By Jennifer Grant
One of my closest friends is a college theater professor. A few weeks ago, he told me about an acting exercise he uses with his students. It is a "clowning exercise," my friend Mark said. The lesson starts with students identifying a character trait - something specific that they either like or dislike about themselves - and thinking about how they could exaggerate it. That trait would become the focus of the exercise.
A student, for instance, who is overweight or brainy or known to be chatty could choose to embellish one of those traits. My friend tasks his students with writing a short narrative that shows their characters struggling with a now-outsized flaw and then, somehow, addressing it. Last, they present short, three-minute performances during which they must wear a red clown nose.
The talkative student might, for example, come onstage in that red nose prattling away. He then might eat a drippy triple-decker ice cream cone or catch marshmallows in his mouth to quiet himself.
The exercise isn't meant to humiliate or shame the students, but to free them from the firm grasp of their inhibitions and the way they ruthlessly judge themselves. Not only exposing, but also truly exaggerating and poking fun at their imperfections, frees students from the power that those flaws hold over them. They no longer fear others' judgment or being found out. They find strength in exposing their weaknesses.
When I look at my own life and what flaws have shamed me or held me back, my fears and failings as a mother flood my mind. I remember the countless times as a young mom when I had wildly unrealistic expectations for myself and for my children. The way I desperately hoped I'd somehow be able to raise my kids without ever letting them down. The fact that I believed that if I just focused on the fruits of the spirit hard enough, or if I were just spiritually-grounded enough, I'd never lose my temper or misunderstand my kids.
I used to conceal these secret longings to be a perfect mom as well as my shortcomings, but now they comprise the very stories that fill the pages of my books. I write about my parenting journey with its moments of doubt, insecurity, and imperfections. And, yes, sometimes I feel like one of those students on stage, battling embarrassment and inhibition as I clown my most dreaded or secret faults, exaggerating them, opening myself up to criticism or ridicule. At some moments, I am left feeling vulnerable and exposed.
But I'm the better for it.
Because I keep donning that proverbial red foam nose, I take myself less seriously. Increasingly, I look to God, and not to my readers or to other people, for acknowledgment and relationship.
Author Shane Claiborne says one of his favorite prayers is: "God, forgive me for thinking too highly of myself. God, forgive me for thinking too lowly of myself. God, forgive me for thinking of myself so stinkin' much." By exposing what is most flawed about myself, I think about myself less and take myself less seriously. And in exposing my weaknesses, I find strength from a God who loves me as I am.
Jennifer Grant is the author of two books: Love You More: The Divine Surprise of Adopting My Daughter (2011) and the recently released MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family. Find her online at jennifergrant.com.