Let me know if this sounds familiar...
You are in church and the worship team is on fire! (Not Literally)
The song selection includes all your favorites and you can feel the vibrations from the music all through your body. Your soul is revived and you feel amazing as you sing praises to God. You want to dance and shout for joy, you want to lift your song up to the Lord! But you stand still, your hands holding on to the chair in front of you, singing just loud enough to blend in with the other voices.
Does this sound familiar? Is this you every Sunday?
I can't count the number of times I have wanted to let the music move my woefully uncoordinated body around in joy of the Lord, but instead, I remain still, gripping the chair in front of me so I don't fall over... did I mention I'm woefully uncoordinated?
So, why do I ignore the urge to dance for Jesus? I'd like to say it's because I wouldn't want to upstage the worship team with my crazy awesome moves. But, no. Instead, I stay still partly because it is how I was raised to act in a church and partly because I allow the possible reactions of others to dictate how I worship God.
Think about every movie you have ever watched with a church scene in it. Most likely, everyone is standing completely still, maybe holding a hymn book, maybe raising one hand to God, but absolutely not dancing for joy between the pews.
One of my favorite shows to binge is called The Middle. In one episode, the Heck's are invited to a friend's church. The Heck's are the typical middle-class white family and the friend is an African American male who has invited the family to his primarily African American church. My favorite scene is when they are visiting the church for the first time and the pastor asks a question to the congregation. They all shout out the answer and the oldest son, Axl, says "Cool, we can talk at this church!" The father then replies, "Not you." Then the choir starts singing and clapping and everyone gets up and starts dancing, singing, and clapping along!
I love this scene! The look on the faces of everyone in that family when they see the whole congregation joyfully worshipping, instead of just mumbling along to a song is amazing! I'm positive my face looked the same when I first found out that there was a more lively way of praising God every Sunday!
Growing up, I wasn't taught to worship God with joyful abandon. You stood up when told, stayed completely still, sang the songs at the appropriate indoor level, and then sat when instructed to sit. That was worship. There was also the prayer during the sermon that the worship team wouldn't come back up for one more song when the pastor was finished. There was no joy in the worship. I remember quite often feeling robotic.
Sadly, this still sticks with me today. I want to dance for joy and let the Holy Spirit move me, but good girls stand still and behave appropriately during service. However, even if I were somehow to move past that learned behavior, there is also the matter of my crippling insecurities and unwillingness to embarrass myself in front of those around me.
When I am alone in my home listening to music, I love to dance around and sing out loud. It doesn't matter that I am constantly bumping into walls and furniture or that I am flopping around like a fish out of water. There is no one around to laugh or make snarky remarks, so I am free to let the music move me ugly. If even just 1 person is in the room with me, their presence changes everything. I feel the warm blush of humiliation just thinking about it. I have never been able to be myself when someone else was in the room. The fear of rejection and ridicule is far too overwhelming.
In 2017, I hurt my back while working. Recently I was at a physical therapy appointment to get help when I was told I walk too stiff and straight. I wasn't allowing the movement of a natural gait to loosen up the muscles in my back, therefore causing the pain to worsen. The therapist then showed me how I was to walk to help me get movement back into that area. It looked so natural and easy to her, but when I tried it, I felt ridiculous. Swinging my hips from side to side felt unnatural and now whenever I go in public and walk the way I was told to, I feel embarrassed. I am sure I don't look silly, but it feels silly to the point where I don't do it if I can get away with it (meaning my husband isn't there to rebuke me). If I am willing to not walk the way a trained professional tells me to just to avoid embarrassment, there is no way I can dance around in a room full of worshipers at church.
Psalm 149:3 says "Let them praise His name with dancing; let them sing praises to Him with timbrel and lyre.)
Since the beginning of our relationship with God, we have danced in praise of Him. What happened? How did we go from an all-out, no holds barred expression of our love and gratitude for Him, to standing stiffly and mummering His praises? When did it stop being acceptable to dance around joyously for God? More importantly, when did it become okay to slowly and methodically train that form of praise out of our children? Have you seen young kids when a song comes on? I challenge you to try and stop them from dancing around in some form or another. Yet, by the time they are old enough to worship with the adults, it is gone. The natural inclination to move around and joyfully praise God with their entire boy is gone. It feels criminal and creates adults like me. Adults who want to dance and shout and sing and cry out praise for God, but instead tamp that down and merely sing at the appropriate level while standing still and staring at the lyrics on a screen.
If I was a first-time visitor to a church and I saw how Christians sing praise to God, I would wonder if they really enjoyed it or if they do it so they won't be struck down. I would wonder if the people in the pews had a love for God or if there were merely going through the motions out of fear. Now, being a Christian, I know that isn't true, but how it must look to those outside the church. I've seen more joyful movements from someone passing an exam than I have in a church on Sunday morning.
Now, I am not trying to be mean. The church I go to has a wonderful worship team and you can tell they put a lot of thought and practice into what they do. My church is filled with wonderful people who have helped me through some horrible situations and never expected anything in return. There are churches all across America just as wonderful... but why don't we praise God the way His people were supposed to? Why is it a chore more than the joyful activity it was meant to be? Why, if you are like me, do we allow how others might perceive us to dictate how we worship our Maker? This Sunday, I will go to church and I will stand when told to and I will read the lyrics off the screen as I clutch the chair in front of me, but inside... there will be a little girl dancing around and singing joyfully at the top of her lungs.