Sunday, June 10, 2012
I usually know ahead of time when I am going to give a message in open worship. Occasionally a message will come to me in the middle of worship, but more often, I have some advance warning. This can be as much as a month in advance or just a few hours.
When I first wrote here about knowing that I would have to give a message in meeting, a Friend asked why I was so certain I would have to speak. My immediate response (not what I wrote) was that I knew because I felt terrible. What I actually wrote was that I have spoken in meeting enough times to be able to recognize certain physical signs when it is likely that I will have to speak. All of those things―my heart racing, a tightness in my stomach, difficulty breathing, and shaking―happen when I get a message ahead of time, they just last much longer.
Sometimes I will know that I am going to speak because a certain word, phrase, or image comes into focus, like a pinpoint of light, and that is all I can see. Other times, I feel like I have the message in its entirety, but a clear sense that now is not the time to give it. The hardest thing for me is having the feeling that I will give a message, but no words―no sense of what that message will be. Trying to figure out the content of the message just makes things worse.
The benefit to knowing that I will be giving a message in advance is that it gives me time to prepare. I can look up Bible verses or quotes so that they are ready, and I have time to find support in the form of an elder to ground me, information about the schedule, or water and a snack to keep me going. Sometimes I write down a few notes.
The downside is that I have time to freak out and question everything. Just before worship is usually when what Jane Fenn Hoskens called "the reasoner" shows up. Call it what you will―the forces of darkness or my own insecurities―this is the voice that tells me that I do not have a message and that I never have. It says that I am delusional and self-aggrandizing―what makes me think I am so special that God would speak through me?
This voice is very convincing for a while, but one thing I have learned is that it makes mistakes and goes too far. Eventually, it will say something like, "You know God isn't real." And that makes me laugh. Because I know that God is real and that the voice is desperate. This helps me to find my center again and focus on the task at hand: delivering the message.
Then, finally, it is time to give the message. I am always surprised by the messages I give. Even when I think I know what the message will be, it changes. Sometimes the messages that come before it shape my message. Other times, I am led in a different direction than I expected as I am speaking. I try to leave space before and after I speak, to make sure that I am following my guide.
Afterward, I almost always feel better. It is a relief to have given the message. I usually feel tired and vulnerable, and very hungry and thirsty―empty in every respect. I feel both terrified that I will have to do it again and terrified that I will never be asked do it again.