She was so twirlable! It was impressive how easy she was to lead. She was relaxed, pliant, trusting, competent, and joyful. She’d hold on as I navigated her around other couples sparkling under the mirrored disco ball.
In those days, my sister and I would regularly go downtown to dance. Rarely was there a guy who had moves to match the likes of John Travolta, so we danced with each other. Before we’d go, we would practice in our living room. Twirls on the carpet always preceded spins on the hardwood. We certainly weren’t professional dancers, or even lessoned dancers, but we held our own on the parquet floors at multiple Chicago venues, and I loved it! Truth be told though, even though I absolutely enjoyed dancing, it didn’t matter who I danced with back then, because dancing was more a form of exercise than a partnership.
One night my sister found us dancing partners…or rather, found herself a dancing partner who happened to have a wingman. She took off with the tall one and I got to dance with Henry. A quiet, dark haired guy, Henry was fashionably clothed in baggy, pleated slacks and a sharp collared, silk shirt. My initial reluctance evaporated once we hit the dance floor because Henry was an excellent dancer, and that’s all that mattered.
On regular occasions we’d organically run into each other. We rarely spoke, and never socialized. We danced. And when we danced it was my turn to twirl, my turn to trust and my turn to follow. However, having so much experience leading my sister, I would often slip back into leader mode. When this happened, I was met with the strength of Henry’s capable hands. With a halting jerk, he’d steer me back to center. In that space, his dark, piercing eyes would remind me that he was the one who was leading. These mis-steps would interrupt our rhythm and flow, and we’d have to take a second to reset before he’d oversee another spin, and I’d make another attempt to follow better.
It wasn’t until years later, on my wedding day, that I would discover the ingredient that turned this exercise into a partnership. The DJ featured a dance with the bride by each groomsman. This called for a brusque stint, with ten guys, through a single song. What I recalled was the different way each of them slow danced; one rocked, one swayed, one stood in place, one bopped up and down. Each had their own style and feel, and when I finally found myself in my new husband’s arms, everything changed. Awkwardness fled as my body let out a sigh that said, “Yes, this is the right place.” This was my first true partnership on the dance floor; for while Henry was competent, there was no affection, and affection made following an entirely different experience.
These memories were part of the picture that God gave me during a meditation that asked the question: how does Jesus love you? This question came on the heels of a lesson God was working in my heart. The lesson began during my trip to Africa. It was a leadership development trip that was made up of a team of leaders. We were a powerful pack of eight, with multiple talents and a single heart to follow God across the world. We were diverse in age and experience, yet united in the fact that we were all leaders in some form or fashion.
It didn’t take long for me to notice that competency permeated the group. If you know me, you know that I highly admire competency! We hadn’t even made it to our destination when people were stepping up, making decisions, problem solving, and directing as a unit. I remember saying in my heart, “Oh, I don’t have to lead here. Someone else has got it,” and it surprised me how wonderful it felt!
The confidence I had in them surprisingly delivered a very physical effect—I was relaxed. My body and my mind were able to go with the flow because I trusted everyone that was leading. My muscles weren’t tense and my breathing wasn’t shallow. Not having to be “on” allowed my mind to open up to more of my surroundings. This relaxed experience was something that was foreign to me. From point A, back to point A, I was in good hands and I experienced, for the first time, how it physically felt to follow.
When I returned from the trip, I stayed with God in the revelation of following so confidently, trustingly, and easily. In my prayers I heard Him say, “These are mere men (& women). If it was easy to follow them, how much easier to follow Me?” Staggering conviction overcame me, covering me in the weight of sadness. It brought back the memory of Henry’s dark, piercing eyes when he’d halt my mis-steps and pull me back to center. I realized, “Oh my, that’s how I have been following God,” my herky-jerky style of following has been interrupting the Holy Spirit’s flow, rhythm, and lead, all these years.
I hope you can feel the impact of that revelation the way I did. It was so powerful to examine the way that I follow God. In all honesty there’s a lot of striving on my part; muscles that get tense, breathing that gets shallow, and a mind that can miss out on a whole lot. I saw that God was inviting me to enjoy following Him in a joyful and relaxed way, but realized how much I was actually leading in His place.
During that meditation, when I explored the ways God loved me, a series of images unfolded. I saw the scars on Jesus’ back, followed by individual cameos of the faces of the people that I love. That all sounded like me and felt familiar, but then, the scene changed and I saw myself dancing with a specter-like figure. There was no disco ball, it was more like we were dancing the Viennese Waltz. My posture was supported by strong, extended arms, our midsections were close, and our eyes locked as we floated about a dramatically dark background. The feel of the dance was notable. Our moves were an elegant, intimate partnership. I rested in His arms, yet actively participated. I followed with trust, confidence and admiration.
During my meditation it occurred to me that the specter-like figure was actually the Holy Spirit. Much like my dance with my husband, this partnership felt oh, so right. This new image of dancing with God forged itself into my head and heart to overwrite my existing understanding of following.
I had always pictured following Jesus as literally being behind Him; wanting to grab the tassel of His robe, and grateful for the dust that His sandals kicked up in my face. Sometimes I’d picture us walking side-by-side as He’d guide me. Proximity was everything, but, never, ever, ever, did I imagine I could follow face-to-face in the same way as a dance! That type of closeness was an affection I had never imagined.
The sweetness of that picture brought me to tears; so grateful was I for a God who wants to dance with us. He wants to hold us, navigate us across the floors of our lives, whisper in our ears and look deeply into our eyes.
This newfound notion of following has been very profound. The picture of myself, in an affectionate partnership, holding on to capable arms as I’m led across the dance floor, brings such relief. I can’t even calculate the physical benefits of following this way, but I do know the spiritual benefit, because it takes such pressure off, and that has been such a gift.
To honor this insight, I have chosen the word FOLLOW to lead me through 2020. This beautiful picture will be a reminder to dance with and depend on God throughout the year. Body, mind, heart, and soul will remember to relax, stop striving, and start enjoying the partnership where the Holy Spirit competently and lovingly twirls and spins me.
God blessed me with a verse to hold as a banner over my year. It is in 2 Kings 18, and refers to King Hezekiah, who was totally devoted to God, like no other King. (I took the liberty to personalize it):
For she held fast to the Lord. She did not depart from following Him…Kings 18:6-7a
And the Lord was with her;
wherever she went out, she prospered.
Sinking into this Word everyday keeps the affection, joy, and relaxation of this new way to follow alive in my heart. I hope you too can experience the rest and intimacy of following in new, personal ways this year. Allow God to thread together aspects of your life, in order to gain more insights into His love. Go before Him today and ask the question that started it all: “How do you love me Lord?”* and see what God delivers. Share your insights here to encourage us all and give glory to God.
*Special thanks to @TheDailyStill , Cindy L. Helton, author of #TheDailyStill podcast and creator of that great meditation that brought such powerful insights. You can find her on Spotify and iTunes.
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