This Christmas, I directed our church’s annual Christmas pageant.
Notice that I don’t say, “I volunteered to direct our church’s annual Christmas pageant,” because I didn’t. How I came to head up this massive production is still unclear to me. Say you’re standing on a dock, looking up at an enormous cruise ship, and you turn to a nearby crew member to inquire where the ship is going. The crew member whisks you inside, dresses you in the captain’s uniform, sits you behind the controls, and says, “Anchors away!”
THAT’S how I became the director of the Christmas pageant.
Not that I was unwilling to direct. This year, probably because we have three (almost four) children in Sunday School, I was asked to sit on the Board of Christian Education. So, when December arrived and I started asking around about the Christmas pageant, it shouldn’t have surprised me to end up at the helm.
But once it became clear that I was in charge, I was terrified. I had no idea what I was even supposed to be doing, because we’ve only attended this church for a year. I’d watched the Christmas pageant the previous December, but I had no memory of it because the entire time I was silently willing my four-year-old and two-year-old (making their debut as sheep) not to do anything too humiliating.
A few facts about our church’s Christmas pageant:
-There is a preexisting script, so I wasn’t starting from scratch. However, the students are in charge of running the ENTIRE 90-minute service. If we wanted anybody else involved, like the worship team or the pastor, it was up to me to request their participation.
-There are preexisting costumes (although nobody was quite sure where they were).
-Rehearsal takes place for 30 minutes during the usual Sunday School time, one week before the actual pageant. Just enough time for things to feel completely out of control.
-Everybody has a role: high school and middle school students do the Bible readings, elementary school students act out the Christmas story, and preschoolers are the animals around the manger. That’s about 25 young people, aged three to sixteen.
-NOBODY wants to be Mary or Joseph. I convinced last year’s Mary to repeat her role, on the condition that she could use her own doll for Jesus. My original Joseph bribed another boy to take his place.
Driving home from church after the first — and only — rehearsal, I said to my husband, “I can’t wait for it all to be over next week.”
Driving home from church after the pageant, I said, “I’d definitely do it again next year!”
What happened? Sometime during the course of that week, I decided to embrace the uncomfortable feeling of free-fall, my total lack of control. This is hard for me; I think it’s hard for all of us. (Wasn’t the original sin based on our desire to control, to be our own bosses, to hog the glory?)
Here’s what helped:
First, it became very clear in the days before the pageant that I had lots of help. I didn’t ask for help (as I should have), but help came anyway. It came in the form of Sunday School teachers who, although they were “off duty,” showed up to help with the kid-wrangling. It came in the form of a young woman home from college, who turned up to coordinate costumes and get everyone dressed. It came in the form of one couple who went to church the afternoon before the pageant and set the stage. It came in the form of members of the worship team who offered to share music. And it came in the form of a 14-year-old girl, who turned to me midway through the pageant and asked, “Do we have anybody to take the offering?”, and when I looked at her in panic — because I hadn’t thought of that — quickly grabbed three friends to handle things.
Then there were the kids themselves. As you’d expect, some were enthusiastic, and some were…draggy. But this pageant was by them, and for them, so I thought about how they’d experience it. I didn’t expect them all to have a mystical revelation about the true meaning of Christmas, like in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever (although that’s a GREAT book); even with all the control in the world, I couldn’t force that kind of thing to happen. But what I could control was my own behavior. I thought:
The most important thing is that these kids have FUN; that they not come away from this experience hating church (i.e. God). I can be an example of an anxious control freak who wants everything to be perfect, or I can be an example of somebody who’s relaxed and joyful despite the chaos. And church (i.e. God) is not about perfection; it’s about having joy despite the chaos.
So my pre-pageant inspirational speech went something like this: “Just have fun, and it’ll be great. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because God’s love is gonna shine through anyway.”
It was fun, it was great, it wasn’t perfect, but God’s love shone through anyway. All of this despite — or because of — the fact that I wasn’t really in control at all.
Preschoolers in animal hoods didn’t hurt, either.