Somebody Cue Mr. Smith

There’s an old Seinfeld bit about our collective fear of public speaking. Someone said it’s our number one fear. Death is second. Which means that for most people, if they’re at a funeral, they’d rather be in the casket than delivering the eulogy.

The first time I ever sang for a bunch of people I was in college. Singing at Common Grounds coffeehouse on 8th in Waco, Texas. I vomited. Before and after. And I swore I’d never do that again. The performing part. Which would in turn help me avoid the vomiting part.

But I got over the fear. And have stayed over it. For more than a decade now I’ve sung and spoken from stages to crowds as small as five (Thanks, Waco) and as large as 36,000 (Thanks, The Netherlands). One of those weirdos who’s more comfortable with a crowd than face-to-face, I guess.

Unless that crowd is under 18 years of age.

I turn down opportunities to sing for young people all the time. I just remember being at youth camps and youth conferences and having to sit through musicians my youth minister book because he loved them. I hated them. And I’m sure it was great music but it wasn’t what I was into. And I swore an oath to my thirteen year-old self that when I became my thirty-something year-old self I would never inflict my music on a child. Never ever, amen.

But speaking is another deal altogether. Or I thought it was. I thought I’d really enjoy speaking to youth. I’ve considered changing my name to Louie Giglio, Francis Chan or Shane Claiborne just so I’d have more opportunities to speak to youth.

OK, the truth is I’ve never spoken at a large gathering of youth. Unless twenty is young and twelve is large.

This week was my first time. And it wasn’t as fun as I thought it would be. I was scared. A lot.

Thankfully, I didn’t vomit. But, out of the blue, I was standing side-stage the first night of this conference I’m at and my mouth went dry, my hands went tingly – I had to sit down. Sweet Jesus, don’t let me puke on the front row. And on my new shirt. And my only shoes.

Every morning and night I was scared, lost my place, veered off from my notes, whiffed transitions.

But every morning and night students studied the bible, asked questions, wrestled with next steps, had their perspectives shifted.

Every morning and night youth ministers encouraged me with stories of how God was making big and small changes in the lives of students.

Every morning and night I prayed and was amazed at the answers.

You know what? I’ve been in a rut for years. Agreeing to the kinds of opportunities I know I’m great at. The kinds of things that I’m most comfortable doing. The kinds of sermons I can preach without thinking, without fear…without praying.

I mean, I do pray, some, but not like I have this week. I don’t usually have to so I just don’t. But this week I had to. So uncomfortable. So afraid. So much so that I had to pray, to confess my obvious inadequacy, to hope only in the power of God to change lives and not in my practiced skill. Because I felt downright skill-less.

You remember camp don’t you? And all those youth conferences? They always ended with a big pile of young people swaying to a Michael W. Smith tune, a sweaty mass of sorrow and joy and commitment and re-commitment and re-re-commitment. Everyone swearing to God that they’d change this or that when they got home.

I’ve never been fond of such over-dramatic conclusions. But I’m kinda having one myself right now, here in my hotel room, at the alter of my laptop.

God, when I go home I want to keep the dependence and humility this week has forced upon me. No matter how comfortable I am I want to pray like I’m scared out of my mind, like without you I’m absolutely inadequate. Because I am.

Thanks for the not-so-gentle reminder.