Two weeks ago I arrived at the Carol Joy Holling Center for a women’s retreat. I was the keynote speaker slated for a two-hour session on Saturday evening. I’d prepared weeks for my talk, had my Bible packed into my suitcase, my notes tucked into my bag. I felt calm and cool and in control.
Until I checked in, that is.
“I have a really big favor to ask you,” the conference coordinator said as she handed me my room key card. “The worship leader has the flu. Do you think you could do the message in church tomorrow, too?”
Um, thank you, no. Please excuse me while I high-tail toward home. Best of luck to you.
That’s not what I actually said. But it sure is what I wanted to say.
Instead, I stood frozen in place like a deer caught in the headlights. And then I stuttered and stumbled and fumbled a response. “Sure, um, yeah, I guess I could do that I suppose…if you really don’t have anyone else.”
She didn’t have anyone else.
You should know, public speaking is not my gig. I gear myself up big-time every time I talk in front of an audience. I prepare like I’m about to testify at a Senate Committee Hearing, type up pages of notes in a gargantuan font, practice at least a dozen times in my kitchen and in my mini-van and in the shower, and pray like the end times are breathing down my neck.
Because frankly, public speaking feels like the end times to me.
So to know I was going to have to speak to an audience with little to no preparation, in church no less, after I’d already led a two-hour session the night before? Let’s just say I went to my room, closed the door, and did some heavy Lamaze.
Oh, and did I mention the theme for the retreat that weekend? Fearless. I know. God’s a real comedian sometimes.
That night, after I’d finished my evening session, I sat on my bed and tried to prepare for the morning’s message. I looked at the order for worship. I read the Scripture readings. I mentioned to the Holy Spirit that now would be an opportune time to make his presence known. I waited. I checked Facebook. I re-read the Scriptures and begged the Holy Spirit again.
And I got nothing. That night when I went to bed, I didn’t have a single note scribbled onto the conference notepad. I didn’t have one iota of what I might say.
The next morning when I woke up (miracle number one: that I slept at all), I had a pretty good inkling of what I was going to say (that’s miracle number two, by the way).
You see, I’d spent two hours on Saturday evening talking about all the ways fear sabotages our relationship with God. I’d talked about the fact that a lack of trust always runs like a quiet stream beneath our fear. And I’d outlined four spiritual practices we can turn to when we are afraid: name it, pray about it, connect with community, practice gratitude.
But when I came face-to-face with fear myself? I ignored every last word I’d preached just two hours before. I made all the mistakes I’d warned against, forgot all the Scripture I’d read aloud to the ladies gathered around the room, and failed to employ a single spiritual practice I’d recommended. When fear pushed me around like a bossy bully, I folded my cards and slunk away with my tail between my legs.
And so that’s the message I offered to the ladies who sat in church the next morning. I stood at the podium with my legs shaking in my boots and my scrap of notes trembling in my sweaty hands, and I admitted that I’d failed. I admitted that it was a whole lot easier to talk about fear, even teach about fear, then it was to stand in it and face it myself. I admitted that I’d neglected to employ any of the four spiritual practices I’d recommended to them, and I’d failed to trust God.
It wasn’t the most eloquent message ever. Nor was it well-crafted or particularly poignant. In fact, I’d even read the wrong Scripture, twice, the night before in bed, so my message wasn’t even based on the correct reading. And honestly, I don’t know if the ladies got anything out of it or not.
But I don’t think that was God’s point. I think God wanted to illustrate to me that I can talk the good talk about fear and fearlessness and trust and prayer, and I can prepare for hours and type up my large-font notes and wear my fancy speaking shoes. But until I come to him in trust, it’s all just chasing after the wind.
Have you ever had an experience that showed you that you were not practicing what you preached?