I participated in my first official speaking engagement this past weekend at the Refresh My Heart conference in Nebraska City. I didn’t expect to, but when a friend had to bow out at the last minute because of a family emergency, I agreed to step in. As I mentioned earlier, public speaking isn’t exactly my thing. Truthfully, I kept cursing under my breath during the four days leading up to the event. I was praying like a madwoman, too, but let’s be frank … I was also cursing.
I spoke twice – same material, two different audiences. The first session went really well. I couldn’t have asked for a more engaged, receptive audience. I was smooth as gelato. I worried I’d be a mumbly-jumbly Moses and I was articulate Aaron instead.
A miracle! God is good! Hallelujah!
I was on a high.
And then? Two hours later, I bombed the second session. Big-time.
Honestly, I don’t know what happened. Like I said, it was the exact same material. But as I stood at the podium and looked out at the audience, I saw no fewer than three women dead asleep and another one in the back texting furiously. As I was speaking I worried about what she was texting: “This speaker rots! Snooze-o-rama! Bring me a coffee asap!” The rest of the women wore a glazed “for-the-love-of-the-land-make-her-stop-talking” look on their faces.
I panicked. Instead of Lamazing and recalibrating and doing something to recapture the audience, I simply panicked. I talked faster and faster and faster, bent on a single goal: to finish the talk, scurry off the stage and hide in the bathroom.
Later, a woman who had been in the second session said to me, “You did pretty well. Considering you only had four days to prepare.” I know. It was that bad.
I beat myself up during the entire 53-minute drive home. First I berated myself for rushing through the material, for choosing the topic I did and for not practicing enough. Then I obsessed over how I’d disappointed a roomful of women who had paid money to nap through my talk. And then finally, I beat myself up for not being my friend, the one who was supposed to speak, the one who clearly would have rocked the room and rocked Jesus and been way more successful.
Back home, though, curled in the fetal position under my grandmother’s afghan, I realized something — something that enabled me to see the gift in the experience, even in the failure.
I realized that in failing, I was humbled.
I admit, I can let success go to my head faster than a horse goes to hay. After that first session, I was feeling pretty cool, pretty confident. I was thinking I could take the speaking circuit by the horns, no problem. But the truth is, I’m not quite ready for the big leagues. There is a process to this, a necessary period of growth and learning. As it turns out, I have a lot to learn. Clearly I’m not going to snap my fingers and become Christian Speaker Extraordinaire overnight.
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr once said that he prays that God will humble him at least once a day. When I read that, I thought he was brave and perhaps mildly insane. After all, who actually wants to be humbled? Who wants to be intentionally and purposefully brought down, brought lower? As tough and uncomfortable as it is, though, I now see the power in being humbled. I see the power in humility. Humility is a gift, because it teaches me who, exactly, is in charge.
And it’s not, nor should it be, me.
When’s the last time you were properly humbled? Did you see it as a gift?