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How do you see yourself?

little girl talent show

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Matt Paolelli - published on 05/10/24

Put on the mind of a young child who can remain blind to the judgment of others and rest in the confidence of a loving God.

In my nearly eight years in the profession, I have learned that being a dad means being routinely flabbergasted.

Exactly how my flabber will be gasted at any given moment is always a great mystery until the moment arrives. Sometimes it’s due to an unexpectedly witty or sarcastic retort from my five-year-old son that should invite reprimand, but also elicits a certain pride at his precocious cleverness. Other times I’m flabbergasted by the fit thrown by my four-year-old over something as meaningless as too much jelly on a piece of toast or the wailing and gnashing of teeth, because I told him to put on his shoes.

But my favorite flabbergastery stems from the moments when my kids teach me a deeply insightful lesson about myself or reveal a basic truth through the pure innocence of their childhood.

This happened most recently when my seven-year-old daughter Maddie announced that she wanted to partake in her school’s talent show with a solo singing performance of one of her favorite songs. On the surface, this was no surprise, as even at this tender age my daughter has a magnificent natural singing voice and loves to both arrange and perform in the long-running variety show that pops up on random evenings in our basement.

But orchestrating a song-and-dance number with her three younger brothers for a parental audience is a far cry from standing alone on a stage to serenade a crowd of preschoolers through eighth graders. This is the grade school equivalent of an appearance at Carnegie Hall.

Nevertheless, she was committed to the idea. She printed out the lyrics and committed them to memory. My brother — a gifted cantor himself — came over to give her a private lesson and offer a few tips on the best way to belt out the tune. Our Alexa device no doubt grew weary of playing the studio version of the song on repeat so often that I even caught my two-year-old son sing-shouting snippets of lyrics he could not possibly comprehend, now living rent-free in his head by osmosis.

As the day approached, the stakes increased. Thinking it might be difficult or smothering to have the song’s instrumental track playing in the background, Maddie decided she would go a cappella. It would just be her on a stage with a microphone — making it or breaking it in front of several hundred students.

Before we go any further, I want you to imagine yourself doing this, and I assume you will understand my flabbergastion. Countless people have a fear of public speaking, much less singing without a safety net for classmates and other students who would love to remind you of your failed, embarrassing attempt for the rest of your days at the school.

Maddie is not an outgoing or attention-seeking person by her nature. She is thoughtful and sensitive. She feels deeply. She has big emotions and she has deep faith.

I have to believe that in some way her faith in God contributed to her having the confidence in her talent to sign up for this show, to believe that she could do it despite her nerves, and to actually stand in front of the crowd and make it through the entire song without faltering or blushing or running away in tears.

But that’s exactly what she did — and it’s much more than I would have done. Tears filled my eyes as I saw my little daughter up on the stage, dressed like a little grown-up and filling the auditorium with the power of her voice.

The pride I felt for my daughter extended to all the kids in the talent show who chose to put themselves out there and not hide their lamps under a bushel basket, but rather place them on a lampstand, where they can “give light to all in the house.” (Matthew 5:15)

I found that my pride was actually tinged with a hint of sadness at my own fallen state — and the realization that these kids might eventually look back on video footage with more mature eyes that cast a pall of embarrassment or regret over the obviously imperfect display of their talents. I despise the idea that Maddie might one day be ashamed of this sweet moment or scoff at it, when it actually reveals the way in which we should all see ourselves.

Watching Maddie on the stage, I felt like I was seeing her as God sees all of us. We are not perfect, but even in our imperfections, God is delighting in us, especially when we are using and appreciating the gifts he has given us.

Unfortunately, we too often allow ourselves to sit in the audience covered in the fig leaves of our insecurities and fears when we should be up on the stage — perhaps singing off-key and maybe dancing awkwardly — but nevertheless rejoicing in the knowledge that we are made in the image of God despite our weaknesses. And therefore we are beloved.

Maddie was energized by her successful performance and the ensuing ovation. She is already making plans for next year’s talent show and encouraging her eligible younger brother to take the stage, too.

So here’s my encouragement to myself and to you: Cast off the shackles of self-doubt and the lies of the Evil One that seeks to diminish you. Put on the mind of a young child who can remain blind to the judgment of others and rest in the confidence of a loving God who made us each so perfectly unique and complete when we rest in Him.

It’s time for your solo, but you won’t be alone.

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