Getting a Taste of My Own Medicine
Have you ever had a sermon or message come home to roost? You know, what you preach to others gets reflected back on you, forcing you to prove whether you really believe it or not.
I had such a moment this week.
I presented a seminar on marriage for our church this past weekend. I was excited. I’d presented it before and received enthusiastic feedback. I reviewed my notes, and then reviewed them again. A slick power-point, humorous video clip, diagrams and models, strong theoretical basis, life application and anecdotes, good refreshments–all the bases were covered.
I anticipated a slam dunk.
But from the get-go, I felt like I was running in quick sand. I didn’t sense the energy and engagement with my audience that create synergy and magic. Reading facial expressions made me unsure if my concepts were connecting. It reminded me of times while preaching when the sermon would sort of tumble off the pulpit and plop to the floor, dead, before reaching the front row.
My anxiety began working me over. Pressure began building down in my gut. It must have risen to the top and affected my brain because I became time confused. Knowing 6:00 was our cut-off time, I was aghast that the clock already read 5:30. I still had a good hour’s worth of material to cover.
I sped through my outline, summarizing and condensing as I went. I shelved key illustrations and discussion questions. I didn’t even give them a bathroom break in the interest of saving time. I wrapped up and closed things down at 6:05. A little long, but at least I was in the ballpark.
How could I mess things up like this? My inner critic began warming its engine.
When the last of the couples left, I told my wife we had to hurry to get to our next engagement by 7:00.
“Why?” she said, “we still have over an hour to get there.”
“What? It’s already 6:30,” I replied.
“No, it’s not. It’s only 5:30,” she countered.
I looked again at the clock. She was right. I’d misread the clock and cheated myself and my crowd out of a solid hour. All my rushing and editing were for nothing.
My inner critic kicked into high gear.
For the next 24 hours, self-denigrating thoughts flooded my mind. “You stink at presentations. Quit trying to fool yourself in thinking that you can communicate effectively to groups of people. You’re a loser. No one wants to listen to you. You have no future in ministry. Give up the dream–it’s just wishful thinking anyway. You’re a failure and this is just another confirmation of that. Go get a job at WalMart.”
Was I good enough? I certainly didn’t feel like it.
I slowly fought my way through the shaming. I don’t hold out my process as a formula for all, but here’s how it worked for me.
For starters, I recognized I had a choice to make. Which story about myself would I choose to believe? I could stay loyal to the message of self-loathing. Many of us are fiercely loyal to that story. Or, I could cling to the story God tells about me. He is resolute in bestowing worth and value and acceptance. Jesus certainly wouldn’t be saying the kinds of things my mind was repeating.
Second, I opened myself to hear from others. I get myself in trouble if the only voice I’m listening to is the criticism of my own shame. I shared my angst with my wife and a few trusted friends. They told a different story about me as well.
I also asked God for help. I needed a word of encouragement, a shot of confidence. I received several emails throughout the day from attendees saying how helpful the information was. One guy reported that he and his wife were able to get back on track with their communication.
Finally, I realized one of the driving forces of my disappointment. I had become strongly invested in impressing my audience. I particularly hoped to wow a select few of the attendees. My ego and validation were riding on it. When I perceived I shot a dud, my fragile self-esteem crashed. I needed to repent and center myself again on Who my audience is and on what foundation my core sense of self rests.
To live in the freedom of being good enough, all those elements seem necessary. By the way, if you’re interested in having me present the seminar for your group, let me know. I promise to watch the clock.
This story is similar to what I experienced all semester last spring. I was teaching a class I had taught several times before, and preparing for the semester, I was sure it was going to be the best class I had taught. But it seemed each week brought a new set of challenges. I made a big mistake on the very first day of class, and the consequences of that mistake were felt through the entire semester. For the first time, I ended up with blow average instructor ratings on my evaluation, and one of the comments by a student on that evaluation was “this teacher should never be allowed to teach again.”
It was a kick in the stomach to say the least. I’m very passionate about both teaching and the subject area of the course, but through the entire semester, I repeatedly failed to live what I was teaching.
I had a talk with the division chair over the summer who has a lot of confidence in me, and we reflected on the things that went wrong. I was permitted to take a section of the same course this fall.
Last night was the first class, and going in, I was supremely nervous. I had planned several things that I had never done before, and left behind some of the things that I had done every other semester. It would be a risk.
A the end of the night, it all worked out wonderfully. I just had to trust myself and trust my planning. The blank stares and distractions so prevalent last semester were absent. I had my students engaged.
One big thing I’ve had to overcome as a teacher is not including my students in the lesson. There were some reasons for that, but whatever the case, I rarely had them go and do something on their own or (better) with each other. Overcoming that tendency has had the biggest positive impact on my teaching.
Anyway, I know I’m rambling here, but in the end it wasn’t just one day for me, it was a whole semester where I repeatedly failed to live up to what I was teaching. This semester, I hope it will be different.
Thanks for responding Josh. That sounds like a very painful experience. I appreciate the way you handled it, though. You talked about it with someone who could give you perspective and assistance, and you didn’t quit. I’m sure this semester will be better. Don’t give up.