Social Anxiety, Dreaded Microphones, and Upside-Down Wisdom

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“Palm Sunday” by Fred Dawson, LRPS

Lately I’ve been stuck in a sneaky psychological trap that has left me feeling invisible and unknown. It’s largely a prison of my mind’s own making; in reality, I am surrounded by incredible community of friends, family, and mentors who give my life meaning, purpose, and so much joy each day. And yet, as someone who is relatively quiet, who is a total internal processor, who has always been more of a listener and a writer than an eloquent speaker, and who has just enough social anxiety that my cheeks turn a bright shade of pink and my palms start to sweat any time I’m in the center of attention, it can be easy to get a little lost in the shuffle. And lately, my anxiety in the face of the world’s conflict and clamor has fed into my own vicious cycle of self-doubt, self-silencing, and generally making myself small.

I was recently asked to serve as the assisting minister at a chapel service on campus. Although it might be borderline heretical for a seminarian to admit, I have a serious love/hate relationship with worship leadership. I love worship itself. I love thinking creatively and theologically about liturgy. I love being a part of a community that slows down enough to feel the embrace of holy presence through proclamation and prayer and song and sacrament. But put me in front of a crowd and give me a dreaded microphone and pretty soon I’m a sweaty, shaky mess counting down the seconds until I can literally be anywhere else. (I swear, seminary seemed like a good idea at one point…) Also, factor in an alb or any type of vestments or tricky steps of any sort or, I don’t know, a chalice filled with red wine and then the klutz in me teams up with my anxious hermit spirit, and I’m pretty much done for.

But I said yes to the whole assisting minister gig, and this morning found myself in an alb that was slightly too long, a scary microphone strapped on my ear, a worship leader book in my hands, and a room full of expectant worshipers—worshipers, mind you, who also happen to be studying theology and preaching and, well, worship. So, you know, no pressure.

But, as the assembly began to join in the opening hymn, instead of the expected instant dread or paralyzing fear or the gut instinct to run as fast and far away from the chapel as possible, I felt something different begin to stir within me. The fear-filled narrative I’d been carrying with me was flipped on its head, and I knew that my very presence in that space and in that moment was an act of resistance against my own anxiety and the “powers and principalities” that perpetuate it. Showing up in a space that intimidates me and stepping in front of the community to be seen and heard when I’ve been stuck in silence and fear became an act of reclaiming. Reclaiming my voice. Reclaiming my call. Reclaiming my place within God’s story and among God’s people.

As worship continued, I felt empowered to take my time in my words and movements, to take up space, and to simply make sound. To pray, to bless, to proclaim Scripture, to offer the promise over and over again that “This is the blood of Christ, shed for you.” And, while I still breathed a huge sigh of relief when I safely got back in my car after the service, I almost – dare I say it? — enjoyed myself.

Because in that moment, it wasn’t about me at all. It wasn’t about my insecurities or anxiety. It wasn’t about my confusing sense of call. It wasn’t about any of the papers I had written or the projects I’d completed or the positive feedback I’d received or the classes where I’d been too afraid to speak or the church politics that make me want to pull my hair out or my persistent state of over-thinking myself into a theological or vocational crisis. It wasn’t about anyone else’s assessment of my abilities or my gifts or my call. It was simply about Christ’s presence and promise and unfailing, spacious love.

A Love that welcomes all, uniting an unlikely hodgepodge of messy and anxious people into one Body.

A Love that enters into the most painful, isolating, and seemingly hopeless places of this world.

A Love that turns the powers and hierarchies of the empire on their head.

A Love whose wisdom is the world’s foolishness.

A Love that will stop at nothing to stir up new life. Even if it means giving the quietest and most anxious among us the mic.

 

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Author:

Imperfect Jesus follower. Feminist. Psychology nerd. INFJ. Ukulele Strummer. Grammar Enthusiast. Incurable klutz. Wanna-be coffee connoisseur. Seminarian. Recovering perfectionist. Broken and made whole. Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and pull up a chair. There is room for you here. Let's wonder about this crazy, beautiful, messy world together.

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