By Aaron Mitchum
People seem to always want to find themselves when they watch a TV show with a strong ensemble cast. Whether it’s Friends, The Office or Parenthood we want to know where we fit in the story. For me this happened strongly with the show Seinfeld. I know every episode and every line and I find myself most at home with George Costanza. George was the short, balding, bad with women, completely neurotic (if not borderline) and yet affable character. When I have moments of awkwardness, humiliation or unforeseen vulnerability I quietly refer to them as my moments of George (“The Summer of George” anyone?).
Moments of George happen quite often for me and I have one friend in particular who used to cringe at these moments of mine. My friend would react to my Moments of George with the ridicule of a comment like, “classic Mitchum.” While that comment could be endearing it was usually uttered with a sense of distancing, as if he had no resonance with the humor and shame of committing a social fauxpas. I felt bad about myself when my friend responded that way. But I’ve found it intriguing as I look back on it now and see that his response was not one of validation for a need of my communal excommunication but as a marker of his own development (by the way my friend has continued to develop, he has grown to be a steady and safe person for others and I am grateful for his friendship).
It seems the truest sign of relational development is the willingness to accept our own absurdity to the point that we recognize it in other’s moments of imperfection. Perhaps this is close to what Martin Buber’s idea of the “I/Thou” relationship was about. This type of relating seems to be at the heart of authentic relationship, which is arguably what leading worship is all about.
How we relate as worship leaders matters. Having an on stage or speaker self and then an off stage self is not really an option for someone seeking to authentically lead worship. To the degree that we are incongruent with ourselves while with others we deny the power of worship. Authenticity is the stuff of a whole person who knows him or herself and doesn’t have to be afraid of vulnerability because of it.
Henri Nouwen said in The Wounded Healer that when our wounds are open and bleeding all over the place it’s scary to others and it’s scary to us. Wounds bleed when they are untended to. Ignoring our wounds allows us some comfort of pretending they don’t exist but it doesn’t stop the guiding pain of the wound. In other words, even though we may be blind to it, our untended to wounds still guide our actions. So we find ourselves using fake stage selves that project whatever message we think will get us acceptance or we engage in a kind of emotional exhibitionism that doesn’t produce the deeply satisfying collaborative creativity of vulnerability but rather the dissatisfaction of relational poverty or manipulation. And in the end, we still feel alone.
But, when we wrestle and explore our wounds with Christ, allowing him to be the salve that binds them, we no longer need to seek healing through a stage-self or exhibitionism. In addition, we find that because our bound up wounds are no longer scary to others or ourselves, we can now walk into those places of pain with others, offering them the gift of healing through Christ in us. Leaving us feeling genuinely connected.
When a Moment of George happens for me during leading worship it is tremendously tempting to disengage from vulnerability and allow my wounds of shame to take over. These say that I am embarrassing and I deserve to be abandoned for someone who is better. In other words, “Classic Mitchum.” I know I’ve done that when I lose eye contact, lose being present internally with those in the room, perform in a way that is hard to share, etc. Every time I do that though, I begin to bleed and the shared experience of worship gets fractured and depleted. But when I’ve been seeking my own health, outside of worship, I can weather those awkward moments with a whole self, trusting the Christ in others to recognize the Christ in me. And that kind of response is what creates a shared vulnerability that can turn mistakes into catalysts for moments of true connection.
In his final year of the MA in counseling program at Mid-America Nazarene University Aaron is a clinical intern at Resonate Relationship Clinic and a counseling intern at Serenity Life Resource Center. A veteran worship leader, he currently leads at Trinity Lutheran Church in Shawnee, KS. He lives with his family in urban Kansas City, KS.
Visit his blog here.