Vulnerability 103: Approval of Man
Updated: Jan 23, 2019
The past couple weeks have been a doozy. I’ve wanted to share how much dancing has done for me, but dancing simply shed light on an identity problem I’ve had for a while. Each draft of this journal has spent so much time on historical events that did not show a confidence problem with dancing. It was story after story of misplaced identity. It was story after story of fighting for approval. Truly, swing dancing has been the catalyst for so much good in my life; however, I cannot deny that pushing through discomfort has opened this fortified pandora’s box of struggles I’ve buried. Left with the problem of penning something unauthentic to meet my own deadline, I elected to take some time away from writing. Goodness that was a shot to my pride and an offense to the underlying issue of my desire for your approval. Here I am on draft number 4 and I’m ready.
Identity - Bliss
I remember moving the furniture around in the living room to make space for my sister and I. Sometimes we’d race around the outside of the furniture on plastic bicycles. As the older brother I’d always make up the rules so I’d win. The whole event was to my mother’s displeasure because it destroyed her beautiful hardwood floors, yet she never said much. I can only imagine that she withheld her distaste for these silly bikes because she saw how incredibly happy my sister and I were. Other times we’d move the furniture back so we could have dance parties. “Band On the Run” by Paul McCartney and “Ride the Train” by Alabama, those were the songs my sister and I would dance to. Oh my lanta, dancing at the time had nothing to do with being good. At a certain level my offbeat and spastic movement had to be comical to my parents. I could not care any less though; I was having so much fun. The weight of other people’s opinions ceased to exist and their approval was of no concern to me.
Identity - Academics
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30
Middle school is where life starts to come together for most of us because we become much more aware. In many ways, I believe this is where I learned to bottle things up. Furthermore, it is where I believe I learned what fear of disapproval was. Speaking in generalities, relationships more or less govern our school years and, with the idolatry of romanticism having been ingrained on our formative minds, we find identity in them. Dating and dances in middle school were simply a popularity contest and ya boy over here was not the popular kid. Do not let me deceive you though. I had many friends and tended to float between friend groups, but I was not the guy.
I had a knack for school. I started to realize I did not have to work for it and began to find rest in it. It was my escape when I couldn’t dance as well as others. When I couldn’t get a date. When I couldn’t start on the football team. I knew I would have school. I knew I could impress people with wit, and soon it became common for me to match wits with people. This identity ultimately carried over when I started high school.
Identity - Morality
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 2 Corinthian 5:17-18
I moved to a new school for high school, and it wasn’t long before Holden School knew that the new kid was really smart because, well, that was my identity and I portrayed myself that way. This identity lead to much arrogance, and with arrogance comes a terrible standoffish attitude. When I think back to one of my best friends, James, inviting me to youth group at the local baptist church, I wonder why? I was a self-proclaimed Catholic and, again, an arrogant jerk… Ask him about it if you ever get the chance. Yet, something started to happen. The more I heard about this man named Jesus and what He offered, the more I was intrigued. All the misplaced identity from middle school intensified my freshman year. I became more and more closed off, but the promise of Jesus was freedom and rest. It was enticing.
It took over a year for me to accept this freedom and rest, but the summer of 2010 my life changed. The best way I can describe it is like dancing in my parents’ living room as a child. Bliss. Free of shame. I went from being an unlikable jerk to a likable (maybe.. Ask my friends) friend. However, through my final two years of high school, I traded my freedom and identity in Jesus back in for wit and elevated morality. It so quickly became veiled righteousness and a social club. There was still much growth and much life change, but my inner pride and reputation for now being the guy I wasn’t in middle school consumed me.
Much of my judgement of my peers and family was shameful, but I had friends affirm me. I was still hurting, though. I was still fearful of doing things like dancing because I was picked on my freshman year. I still questioned why the girls I liked didn’t reciprocate when everyone said how much of a nice, solid guy I was. I still found solace in being able to win arguments. Yet, I never saw any of these issues worth confessing. After all, I was this put together Christian. I couldn’t disappoint my friends in the faith and I definitely couldn’t give a foothold to the people who wanted to mock my faith. So, I continued to be the solid surface-level morality police.
College & Early Career
Identity - Idolatry
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. - Romans 1:21-25
This gradual drift from the initial freedom I once found in Jesus became less and less gradual as college progressed. It became lip service, but at least I wasn’t getting wasted and flunking out of college… Right? I had become a cultural Christian. The issues I had developed in middle school gripped my soul again; only this time I had a young lady that actually seemed like she wanted to be with me. Over time my need for approval and my idolization of this perfect cookie-cutter Christian marriage proved to be a slow and painful poison. I was stuck between two masters: my inner desires of marriage, looking good, being wanted, control, and conceit and my ultimate desire to truly have peace again. I rode the train all the way off the cliff and, in the process, caused much collateral damage. My hurt caused others to hurt.
