Out of the Shadows

During my college years a group of friends and I would leave the small town in which our Baptist college was located and drive to the nearest “big city” to go dancing. Every Wednesday night we’d dress in somber black garb and make the hour-long journey to a club located in the downtown’s “Old City.” I was eager for these excursions each week and willing to pay the price at my 8am Thursday class, as sleep deprivation befuddled my brain.

Our favorite dance spot was situated in a two-story brick building, downstairs was the bar, and upstairs in the shadows was the dance floor. We would bypass the bar and head straight up the stairs for two hours of dancing. Depeche Mode, The Cure, and New Order issued the siren songs we couldn’t resist. As I danced I could look down and see light from the bar below shining through cracks in the hardwoods. The deep bass of the music would rattle the floors so much that I feared the floors would soon collapse.

As I mentioned, I went to a Baptist school where dancing was taboo and dancing on campus was not permitted. If you’re not from the South and the Baptist culture, this might be mystifying. Perhaps the reason can best be conveyed by this joke a fellow alumnus tells: “Why don’t Baptists believe in premarital sex? Because it might lead to dancing.” Or maybe now would be a good time to pause and watch the movie “Footloose.” Watch the original please. John Lithgow’s portrayal of both a wounded man and the religious spirit nails it.

My college did not host dances; however, from time to time, students held them off campus. These were called “foot functions.” (That’s not a joke.) Usually these foot functions convened in a barn somewhere near the campus that a local resident was kind enough to let students use for the debauchery of music and dance. While I sometimes went to these foot functions, they were not the same as my Wednesday night sojourns to the city.

Most of my college days were spent being highly aware of who I was supposed to be becoming: virtuous, capable, energetic, strong, dignified, busy and brave. Again, pause here and read Proverbs 31, and you’ll discover my script. It was an impossible challenge, and one that I was sure I had not been hardwired to accomplish. In my heart, I knew who I was; yet, the performance-driven religion that constructed my worldview revealed that I was not enough. Not enough to win the heart of a good man, and definitely not enough earn the approval of my God. So, I moved through my days with self-awareness and shame.

There was something about these Wednesday nights that were different though…something liberating. As I walked up those creaking stairs to the dim dance floor each week, I felt weight falling off that allowed me to inhabit my body and move freely. I was no longer aware of eyes watching me and no longer cared if anyone was passing judgment. And I knew that for those hours I could be fully me without script or censorship. Paulo Coelho expressed it perfectly:

“It’s as if the threads connecting us to the rest of the world were washed clean of preconceptions and fears. When you dance, you can enjoy the luxury of being you.”

With my graduation from college, now twenty-three years ago, these Wednesday night road trips came to an end. In the ensuing years, however, a new dance began – one of restoration and freedom – with God, who brought me out of the darkness. This dance betrays all of the rules and religious jargon that kept me bound in performance and resulting shame, and it reveals a God who unconditionally accepts me, lavishly loves me, and intimately woos me.

It has taken years to learn the choreography and to let Him lead; yet, I am moving in His steps with growing confidence and grace. One of my favorite songs, written by Charlie Hall, speaks this stunning truth: “Into marvelous light I’m running / Out of darkness, out of shame / By the cross You are the truth / You are the life, You are the way / Lift my hands and spin around / See the light that I have found / Oh, the marvelous light.” It’s in this divine dance that can come out of the shadows and fully enjoy the luxury of being me, and for that I am grateful.

Susan Tucker spends her days mothering her two teenage sons, teaching middle school English, and savoring rare moments of quiet and solitude. She lives in Knoxville, Tennessee, with her sons and her husband of 21 years. Susan finds life in a beautiful story, an authentic conversation, worship music, and ultimately, in Jesus, the giver of all good gifts.