Losing in a Princess Pageant

This past weekend, I took Riley to a Princess event where little girls could meet “Cinderella,” “Ariel,” and “Aurora.” They were able to get their pictures taken with them, and were able to sing and dance with them while they did little performances. It was basically Riley’s 3 year old dream come true :).

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After 2 hours of the meet & greet and performances, they had a “Little Princess Pageant” where the little girls at the event would take turns walking down a red carpet holding the hand of one of the Disney princesses then they would wave and twirl on stage. There would be a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner. I had not planned on letting Riley compete in this pageant, but when she saw the crowns that they were giving away as the prizes and I realized that there were only 4 other little girls there anyway (so her chances of winning something were pretty high), I gave in and let her do it.

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I’m a little bit embarrassed to admit that I was surprised when Riley didn’t place (I’m such a typical parent, aren’t I? I forget that not everyone is as captivated with my child as I am!). When Riley realized this, she collapsed into my arms in heavy tears. Let me tell you: my mamma heart shattered into a thousand pieces. I’m not sure my heart had ever hurt so badly for my daughter. I felt her pain, and it took every ounce of willpower for me to hold back my own tears as I comforted her. That moment itself crushed me, but what also consumed my heart was the realization that this is only the beginning. I am so not ready for this part of parenting! The part where I have to watch my kids get rejected or heartbroken.  I can handle dirty diapers.  I can’t handle the heartbreak.    

Granted, I don’t think Riley really understood what had happened. In her little 3 year old world, I think she was actually just upset that she didn’t get a crown. I don’t think she understood that she had lost and other girls had won. She’s too young to compare herself to other girls and wonder what she is lacking or wonder if she is good enough. But I know that is coming eventually, and I can barely stand the thought of it.

As we drove home, Riley said “I’m so sorry, Mama.” Just when I had thought that every part of my heart had already been shattered, I realized there was still more that shattered right then. I quickly consoled her, telling her that I love her so much and that she didn’t need to apologize for anything! I love her just as she is, no matter what. I don’t need her to win any silly pageant or to get a special Princess crown. I couldn’t bear the thought of her thinking that she needed to apologize to me! I want more than anything for Riley to know just how much I love her and delight in her. I want her to know that I am completely smitten with her. I am captivated by her, regardless of how she performs in life or whether or not she succeeds in her endeavors. She will always be enough for me, exactly how she is. I don’t want a single part of her to change or be like anybody else. Even if she fails at every single thing she attempts in life, it doesn’t change the way I see her or love her for even an iota of a second. My heart will always be enthralled by her.

And then it hit me. There was a deeper lesson here for me. God was whispering, “This is how I feel about you, my daughter. I am enthralled by you. Completely captivated, just the way you are. I don’t want you to change or to be anybody else. Regardless of how you perform or if you succeed, you are enough. Even if you fail at every single thing you attempt in life, it doesn’t change the way I see you or love you for a second.”

And I was floored. I know this is true, but I don’t think I ever really understood how it could be true, until I have experienced this as a parent with a daughter. I am God’s daughter, and He wants me to be me. He doesn’t compare me to anyone else. And yet over and over again I say to him, “I’m so sorry” for who I am  – just like Riley said to me. As if He is disappointed in me – something I feel and fear often.

Before I had Riley, I was on staff with a College Campus Ministry with Greek (fraternity and sorority) students for 4 years. There was someone else on staff before I got there, and under his leadership he ministry had over 100 students involved in it. Then he left staff, and I got his job. Over my 4 years as the staff, I watched the ministry dwindle and dwindle, until it finally died during my last year. I cannot tell you how much shame I feel from that. I have carried so much baggage from the experience, feeling like a complete failure. I have often internalized it as something being wrong with me. “If only I were different.” “If only I was more like that person on staff, and less like myself.” “Who I am is a detriment.” “My personality isn’t good for anything. I am a liability.”

As if who I am is an accident. As if life is a Princess pageant I’m competing in, but not getting placed. As if there are other princesses that are receiving the crowns of God’s approval, while I watch from the sidelines.

It’s not easy to translate the way I feel about Riley to my understanding of God’s relationship to me.  But I know that He wants me to.  I cannot fathom God enjoying me and delighting in me even half as much as I do Riley, and yet He does even MORE.  He is capable of perfect love, and He lavishes it on me generously. 

I wonder how different my future might be if I believe this and live freely in this truth, rather than being constantly crippled by my fear of failure and belief that who I am is not good enough.  I wonder how much my heart might soar and thrive or how much more I might instinctively serve and love others when I stop living like I’m competing in a silly princess pageant.  I already have His approval.  Christ is the crown that guarantees my acceptance.  I don’t need to live threatened by others.   When others succeed, it doesn’t mean anything about me. Even harder to swallow is the fact that when I fail, THAT doesn’t mean anything about who I am, ultimately.  I am His.  And that is never going to change. 

KM.

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