This is the year to conquer fear. In keeping with my 2013 New Year’s resolution, I plan to do at least one thing that I’m afraid to do each month this year. January’s scary thing was asking for a job. February’s was a tongue biopsy, (which is every bit as gruesome as it sounds). March’s scary thing was getting back up. And April’s, Public Speaking.
Sometimes in life, God gives us a do-over. When he does, don’t be afraid to take it. Even if you don’t know why.
Years ago, for a writing class, I entered my poem, “The Cash Cow” (a parody of Poe’s “The Raven”), in a local Lit Wit Humorous Poetry Competition. It won first prize. The prize included $200, 4 tickets to a local comedy club, and an invitation to read the poem at the annual Poetry and Jazz Celebration in Tampa alongside real-life poets.
I was thrilled. Coming out of a long and serious illness, I felt like winning the contest was God’s way of confirming my path as a writer. But I was scared to read it. I’ve been told public speaking is the most common phobia of all. Why do you think that is?
I’m not sure the fear of public speaking, per se, was the real issue. Teaching the Bible, leading holiday gatherings, or making announcements don’t bother me. I get caught up in the subject, and forget about how I’m coming across. But reading my own work? That’s another story. That’s scary. Maybe it’s social anxiety. Maybe I think of myself more highly than I ought to, and can’t stand for others to see my flaws.
The thing is: I have a lisp. It’s not a Cindy Brady “Mithithippi” lisp; it’s more Al Gore-ish—or if you prefer, Tony Evans-ish. My voice also tends to crack—totally out of the blue—causing people to ask if I am crying. So maybe the issue was less about public speaking and more about not trusting that God equipped me with everything I need. I imagine Moses felt the same way when he told God, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” God answered Moses, saying, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” But Moses still refused.
And like Moses, I still turn down good jobs if the publisher or web coordinator wants to talk to me via Skype or telephone, embarrassed to let people hear my voice. Whatever the reason years ago or now, I could not convince myself to stand in front of a group of talented strangers, and lay out my meager offering for dissection. So I didn’t. I always regretted that.
This year is different. This is the year to conquer fear, so I asked God for another chance. I wrote another poem and entered the competition again. This time I won third place. Not as much money or tickets, but another invitation to read. Feeling unsure, but obligated by the opportunity, when my name was called, I did it. I choked on my own spit, rushed the meter, squinted at the page and made no eye contact with the audience. And no doubt, I lisped. But I read my humorous poem along side poets that I admire, including Myron Jackson, Gregory Byrd and Melissa Carroll. And the audience laughed. At the right times!
I didn’t do a perfect job, but only God is perfect, right? The point is, God gave me a do-over, a chance to face this fear head-on and conquer it. And I did.
How about you? Are you afraid of public speaking, or do you have a different phobia? Do you now have, or have you ever had a speech disorder that made you uncomfortable speaking to strangers? How did you handle that? If you could do one thing without fear, what would it be?
I’d love to hear from you, if only to reassure myself that I’m not the only neurotic Christian out there.