Saturday, December 8, 2012

Gremlin, Gremlin, Go Away...

A few weeks ago, I was approached by the chairs of the Deaconate and Trustee boards, who asked me to make an announcement at church the following Sunday. We have a relatively large congregation – and on any given Sunday, the sanctuary will fill up to its roughly 1500-seat capacity. The announcement would only take a minute or two – and I was asked to put my own “personal touch” on the last appeal for fund for a new church library. I said yes, without hesitation.  Before the brief conversation was over, my heart was pounding, I had so-called “butterflies” (not so pretty) in my belly, and my palms began to sweat.
Fears? Sure, I have them. The worst for me is the relationship I have with performance anxiety, or “stage fright” that has plagued me for the better part of my adult life. It translates into challenges taking tests, and borderline terror before public speaking engagements. I'm told that I cover up the anxiety well. I love to hear that because it takes some of the pressure off – but only some. Not enough to stave off the stomach knots or to keep from feeling like my heart will pound right out of my chest.

I used to decline requests or invitations to speak in any kind of public setting. It just wasn't worth the horrible feeling in the moments before. I confess – I used to “borrow” beta blockers – you know the kind that you find in prescriptions for hypertension. There were speaking opportunities I could not graciously decline – like work obligations, hearings and depositions, and so forth. The pills, too, took the pressure off the anxiety, but not enough for me to really get comfortable beforehand.

Sometimes I think of it as some kind of equivalent of body dysmorphic disorder – like what they say Michael Jackson had – when a person has irrational and distorted images of themselves. For me, it’s not at all about my body. It’s that internal dialogue – the gremlins in my mind that tell me no matter what I do, what I’ve accomplished, no matter how hard I try, I will never be good enough. What is that about?? We all have it – and those gremlins attack us in our most vulnerable moments.

Now I say yes, almost every time I’m asked, so I can preempt my gremlin before it presses me to say no. It’s my way of facing the fear. It has to be a conscious decision – I don’t want to be a slave to it any longer. I listen instead to the voices of those supporters - friends and family, who tell me – “you were nervous? It doesn’t even show!” or “you are so graceful!”, I use those voices to supercede the nasty little gremlin in my head, telling me I’m not good enough.

The fear response is a very real, very powerful experience intended to protect us from danger. If there was a woolly mammoth charging at my babies, that response would be critical. But when the fear is not a threat to physical safely, understanding it is not always so simple. Do we need to understand the underlying cause? I’m not convinced that it matters. It may be more important how we choose to respond. The best that we can do is to face the fear – shine a bright light on it and view it with new eyes. It is amazing what happens.

So, what am I really afraid of when I stand in front of the congregation to make an announcement in church?! That I will make a mistake and be embarrassed? Okay -- so what? That I will be rejected...abandoned...that I would die? Hardly. But when I remember that the fear itself is so much worse than the reality of it, the possibilities become endless.
When we stretch ourselves, and move out of our “comfort zone”, we discover strength we didn’t even know we had.

When you face your fear head-on, what are the possibilities?

“Life only demands from you the strength that you possess. Only one feat is possible – not to have run away.” – Dag Hammerskjold

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