On Slaying Dragons and Whistling

It’s Fearless Friday and one of my favorite people in the world graciously agreed to guest post!  I know you’ll be blessed by these thoughts from my talented friend Sharon Sampson.  She’s the Director of Communications at our church (Christ Presbyterian Church, Edina) and this year has started her own consulting business called Open Book Communications 

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There’s an old Stephen Sondheim song I like called “Anyone Can Whistle” because it points to how fear tends to work its way into my life. In the song, a seemingly strong, capable woman sings this:

“Anyone can whistle,

That’s what they say — easy.

Anyone can whistle

Any old day — easy.

It’s all so simple:

Relax, let go, let fly.

So someone tell me why

Can’t I?”

The singer is commenting on how something that comes easily to most people is hard for her. Whistling is easy, right? Just relax and let it fly, right? But…it’s that “relax, let go, let fly” part that gets in this woman’s way. She is a doer, not a relaxer. She is a leader, a goal-buster:

“I can dance a tango,

I can read Greek—easy.

I can slay a dragon

Any old week—easy.

What’s hard is simple.

What’s natural comes hard.

Maybe you could show me

How to let go,

Lower my guard.

Learn to be free.

Maybe if you whistle,

Whistle for me.”

I love the contrasts she sets up. Slaying a dragon? No big deal for this woman. Give her a mountain to conquer and she’ll charge ahead with confidence. But…lower her guard? Show vulnerability? Let go? Now that would be scary.

I’m a lot like this woman. I grew up being told I could do anything I put my mind to. I was rewarded when I achieved goals or set records—and so I pursued them with zeal. I was fortunate to have parents and mentors who were big cheerleaders and confidence-builders for me, and I know they valued me, not just what I accomplished. But somewhere along the line I started placing my greatest comfort and sense of identity in being that girl who achieves and conquers things. In other words: “I can slay a dragon, any old week—easy.”

So can you guess what makes me really shake in my boots? What fills me with fears and elicits my tears? It’s those things I can’t accomplish by sheer will. Especially those things that require letting go of my will. And definitely those things that require me asking for help…showing vulnerability…letting people see my needs. It’s very uncomfortable for me to be seen as something other than a dragon-slayer.

I started a company this past year. Ironically, starting the company hasn’t been the scary part. But I spent three weeks with knots in my stomach and tears stinging my eyes as I thought about having to reach out to someone (who happens to be the gentlest person you’ll ever meet) to ask for help drawing up legal paperwork. I was willing to pay for his time, so it’s not even like I was looking for a favor. It was the simple act of saying, “I need help” that paralyzed me. Would he see me as weak? As stupid? As dependent?

Maybe you’re thinking: “um, why should asking for help with legal paperwork be scary?” And I can only shrug and say, “Easy for you to say.” (I bet you have no problem whistling, either.) Because it’s not really about the legal paperwork. I feel the same fear when I need help with my leaky faucet…or broken snowblower…or the wireless printer I just can’t get to work. And then there’s the super scary stuff, like admitting I need help losing weight…or how nervous I get on a date…or letting people know how insecure I often feel beneath my dragon-slayer persona.

My biggest fear is coming face to face with my own limits and coming before another in a spirit of need.

Of course it is there—in those places of perceived weakness—that God most shows me His grace. He assures me of His love for me whether I’m slaying dragons or being slayed by fear. And He provides help. Help in the form of His Word (“Fear not, for I am with you…”) And help in the form of His people. (That lawyer I finally asked for help? He looked at me with kind eyes and gushed, “I would be happy to help! I’ll even charge you the family rate: free! Thanks for asking me!”). Those encounters with grace can only follow the acknowledgement of need.

That’s where I return to the song, “Anyone Can Whistle.” Because how does it end? With the refrain, “Maybe if you whistle, whistle for me.” It ends with an invitation for help. It ends with an acknowledgement that we all need reinforcements — both the whistlers who know how to lower their guard, and the dragon slayers who don’t. “What’s hard [for me] is simple [for you]; What’s natural [for me] is hard [for you].

My prayer for this year is to admit that the real dragons I need to slay in my life aren’t the ones made of bold goals but of quiet petitions. My prayer is to soak in the words of a friend who said to me recently, “You’re showing a more vulnerable side of yourself lately and it’s beautiful.” My prayer is to learn “how to let go, lower my guard, learn to be free.”

Maybe, just maybe, I can learn to whistle a new tune.


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