How often had I focused on the steps themselves—Which job should I take? Where should I live? What church should I attend?—instead of on the one who was leading me? Could I trust Jesus enough to follow his lead?
By Christine McParland
Have you ever thought, I wish I knew that I was following God’s plan for my life? Most of us have. We want God to give us a map or list of steps so we can be certain of his plan and just do it.
But when we focus too much on a plan, we risk missing the point. If we knew with certainty the specifics of God’s will for us, we wouldn’t need to rely on having faith in him to follow it! And that’s the whole purpose of our lives: being in relationship with God.
As a Christian, I understood this truth in theory, but I didn’t know how to put it into practice until I learned how to partner dance. There are many ways that this activity helped me grow in my faith, but here are three things that dance taught me about following God’s plan for my life:
1. Focus more on the relationship than on the steps.
I’d been dancing since my middle school years, from competitive Irish step dancing to college dance productions to dance ministry at my church. But my lifelong dream had always been to learn to dance with a partner. So when I showed up to my first ballroom class, I assumed I’d achieve my goal in the same formulaic way I always had—learn the steps, practice consistently, and perform them to the best of my ability.
However, my neat little formula failed to account for one essential factor: my dance partner.
Though I understood my teacher’s verbal instructions about following the lead of my partner, I had no idea how to put them into practice. With one of his hands holding mine and another placed firmly on my back, I was supposed to defer to my partner’s leading so that we would dance together as one. It was a concept that sounded easy but would challenge me both literally and spiritually.
Learning to follow a partner was difficult, awkward, and humbling. I missed the sense of control that I felt when dancing solo. But slowly I learned that getting the steps exactly right was secondary to staying connected to my partner. I knew the steps of waltz, swing, and foxtrot, but if I danced independently of my partner’s lead, I was nonverbally communicating that I didn’t need him. I was missing the point of the dance.
It made me wonder if I’d also applied a similar attitude to my relationship with Christ. How often had I focused on the steps themselves—Which job should I take? Where should I live? What church should I attend?—instead of on the one who was leading me? Was I just as resistant to surrender control to my divine dance partner?
Could I trust Jesus enough to follow his lead, even if I didn’t fully know how to do so?
2. Put your heart in God’s hands and trust his lead.
Another powerful lesson came when my teacher demonstrated how he maintained connection with his partner. His right hand held her left should blade—right behind her heart—as she leaned back slightly. Wherever his hand turned, she turned as well.
“Ladies,” he said, “to keep connection with your partner you literally have to put your heart in his hand, or you won’t know where he’s leading you!”
It was my teacher’s voice but the Holy Spirit’s conviction that spoke to me in that moment. While I was wrestling with trying to figure out God’s plan for my life, I was holding back from fully trusting him. I wasn’t putting my heart in his hand. Seen through the relationship of a dancing couple, it now made perfect sense. By not trusting God wholeheartedly, I couldn’t hear or follow his lead. But if I leaned into it, I would naturally follow wherever he led me.
3. Relax and enjoy the dance!
The more I grew in both dance and my faith, the more I wanted to learn. When my teacher started coaching me in a new style of swing dance, I was determined to master it as quickly as possible. But often I was frustrated during practice because his instructions sounded like a broken record: “Relax. Relax. RELAX.” To which I’d respond—not unaware of the irony of my words—”I’M TRYING!”
Paradoxically, my hardest efforts to dance well actually hindered my ability to follow my partner. When my body tensed up, I subconsciously resisted his lead. Though I put on an air of calm confidence, my rigid muscles betrayed my underlying anxiety, and my partner felt it with every move he led me.
Similarly, I recognized that anxiety could also hinder me from discerning God’s voice. I wouldn’t be able to hear him speaking to me if I listened to worries and doubts about my ability to follow him correctly. But when I viewed my relationship with God like that of a dancing couple, I realized I could relax and trust him to lead me in his plan for my life.
Even if I stumbled along the way.
With lots of lessons, practice, and perseverance, I’ve become a much better dancer. More importantly, learning to follow a partner has freed me to enjoy dance more deeply than I ever could’ve imagined or experienced by myself.
Similarly, I’ve grown in freedom and confidence in following God’s plan for my life. Nope, I still don’t have a blueprint or map. But I no longer want one (most days, anyways!). I’ve learned that God’s will is less about specific steps and more about a relationship with him. As I focus on staying connected to Christ and following his lead, my steps will naturally align with his desire for me.
As we seek God’s will, may we live life not as a plan to figure out but as a dance of relationship with him. May we trust Jesus wholeheartedly as we follow his lead and lean into his strong arms. And may we relax and enjoy the beauty and freedom of dancing with him—one step of faith at a time.