I preached after a particularly full week and three restless nights. I was tired but felt confident. I had practised my sermon out loud without relying much on my notes and looked forward to doing it like that on Sunday. However, when I got behind the pulpit and in front of everyone, self-doubt surfaced and glued me to my script.
I know this intro. What am I doing? I thought.
I looked up and wanted to step back, but I was tethered in place by the microphone. One end was pinned to my collar and the other rested on the pulpit since I didn’t have a way of clipping it onto me. I felt leashed to a nervous insecurity that questioned me about incidental facts. A few times I stumbled over my words and was sidetracked by thoughts.
After church, preoccupation with my performance had me wound up tight. “Did it go all right?” I asked Fred more than once. “Yes,” he said each time, looking me in the eyes.
Over coffee and a walk, I unwound the event with trepidation. I enjoyed what worked well—and most of the sermon did—but it was hard to accept what didn’t. But there was nothing I could do about it now.
“I long for the freedom to just preach without insecurity hampering me,” I said. I had tried my hardest.
That thought triggered a memory from elementary school. The teacher took our class to the gym and lined us up along its perimeter. He asked us to run across it diagonally, one at a time. I was not an athlete and my peers and teacher would be watching. I ran as fast as I could, unaware of how loudly my feet pounded on the floor. As I caught my breath, the teacher remarked, “Sounds like you are stomping grapes.” Everyone laughed. I felt like a fool.
But no one was laughing now. Why did that memory return?
Before I went to bed that night I sat down to pray. I allowed myself to be present to the Holy Spirit who was present to me. My Companion was gentle and compassionate, matching sigh with sigh. It is what it is.
The next morning, when I returned to prayer, I saw things differently. The freedom the Holy Spirit longed to give me, was not the freedom to live unhampered by self-doubt, but the freedom not to care if I stomped or not.
Yes, that’s the sweet freedom I want. Not to care one little bit.
Guard us, Lord, from seeking to find our identity in performance or professions.
– From SoulStream Community’s Noon Prayer