Do You Believe You’re Running Your Circus?

I spoke the last two weekends at women’s retreats. At both I gave my “Finding Balance in the Circus of Life” talks, although one was in two sessions and one in four. I begin by talking about the acts we often step into in the circus of life, acts where God doesn’t want us performing. I thought today I would share one of those performers with you. Do you see yourself in this performer?

The Ringmaster

The ringmaster runs the circus. He needs to be in control. When we become ringmasters in our world, we feel the need to tell ourselves, and everyone else, what to do and when.

A ringmaster finds herself running every meeting she attends, whether she’s officially in charge or not.

As ringmasters we work at keeping our spouses and kids in line, never an easy task. We want to make the whole circus run smoothly. We don’t want surprises and we want everything handled efficiently and according to our specifications, our desires, our plans.

Sarah, wife of the patriarch Abraham, is a classic ringmaster. God had promised to make Abraham a great nation (Genesis 12:2). He was 75 and childless at the time—not a great start. Several years later, God visits Abraham again in a vision and confirms he will have a son, not a servant who would be promoted to heir (Genesis 15:4). Still nothing.

Enter Sarah the ringmaster. Abraham is 85 now, getting a little old to be procreating. Sarah figures she needs to help God out. Her clever plan is to have Abraham sleep with her servant Hagar (Genesis 16:2). After all, she figures, God told Abraham the son would be “from your own body” (Genesis 15:4), but he hadn’t really mentioned Sarah. Maybe she wasn’t part of the plan, and God was just waiting for her to figure it out.

Abraham listens to his wife. I’m sure it was a classic case of “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” but when Hagar gets pregnant, Sarah still isn’t happy. She can’t control Hagar’s attitude (Genesis 16:4) and things move from bad to worse. That baby, Ishmael, is the father of the Arab nations, nations that are still at war with Israel, the sons of Isaac, God’s promised son who didn’t arrive until Abraham was 100.

Twenty-five years is a long time to wait for a promised baby, especially when the physical bits are working so well anymore. I understand Sarah’s impatience. I’ve taken the ringmaster whip into my hands in much less time than she.

The ringmaster, according to an article entitled “Greatest Show on Earth,” “has to shape the presentation, pace and personality of every performance while embodying the circus and the principles upon which Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey has based itself on for over 130 years.”[i]

When we think of the circus we call life, who should be shaping its “presentation, pace and personality”? What are the principles it should be built on? Am I capable enough to “embody” all life was created to be?

Years ago when the New Age movement was at its height, my husband Les had a t-shirt that said:

Even in this New Age, the truth remains crystal clear:

1. There is a God.

2. You’re not him.

When we take on the role of ringmaster, we are trying to be God, to do his job. God should be the director of our circus, shaping its “presentation, pace and personality.” He alone knows how life is meant to be lived, what he created it to be.

God doesn’t want us directing our own lives or the lives of others. He wants the ringmaster position. Every Bible my parents gave me had Proverbs 3:5 and 6 inscribed inside the front cover. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”

My understanding, my control, doesn’t cut it. Each day I must surrender the bullhorn back into God’s hands—letting him pry it away if necessary—and acknowledge his instructions and plans.

In the months ahead I will share some of the other performers in life’s circus. Until then, if you would like me to come and present “Finding Balance in the Circus of Life” to your group, contact me. I’d love to share it!

[i] “Greatest Show on Earth,” Technique, the newspaper of Georgia Tech, 2002.


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