Have you ever had a moment when your life felt like a plane taking a nosedive? That nothing short of a miracle could save you from disaster? Perhaps you had a tough decision looming and couldn’t make up your mind; didn’t get the job opportunity or housing situation or scholarship that you had thought was the answer to your prayers; or felt that you messed up a relationship for good and life could never be the same.
Looking back on these moments in my life, I see that the crash never came – that oftentimes my life took a positive turn in a new, hitherto unimagined direction. It is hard to see this in the moment, though: uncertainty (i.e. lack of control) can be frightening. It can lead to hopelessness and apathy, or it can lead to a crippling effort to control the uncontrollable. When embraced in a healthy way, uncertainty does something entirely different: it enlivens and excites, and yes, it even offers a sense of freedom.
I recently began dancing Argentine tango, a discipline suffused with metaphor applying to life and relationships. Unlike its cousin, ballroom tango, Argentine tango is a social dance and has no default “basic step;” it is largely improvisational. The lead (usually a man) gives the follow (usually a woman) subtle signals to shift her weight, and then she steps back, forward, or sideways slowly or quickly, based on the direction and momentum of her partner’s frame. The goal in Argentine tango is for two partners to feel the music and express it together as one. A similar effort of two to join together to produce something beautiful is at the heart of all creation, including our relationships with others and with the Lord. The techniques I am learning to refine and improve my performance as a tango follow offer a glimpse of the order and trust that allows the Lord to lead us around life’s uncertain, yet wonderfully freeing, dance floor.
God is the lead, we are the follow.
A competent tango lead gets close to his partner without coercing or restricting her, or stepping on her feet. He looks ahead, and avoids crashes by leading his partner around obstacles. He pays attention to his partner’s individual style and abilities, and adjusts his lead so that she can understand and follow his moves. The lead gently invites the follow to move, but never forces her. If the follow makes a mistake and misses a lead, he takes what she does and turns it into something beautiful if he can, and continues on with the dance. The Lord does all of these things, if we allow Him the chance.
Argentine tango is a reciprocal dance. The lead cannot do his part properly, unless the follower is stable, centered, focused (on him), and ready to respond. Following is not a passive process; it involves keeping a firm, but supple frame, and engaging the muscles. It is the same in our lives: the Lord can only lead us well if we try to keep our lives in order, by keeping our priorities straight and keeping His commandments. When we meet an unexpected move with tenseness and resistance, it may be difficult for Him to lead us forward. The same goes for anticipating a step before it is led. If the follow places her foot down early, she may miss the move her partner intends. While the frame is important, we have to relax enough to feel His subtle leads. The Lord can easily lead a truly responsive, open follow through beautiful and complex patterns. When we reach beyond the fear of uncertainty, and say “Thy will be done” with a readiness to follow, He can work wonders in our lives!