The Whole Hokey Pokey

The dancer’s body is simply the luminous manifestation of the soul.
—Isadora Duncan

Most people make New Year’s resolutions. We make goals and then work out how to achieve them, one way or another. I do this, too. I set out determined and generally grind to a halt soon after. But sometimes I’m more gentle. I linger a bit. I’ve allowed myself to ease into this new year slowly, waiting to understand what it’s calling out in me. It might be nearly spring now, but finally I see how I want to characterize myself in these newly budding days. I am choosing how to name this place, and what I’ve chosen is more than just a moniker — it’s a theme song. You will surely recognize it.

This all came about by accident, an unintended gift from a friend. She recently introduced me at a large event and said kind things. She said, “Allison is our right arm. She’s our left arm. In fact, she’s the whole Hokey Pokey!” I blushed, amused and affirmed, and everyone chuckled. I’ve thought of that moment often in the days since.

The thing is, it’s not really true of me, the Hokey Pokey. I don’t dance unless it’s in the kitchen with my children and I know that no one else is watching. I don’t often put my whole self into anything. I like to keep a little something in reserve. Call it self-preservation, call it fear, call it whatever you want — I’m withholding some part of me most of the time. And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

There are a number of places in my life where I’ve been hugging the wall a little bit. Things I’ve said I want to do but haven’t done, ideas I’ve been brewing so long that they’re getting stale. There are places I want to go creatively that I’m just not sure how to navigate, so I haven’t even set out. But I don’t want to be a wallflower forever, and you can’t learn the two-step without moving your feet.

When I’m trying to figure things out, I search the Scriptures, where people have been making my same mistakes and discoveries since the beginning of time. I find inspiration and lots of talk of dancing there, but no specific mentions of the Hokey Pokey. However, the prophet Malachi nails it — exactly what I’ve been thinking about.

Malachi is reprimanding the people of Judah, vehemently calling them out for not bringing their first, best fruits to the temple for sacrifice. They are cheating God and expecting Him to bless them anyway. True, sometimes God does that. We withhold, and in spite of our stingy fear, God blesses us. But here, Malachi tells the people in no uncertain terms that they are unfaithful and robbing God. They, like me, argue. “But I’m doing this, and this, and that. I’m trying really hard. Doesn’t that count for something?”

This is God’s response, through Malachi:

But you ask “How do we rob you?”

In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse — the whole nation of you — because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this . . . and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:8–10)

There is so much that strikes me in this passage. I love the idea that I can bring something substantial to God and that it can be useful. The Old Testament tithes and offerings were given specifically for the glory of God and the sustenance of the priests and their work. When the people gave their tithes, God used them to bless others. There was food in His house. And the same is true today.

I give tithes in many ways, most often financially. For me, that is not the hard part. I find it easier to part with my money than to part with my control and my manipulations. Money is straightforward. Dollars and cents don’t comprise the fullness of me, so I find them easier to give. Making a monetary gift is immediately joyful because I can support my church and good people doing great work, which I believe is important to God. That is immensely satisfying. That’s not the hardest part.

The hardest part is bringing the whole of my Self to God and offering me.

I can offer some of “my” time, maybe just my right arm’s worth. Or I can dive into something demanding and sacrificial, a place where I sense the Holy Spirit is leading. Jump in with both feet. But the whole dance? Impossible. I just really don’t know how to do that. I’m diffident by nature, and guarded. It’s unfamiliar, I’ve got no rhythm, and I look stupid. I am not a natural at this. I will lose my Self somehow, and my dignity along with it. Plus, I don’t even know exactly what I have to offer, or how to give it. What are the dance steps again?

This is where the Hokey Pokey comes in. I love the challenge the Lord Almighty issues in Malachi 3. He pushes hard: “Oh yeah? Don’t trust me with all you are and all you have? Bring. It. And then watch what I can do with it. You won’t even be able to handle it. I will throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

So there.
The whole Hokey Pokey.

The thing is, sometimes you have to be willing to set things aside in order to disco. You can’t carry a full wine glass in a conga line without spilling on somebody. You have to kick off your high heels to avoid breaking an ankle while you limbo. You can’t salsa with your fanny glued to your chair — you have to give up your self respect to do the chicken dance, and you have to let go of everything if you want to do the whole Hokey Pokey. Right arm, left arm, right foot, left foot, whole self, in.

So what do I have to let go of to give my stubborn, cautious self over to this crazy dance?

I have to let go of knowing how it will all turn out. I have to give up having a plan. I have to quit saying, “I’m not sure I’m really any good at ____.” I’m going to have to accept the fact that people might be watching. Break up with my own expectations of myself and dump my chronic need for approval. No one will ever tell you that you are skilled at the Hokey Pokey. Seriously. And they shouldn’t have to. If you put your whole self in, you’ve already done it.

That’s the point. God doesn’t say, “If you hone the words just right, I will make you a Pulitzer Prize winner.” He doesn’t say, “If you just drop that one really bad habit, I will give you a zillion bonus points.” He says, “Bring It. Test me. Give me what you’ve got and watch what I will do with it.”

Where am I withholding from God? Is it in the places where I think I’m doing okay? Is it something I am afraid of? The regrets I’m already worried about having? I will bring those. In my relationships, in my obligations, in my work, and in my creative life. I will walk to the altar head on, and say “Here I am.” This is me, all of it. Not holding anything back. Ready to speak truth, to acknowledge my feelings. Ready to sit down with a pen and an endless blank page. Ready to start some things that I don’t see how I can finish. Ready to fight hard against holding anything back.

Cue the music. My shoes are off. My defenses are down. There goes the right arm, then the left. This is embarrassing, I’m closing my eyes so I don’t have to watch. Left foot, right foot. I’m doing the whole Hokey Pokey. Join me? Let’s dance until those floodgates open and the blessings of heaven rain down. And then let’s dance some more.

Allison Gaskins writes beneath a window inside a snug closet in her Virginia home. She is the author of several books, a mom to five, and the wife of a very patient man. She works for Mantle Music and Art House America when she's not busy staring out the window, gathering words. 

Kyrie Eleison

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