Many of us can’t imagine standing onstage to perform on Broadway or in front of a stadium full of people—or even in a school auditorium! But Allison Allen had been a performer everywhere from Broadway to Women of Faith conferences—until one day she suddenly found herself unable to face the spotlight. She joins us today with the story and with wise words about how we can stop playing a character meant for someone else and step into the true roles, and onto the God-stages, meant just for us. It’s a grace to welcome Allison to the farm’s front porch today . . .
I had finally found the perfect place to hide.
In the shadow of a sunburned bush in a nook of a California parking lot, I crouched, hunching into a ball far smaller than my six-foot-tall self would normally allow.
My hand shielded my face from passersby as tears raced down my cheeks, dotting my jeans like salty raindrops.
“I don’t know. I can’t. I just can’t,” I whispered into the phone at my ear. “My heart is coming out of my chest. I don’t know. I tried. I can’t breathe. I feel like I’m dying. I can’t. I can’t do it.”
The thing I couldn’t seem to do—a thing I had done perhaps a thousand times in my life—was act onstage.
This particular performance was a one-woman drama about the beauty of anonymously wasting one’s life on Jesus.
Fifteen hundred of the country’s worship leaders and pastors were assembling in the sanctuary as I sat in the parking lot wondering if I needed to call an ambulance because I thought my heart might stop.
This makes no sense, I thought. Why now?
Why not a million other times along the way?
I had made an auspicious stage debut as a bovine in kindergarten and had been at it ever since. From community theater to magnet arts to Governor’s School to Carnegie Mellon to Broadway and Women of Faith, I had relished a life of storytelling on the stage.
I had always been able to pull myself together and step onto the stage.
Sure, there had been hiccups along the way. No life is without its hiccups.
But this? This was different. This was abject fear. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. Fear of success. Fear of being seen. Fear of feeling fear.
My thoughts were broken by my own ragged breaths.
Though I had never experienced a panic attack before, I was pretty sure that was exactly the harrowing beast I was facing in the parking lot. I pulled on sunglasses as I figured out how in the world I would tell the dear friend who had brought me in for the event that I wouldn’t be taking the stage. This day, I would be staying in the wings.
I wonder how many of us are hiding in the wings.
Too many of us stand in the shadows, peeking through the side curtains of the stage, watching as monumental God-stories unfold somewhere out there under the lights—stories we ache to join, stories that have the potential to spark faith and kindle hope. Stories that, on our most grace-full days, we suspect we were made for.
But something blocks our way.
Something worms down into the stuff we are made of and plants a potent lie.
It whispers that it’s far better to remain safely shadowed than ever dare to shine.
It says that it doesn’t really matter if you do, because anyone else will do in a pinch.
It murmurs that a truly humble Christian woman would demur, hold the curtain open for someone else.
It’s a lie that says if you do come to the party, please, please, please come as anyone but yourself.
This is the lie that has left so many of us with spiritual stage fright.
Most of the time the lies enter the scene looking like a pair of unholy twins: fear and shame. I’ve been stunted and silenced by this terrible duo more times than I care to count. They’ve been relentless in telling me that not showing up for the story God has called me to is far safer, far better than to risk entering the stage with Jesus.
Safer? I might give fear and shame twins that. Risking with Jesus is not necessarily safe; in fact, it can often be downright terrifying.
But better? Not on your life.
Because nothing is better for us or the people we love than stepping into the great Drama to which God has invited us. Nothing is better than going where He goes. Risking as he risks. Taking the stage when He says, “This is it, kid. See that light pooling out there? Go find it. For this moment and this time, the stage is yours.”
You might be thinking, I’ve never stood on a theatrical stage, and I’m not likely to.
That may be true. However, whether or not you’ve ever belted out a song or “shuffled off to Buffalo,” you have been invited to play a key role in Jesus’s narrative.You’ve been given a place to shine, a place of influence. A stage on which to stand, and a light to find.
Now, before I get shouted down, let me tell you what I’m not talking about: I’m not talking about stages that pander to fame and notoriety. (Though God can and regularly does use both for His own renown.)
I’m not talking about one-woman showcases for pride, pedigree, or position.
And I’m certainly not talking theatrical razzle-dazzle where we spackle over every imperfection or weakness, sing and dance our hearts out, and pray that, if nothing else, the applause will somehow make the exhausting performance worth it.
Stages that we use to illicitly fill the places only Jesus can; where we live our lives to be noticed by others; where we plaster on a brave face, though the truth of our lives is something quite different—none of those stages, though tempting, will ever produce the kind of kingdom adventures our hearts are starved to taste.
The kind of stages I am talking about are the stages God has given you—stages made from passion and built on purpose.
God-stages are those specific places where Jesus has called you to bravely enter into the story He is telling and to inhabit your role fully.
They are places where He calls us to enter, willing to be known as we are.
Brokenness and brilliance? Beauty and blight? Bring it all.
A God-stage is where we can drop the brave act and pick up authentic bravery—born of Jesus Himself.
It’s a place of faith where we reengage with Jesus after years of sidelining ourselves, fear loosening its chokehold on our hearts as we do.
A God-stage is where we reclaim the joy of stepping into the story God has specifically called us to, not longing for somebody else’s, but fully embracing our own story with Jesus.
And finally, a God-stage is the place where we can risk it all, going “all in,” because if eternity is as real as we proclaim on Sunday mornings, why wouldn’t we?
Why wouldn’t we “leave it all on the stage” as performers are fond of saying?
And some form of these brave words will find their way out of our mouths:
“This is eternally important.
It’s worth my time.
This story is beyond bigger than me, but I am called to play a role in it.
By grace, God has ushered me to this stage, to shine in His light —
and I’m going to do so until He tells me it’s time to leave the scene and exit the stage.”
Allison Allen is speaker and former actress for Women of Faith and on Broadway. She speaks to women at conferences and retreats around the country, exploring themes of purpose, value, and identity in original and unexpected ways. She lives with her family in Tennessee.
In her new book Shine: Stepping into the Role You Were Made For, Allison gives women permission to drop the brave act and embrace the authenticity Christ offers. Using theater as a metaphor and Scripture as her foundation, she invites women to stop performing roles for others and step into the light of God’s true calling. With fascinating personal stories and sharp insight into human nature, Allison Allen calls you to drop the brave act and step into the role of a lifetime–being your real self in Christ, no matter what the critics might say.
[ Our humble thanks to Baker for their partnership in today’s devotion ]