I couldn’t see their faces. So I smiled at the silhouettes of the sixth through twelfth graders who sat silently on the bleachers while I stood in the spotlight.
As a chastity speaker (and writer), my target audience never has been teens or tweens. But I stood last Wednesday morning in the mostly dark gymnatorium at a private, Protestant Christian school — the same gym in which I graduated from fifth, eighth and twelfth grades, 18, 15, and 11 years ago, respectively.
And in my head, I kept saying “this is weird.” Weird to be in this room, in front of these kids, on this morning, doing what I would not have guessed I’d ever do when during my eight years as a student there, I sat in those same bleachers.
When I got the invitation to speak, I was totally game. I was honored. Moved, even, because I’m Catholic and we’re talking about a school that circulated anti-Catholic Bob Jones and Jack Chick literature until my parents and I asked them not to.
But the weekend before I spoke, I worried. I worried because I don’t speak to teens a lot. What if they don’t think my jokes are funny? What if 20 minutes isn’t enough time to define chastity? What if it isn’t enough time to define sex? What if the sixth graders don’t get it like the seniors do? What if none of them get it, ’cause I bore them?
I panicked a little, in front of a gracious friend who promised his prayers. And then I did the only thing I know to do in addition to prayer to tackle anxiety before a speech.
I practiced. Over and over, like always, I practiced.
The morning I would speak at my old school, I was nervous. I don’t want to know if the kids could tell. It doesn’t matter, really. I’m always nervous when the mic is mine, when the audience is actually in the room. That doesn’t go away. But last week was different.
I was going to do what I hadn’t done before — tell teens what I was told when I was their age, and tell them what I should have been told but wasn’t. When I showed up, it was showtime — no time to panic, no more time to practice. I had to let go. I delivered the speech exactly as I’d practiced it, in the silent, familiar gym. Then it was over. The students were dismissed. And that’s when I did another thing I never expected to do.
I thanked God for anxiety.
For how worried I was before I spoke, for the way I panicked. For my what if’s and my practicing more than I probably had to. Yes, I get nervous, and no, it doesn’t go away. But I realized in that gym that what happens while I prepare for a speech could debilitate me, but if I let it, it could remind me over and over to turn my head.
I recalled my questions: What if I can’t make them laugh? What if I can’t reach their hearts or minds? What if I run out of time? What if I bore them?
Then I thought of new questions: Since when could any of that get in God’s way? Since when could it thwart His plans?
The answer? It can’t.
In my panic, I looked at myself. I asked a bunch of “what if’s” when I probably should have asked “which of God’s jobs am I trying to usurp right now?” Conversion of hearts? Renewal of minds? I can’t do those things. And that’s ok, because I’m not supposed to. Those things aren’t my jobs. They’re God’s jobs.
My job is different. My job here is to be open. It’s to learn, to write, and to practice. It’s to hold the mic and share what I know. And my job is also just the same as yours: to trust that if and when God wants to use us, despite our fears or our worries, He will.