Adorning the Dark: A Matter of Life or Death

Adorning the Dark: A Matter of Life or Death

Andrew PetersonBy Andrew Peterson6 Minutes

Excerpt from Chapter 5: “A Matter of Life or Death” in Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making by Andrew Peterson

Tonight I was talking to my daughter about self-consciousness. She was laughing about how hard it is to pay attention to what someone’s saying once you realize that you’re paying attention to what someone’s saying. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

When my mind is fatigued at the end of a concert or at church or whatever and I’m talking to someone, the merest thought of my weariness, or what’s going on at home or how hungry I am or how nice it’ll be to be alone in the hotel lobby reading a book, creates an almost painful charade of attention. They’re talking; I do, in fact, usually care about what they’re saying. But the space between my eyebrows starts to ache because I’m forcing myself to stare at their eyes. Stare at their eyes. Keep staring at their eyes. Show them how kind and interested I am. Of course, now I’m not really listening to what they’re telling me. I have fallen by the wayside and am lost in the tangled brush of Self.

This is all obvious.

Here’s the thing I wanted to tell you. Once I was doing a photo shoot—and before you roll your eyes and call me pretentious, you should know that I truly hate photo shoots, or I used to before the thing happened that I’m about to tell you. I only bring it up because it’s crucial to the point. So there I was, wearing clothes some fashion person bought for me, sucking in my gut because the jeans didn’t fit, worrying about my hopelessly frizzy, poofy, cowlicky hair, knowing without a doubt that the record label was wasting good money trying to make me look cool so they could sell more records. (True confession: sometimes they make you wear makeup.) Sometimes there are five people looking at you objectively, cocking their heads sideways and considering the waistline pudge you wish you had jogged off six months ago. My lowest-selling album is also the only one with my face on the cover, so I have to assume some correlation.

My manager’s then-assistant Andrea happened to be there and I grumbled to her about being self-conscious. She used to do drama and she told me about an exercise she did with her troupe.

“Just think about the other person,” she said. “It’s easy. Two people stand on the stage and describe everything the other person is doing. Like this. ‘You’re standing there and your left hand is in your pants pocket and you’re pacing. Now you’re looking around. You’re scratching the back of your head.’ And as soon as you start talking about the other person, you stop looking awkward and self-conscious. You look like you. It’s all about the other person.”

It works. That was the last photo shoot I hated. Don’t get me wrong—I’d still rather be doing almost anything else. But now when I stand there in the fancy clothes (“shoot loot,” they call it) I try hard to think about the photographer, about my wife, about the kind folks who are working to get my songs heard by more people, and I stop caring quite so much about whether I’m standing awesomely. This is me, for better or for worse.

Once again, Jesus was right all along. We are most ourselves when we’re thinking least about ourselves. It reminds me of Paul’s rant in Romans 7, when he talks about how he wants to do one thing but then does another, and you can just hear his frustration with himself. That passage has brought me such comfort merely through commiseration. But it’s really a passage about self-consciousness. At the end he asks, “Who will save me from this body of death?” (v. 24). And his answer is almost a sigh of relief: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). Self, self, self—then Christ, Christ, Christ. Paul, who for a paragraph seems almost pathetic in his self-frustration, turns his eyes to Christ and then reminds himself and the rest of us that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Tear your attention away from your shame, your self-loathing, your self-consciousness, your self. Now, rejoice. Become who you were meant to be, who you already are in Christ. Then get busy writing. Park the scooter in the field and write with abandon. Fight back. It’s a matter of life and death.

I still don’t like photo shoots, though.

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