Performance, Preaching, and Anxiety

This week started on a high for me. I felt like I was in a groove and nothing was going to stop me come what may. Well, that was good until “come what may came.” Tuesday and Wednesday have both sought to tank my confidence again.

I really do not feel okay right now. I do not think many people do. I am looking at my shaken confidence as a problem instead of something deeper going on. I listened to Glennon on her podcast this morning. It is wild that every time I listen to this podcast the words are there speaking to what is going on inside of me. At sixteen, Glennon walked into her counselor’s office at school and said she can no longer live this way. She is not leaving until she gets the help she needs. That is bold, brave, and super aware at sixteen. I felt that way in 2016. (Maybe it is something about the number 16). In 2016, I decided to cry out until I got the help I needed. I had to make some changes (lots of them) but help is coming and healing is happening.

I am an extremely self-aware person. It is a strength, but it is also borne of deep pain. Sometimes it causes me to have too many boundaries. I protect my internal world with my life because I have been hurt over and over and I want to stay alive spiritually. A series of traumas, both past and recent, have left me with trust issues. I also have a voice in my head that is constantly talking to me in ways that like Glennon said, if anyone else talked to me this way I would think they needed help and are way too paranoid. But, like Glennon, this is the girl I live with every day. I have been able to calm her over the last year, but with upcoming sermons and knowing so much feedback and critique of my performances are coming, she is starting to speak louder (she is scared) and I am trying to calm her down again. I felt less alone hearing Glennon say she can be fine and then not be fine all of the sudden. It is the opposite of toxic positivity–it is the “nothing is tolerable” syndrome. I get this way about church a lot. Church and public life are currently dangerous for women–see Catholic Church, SBC, and the state of Texas (just to begin to see). Our views on women are playing out right now, children too, and we do not seem to be that important. I grieve we seem more concerned about our performance to God than our performance on tending to the wounds of women and children from this abusive rhetoric in our culture that is full of lies and downright cruelty. This is not all in my head. This is true.

Egos take over to justify all of this and blame the ones who mourn as being negative or unable to take criticism. Or, if one dares to become confident (women, this is especially true), motives are questioned. We are a nation/world that does not like women, even the ones who do like women. I know this sounds strange, it is a paradox, but our pain is not considered as we learn to rise–even in progressive spaces. We need that space for a bit before all the critique comes. Taking up space and being seen is not something that is comfortable, and most of the time feels wrong. Too many are not used to it in ways that are empowering for women. We are used to seeing women fight for their worth, not live into their worth. Even myself, I feel like I am bragging if I say I have done anything well. And when critique comes, I take it to the furthest extent possible in the negative way because deep down I feel like I do not belong. That is a deeply embedded message in me. I was supposed to be hidden. I believed this too. I was cancelled from rushing in college because I was such a bad performer. Then in soccer when I wanted some credit and did not get it, I knew that was the selfish side of me that wanted credit. I am not nearly as confident as I sound. I am just doing it anyway because I can no longer live the way things were. We are all the scared child in the lunchroom wondering where we should sit.

I want to share what is on my mind about preaching. I am finally confidently saying I want to do it. I say that, but actually doing it is another thing, especially confidently. I hate performing as noted above. But in truth, I do not know if I hate performing as much as I hate being judged for it. But that is what I am learning to see is not happening now. Being able to receive feedback, one has to feel safe. I dropped a class one semester and took a directed study of that course to finish, having a woman teach me calmed my anxiety and then I was open to learning. She challenged me and gave me feedback that felt empowering and not crushing.

This is not me being guarded or just needing to get over it. My anxiety knows the danger that is out there for women in the church world. Look at the #MeToo #ChurchToo Movement. Instead of the church repenting, it is either ignoring it or digging its heels in further that the subordination of women is not the problem. They say it is just a spiritual problem. The church has the perfect system to absorb this systemic sin that is not getting any better. And progressive spaces are not responding in ways that will make it safer for women in the long term either. Rethinking doctrines and how we speak about God is necessary to make the systemic changes we need to not only protect women, but to free women. Women want to be free, not protected. I posted a great video on Twitter about that truth.

I know I am facing all of this, and it is true–not made up in my mind–when I say I want to preach. This is far deeper than me worrying that I may not be that great of a preacher. I know I can do other things well if preaching is not it for me. I might like writing better. I have never been one who wants to be seen publicly. Even when I got married, it was not the marriage that scared me, being seen on the wedding day by the crowd was painfully scary to me. So this preaching idea is more than an ego thing; it is a “this might save my life thing.” I cannot live this way anymore. I will do anything to get the help that I need (we need), even preach.

Our performance-driven society is killing us spiritually because we have made humans the means instead of the ends itself. This is about the flourishing for all of creation. Rethink what performance means.

Pastoral Resident, Ashley Robinson, had me take this picture and look at it every day before I preached. I was to say: I belong here.

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