk” to myself. Before I knew it, my pride puffed up like an inflatable life jacket and almost choked me, and I am beginning to think that spiritual maturity is not something that can be reached this side of Heaven. Maybe, as we struggle side by side to be what God created us to be, we should all just assume that we’ve a long way to go before we are ready to invite the applause of others and just focus on the task at hand. Maybe then there would be unity and peace and progress in the Church. Don’t you agree? If not, that’s fine. Maybe you are not the problem. Maybe it’s just me.