There is a very good reason why I write rather than speak. When I write I have “do-overs”. That means when I mess up, or when I don’t like what I’ve written I can just backspace or delete, and start again. I can stop mid-sentence, and take some time, sometimes hours before I continue my thought on paper. I can say exactly what I mean, correct at will, and edit, edit, edit until I’ve got it right. Oh, and if I still don’t have it quite right, I can ask another person to fine tune it, so it’s perfect. Yep, I love writing.
Speaking on the other hand, is not my forte. I don’t ad lib well, I don’t have the gift of the gab, and I am paralyzed when I must speak in front of an audience. I understand that public speaking is considered to be one of the most feared things people do and I totally understand why.
My youngest daughter, Carmen is the actress in our family. She is a natural. She has stage presence, she can memorize lines with ease, she has comedic savvy, and she is not nervous speaking in front of large numbers of people. I admire her gift! I was already a member of the church choir but when I was also asked to be involved in the Christmas Drama because they were a few “actors” short, I got that “deer in the headlight look” but I thought, “How hard can this be? I have seven lines to memorize. Piece of cake.”
I practiced and practiced and practiced some more. I was to be in the opening scene of the Christmas Drama with my daughter Carmen. All the other actors were members of our youth group. I was the only adult “actor” and for that reason the pressure was on me to set a good example for my youth. Carmen had her lines memorized in ten minutes. I was impressed. We practiced together at home and she had MY lines memorized in another five minutes. I was really impressed. At the end of the week, she could practically recite EVERY line in the entire drama presentation! I was still stumbling over my seven measly lines. Anxiety started to creep in. Of all the disciplines, memorization is the most difficult for me to do. Why in the world did I agree to do this? I attended the dress rehearsal and listened to the youth practice. I was amazed at the ease with which they delivered their lines. I still had to use a “cheat sheet” to get through my lines. Carmen said I was “over-thinking” my lines as I haltingly tried to recall what to say. It was true, it’s the writer in me, I WAS over-thinking them! I was even trying to re-write them in my mind. Not a good thing to do.
On the night of the performance I thought I would be sick. I was to be in the opening scene with my daughter, the idea was we would introduce the performance, set the stage if you will for the choir performance and Christmas Drama and then I would slip back to my place amongst the choir. I knew my lines, but when the moment came for me to deliver them, stage fright washed over me. My mind went blank and that “deer in the headlight look” was back, except now 400 people were watching. I looked at my daughter. She couldn’t help me. I’d messed up my seven lines so badly with my ad-libbing I had single-handedly rewritten the Christmas Story! I could just see my seminary professors in the audience wonder how they could have given me a diploma. Then the angel of the Lord knelt before me and said, “Do not be afraid”…
The drama director, Mo, calmly prompted me with a correct line and MY comedic savvy cut in. Looking at Mo, with her wide smile and calm demeanor I took a deep breath and drew upon HER strength. I still messed up the lines but I somehow got through it. The youth, who probably took great courage from the fact that they could in no way mess up as badly as Mrs. Dove, executed their lines flawlessly throughout the rest of the drama.
It was interesting, but when I humbly returned to sing with the choir after my fiasco at “acting”, every song that we sung that evening, and every word that was spoken, (by the much more capable youth actors), took on renewed meaning for me. It was like I was hearing the Christmas Story anew. All the words in the songs we had been practicing for months in choir, now came alive with profound significance. I worshipped rather than just sang the words! All my focus until that point had been on practicing songs for choir, and then learning lines. All my Christmas preparations had been me-centred and to some extent prideful. Then as the day neared, and I realized that I may not pull off saying my lines with perfection, my focus shifted to my personal fears, and particularly on whether or not I would fail! Then the moment came and in front of 400 people …I did fail!
The opening scene in the play was supposed to have been all about how we have been so caught up in the busyness of the season with Christmas dramas, shopping, baking, and the like that we have forgotten the true meaning of why we celebrate Christmas at all. The lines I should have said that night, that I had so much trouble memorizing, I suddenly recalled with absolute clarity afterwards because I had in fact been living those lines right up until that moment!
“We forget to stop and remember the real reason we celebrate Christmas. The presents, the trees, the lights, the baking…that’s all good stuff, and I really enjoy it, but the real reason we celebrate Christmas at all is because the Lord of Lords humbled Himself and came to earth because He loved us so much! But He didn’t come as the King He is… but as a baby born in a stable, and laid in a manger.”