Funny how God works sometimes. As I read and write about St. Benedict’s vow of obedience this week, God is teaching me the lesson of obedience in real time.
Jane Tomaine notes that the Latin root for obedience is obaudire, “to listen thoroughly.” She points out that in his Rule, Benedict describes obedience as both listening and responding:
“Those who practice obedience set aside their own concerns, plans, and tasks, even going so far as to leave work unfinished in order to respond quickly to the request. The requested action would be completed without hesitation, almost at the same moment the request was made.” (from St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Benedictine Living)
When I check my phone on Monday, I see a message from an unfamiliar number. It’s Lelia. Turns out, one of the speakers on the agenda for her conference this weekend has a family emergency and can’t make it … might I be able to speak in her place?
I say yes.
Let me tell you, one of my greatest fears, second only to throwing up, is speaking in public. I would rather visit the gynecologist and get a mammogram and a root canal and my legs waxed all in the same day. I would rather stand in line at the DMV every day for a month straight. I would rather clean hard water deposits off my bathroom faucet and my neighbor’s bathroom faucet and her neighbor’s bathroom faucet with a toothbrush. I’d rather do just about any other dreaded task over speaking in front of an audience.
But I say yes. It’s so obvious I should say yes that I don’t even think about it. “No problem,” I tell Lelia. “It’ll be totally fine, I promise.”
Then I hang up the phone. And Freak. Out.
The funny part about this story is that only hours before, I’d griped to Brad about how I needed to line up some speaking engagements. Not that I want to line up speaking engagements, mind you, but I realize speaking is part of the territory: published writers are expected to speak. Some days I wish I lived in the 19th century so I could hole up in an attic like Emily Dickinson and just write without worrying about the platform-schmatform and social media and whether I should wear pants or a skirt when I speak in public.
“It seems like all these speaking opportunities seem to drop right into other people’s laps,” I told Brad that afternoon. “I don’t get it.” He’d shrugged. Clearly he didn’t get it either.
After I got off the phone with Lelia and was catatonic on the couch in primal freak-out mode, Brad reminded me of our conversation earlier in the day. “Hey, you just got a speaking engagement dropped into your lap.” Not to be an ingrate, but I’d been thinking more along the lines of “dropped-into-my-lap-with-four-months-notice,” rather than “dropped-into-my-lap-with-four-days-notice.” God is clever like that sometimes, isn’t he?
Oddly, in between bouts of catatonia and feverish PowerPointing, I am also feeling an overwhelming sense of peace and calm. Part of me knows that everything will be fine, just like I told Lelia. There’s something liberating about being so hopelessly out of control and in over your head. There is serenity in knowing I can’t possibly do anything but hand it entirely over to God.
So that’s what I am doing. Being obedient. Handing it all over to God – the worry, the insecurity, the fear, the queasiness. Trusting that he will be right here with me, teaching me what to say (Exodus 4:12).
So tell me, when’s the last time you were hopelessly in over your head? How did God set your heart and mind at ease?
I would so deeply appreciate prayers for my friend, the one who was originally scheduled to speak, who is dealing with a family emergency right now. And also, while you’re at it, that I might keep my head on straight, not succumb to primal freak-out and, above all, convey God’s message to the ladies at the Refresh My Heart conference this Saturday. Amen. And thank you.