Here’s where amazing happens though. You’ve had me tell you all this pain and share all this ugliness. Get ready for the adrenaline because this part gets me going.
Identity - Humble Recovery
You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever! - Psalm 30:11-12
When left sitting at ground zero of the bomb I had detonated, I saw nothing. Friends and family were wounded because of me. They wanted to help, but I am stubborn and refused. Therefore, I saw nothing and decided I had nothing left emotionally. I decided my life was an utter mess. Since, I had decided it was a complete mess I did two positive things. I joined a new church, Watermark, and I went to try swing dancing. January 18th, 2018 marked the first time I ever took a dance lesson with Fort Worth Swing Dance Syndicate (FWSDS). Good gravy, I learned just how much rhythm I didn’t have. I was so skittish and concerned with what people thought that I left right after the lesson… But oh. My. Lanta. I had so much fun doing the simplest thing. Rock-step. Triple-step. Triple-step. You can bet I went back the next couple weeks. Then I finally mustered up the confidence to dance after the lesson; it didn’t go so well. So, I tucked my tail and went on a 3.5 month hiatus.
During that time my faith was reignited. My friendships became deeper. My pride shrank and my humility grew. I missed dancing though, so in June I went full force with the confidence and freedom that Christ promised. My old community group came out for the lesson that was being taught by some of my now good friends. The following weeks were so out of character for me. I was having so much fun. I had few inhibitions. I had a tiny bit more rhythm and a whole lot of smiles. I think the pinnacle of this not-normal Tayler came when one of the instructors had told me she likes that I take risks with my dancing. If I recall correctly, I think I audibly laughed. I’m the most calculated and risk-averse person I know; yet, she was right. I was taking risks. I was living in the uncomfort and finding rest in not having to impress anyone.
Over time, the FWSDS community became a large part of my life. I didn’t, and don’t, feel the need to impress them. I simply enjoy their friendship. From lessons, to late night tacos, to deep conversations, to game nights, to simple laughter and my inevitable high-fives, I’ve made so many awesome friends. They deserve to be recognized: Jerry, Brigette, Sarah, Alex, Linh, Nestor, Morgan, Kenzie, Quan, Jet, Melissa, Lester, Donna, Jack, Jennifer, Allison, Connor. All of you. All of you uplift me. All of you have encouraged me in some capacity. All of you have motivated me. All of you are joy to be around.
Yet in October, I wanted to quit dancing (I promise there is a happy ending). The pattern of desiring approval was on the rise and it was quickly gaining momentum. I wanted to be good and it wasn’t happening at my pace. I felt embarrassed and the easiest way to not be embarrassed and not feel dumb was to run. Run and fortify my issues. I didn’t want to, though; I wanted the joy to return.
I began to pray for God to do something and that I needed Him to help me break this cycle of having freedom and relinquishing it. I remember the night I was about to be done. I was coming back from Sons of Hermann with a friend who has a keen eye and she could tell I was not having a good time. As I opened up and shared my struggle, she listened and hit me with wisdom. This moment was so profound to me and echoed truth I had heard before. However, this time it clicked and I had to write it down so I could tell other people. Here’s an excerpt from 11/1/2018:
“... I pled my case again. I opened up that dancing is something that I am struggling to get and that I feel like I look dumb doing it in public. I love it so much in the comfort of my home. There is such thing as a screw up in private. She listened, and then hit me with wisdom. It is tough and uncomfortable to be i vulnerable. Yet, we shouldn’t shy away from being in an uncomfortable/needy state. Our pride tells us that neediness isn’t good, but God desires us to be needy. He desires us to be dependent on Him! Oh. My. Lanta.”
From that point on I’ve been open about my confidence issue. It gets easier every time too. This is largely in part to my awesome swing dancing community. They push me. They encourage me. They allow me to live in my state of discomfort. I know not all people will be as accepting as they are. I know this, but it’s okay. It’s now a little over a year since I took my first swing dance lesson and you’ll see me sitting on the sidelines sometimes. I promise I’m not wanting to stay there; I’m simply gather up the energy because it’s still hard and uncomfortable. Continue to push me. Continue to give me tips. Laugh with me when I inevitably get off beat and jack it all up. One day my dancing may be more refined, but I refuse to get so inundated with success that it robs me of the joy of dancing. That would do nothing but give way for my destructive life patterns to continue.
You see, dancing didn’t save me. Jesus did. God, however, is good in the smallest ways sometimes. Never in a million years would I think that dancing would be a way to facilitate the rehabilitation of my crooked heart. It was something I found great joy with as a child, refused to do because of judgement, and now do to combat that same fear of judgement.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
A Crooked Stick