Breaking the Grip Of Self-Consciousness

I was taking a class of improvisational tap dance. I loved it-and I dreaded it. Winged feet were what I wanted, but whenever my turn came, they seemed barely animate.

Early in the course, the teacher asked each of us to choose a familiar jazz standard and to think of the tune while tapping it improvisationally with our feet. During every class, one or two students tapped out their choices while the rest of us guessed the tunes. When the course was almost over, I still hadn't mustered the courage to do mine.

I was so tired of being tied up in knots with anxiety about dancing in front of people; I finally prayed. I thought of how talents, abilities, and inspiration all have their source in God. The notion of Almighty God being nervous about anything struck me as ludicrous. I saw that if I really acknowledged Him as the source of my grace, rhythm, and spontaneity, these qualities would characterize my movement. After all, I don't have more power than God, so how could I obstruct what He is doing?

I started carrying a quotation in my wallet so that I could think about it during spare moments. It builds on the Biblical theme of our having been made in God's image and likeness. It was written by a woman who found the Bible immensely practical in dealing with every challenge of human experience, Mary Baker Eddy. Mrs. Eddy founded the Christian Science Church to help others discover the Bible's healing impact in their own lives. She states in her Miscellaneous Writings: ''Man is free born: he is neither the slave of sense, nor a silly ambler to the so-called pleasures and pains of self-conscious matter. Man is God's image and likeness; whatever is possible to God, is possible to man as God's reflection'' (p. 183).

The statement struck a chord with me, because I felt like ''a silly ambler'' on the dance floor. I realized that if I tried to be impressive while thinking of myself as self-conscious matter, I was drawing from very limited resources. But if I claimed my God-given freedom, my ability as His image and likeness to reflect all that He is-if I thought about expressing God instead of impressing the teacher-the possibilities of what could be achieved on the dance floor would be unlimited.

Christ Jesus said, ''I can of mine own self do nothing'' (John 5:30). If the Master recognized no personal ability to accomplish anything, we needn't try! But think what he achieved as he consciously reflected God in all that he said and did. Then think what we, as his followers, can achieve as we reflect God in our words and actions.

Some tap students mentioned that our teacher's birthday was coming up. We wanted to play a joke on him. I found myself offering to tap ''Happy Birthday'' with my feet as though it were a jazz standard. Halfway into my second rendition, students would begin singing ''Happy Birthday'' as I continued to dance. Someone would bring in a cake. So here was the whole class depending on me to launch this joke. You'd think I'd be more nervous than ever. But something unexpected happened.

My thought shifted entirely away from myself. I started thinking of the students' enjoyment of this good-natured joke and the teacher's happy surprise. I was a little scared when I started, but as I watched the teacher's unsuspecting face as I danced, all nervousness vanished. The joke went without a hitch, and everybody laughed a lot. Talk about turning points. I teach tap-dancing now. The immobilizing fear dissolved that day.

To escape the grip of self-consciousness, we need to think of ourselves less, and to think more of others and how we might bless them. It's important to acknowledge God as the rich source of ability, talent, and spiritual inspiration. Only then are we drawing from the unlimited resource, infinite intelligence. And where once we may have shuddered at the thought of having to ''wing it'' or improvise, we may now look forward to ''winging it'' in an entirely different way, selflessly expressing joy and inspiration with ''winged'' feet, winged words, winged thoughts!

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