I had managed to escape this feeling for a long time. That is until last Saturday. It was Alternative worship, an event put on by Sacred Dance (a group that praises God through dance). A group I'm in called Silent Praise was invited to perform as well. Silent Praise uses sign language to worship God. Now, Alternative Worship is a "we all worship together" type of event, not something that should be stressful. But there were only four of us performing in both of the songs I was in.
And many chairs were facing the front where we were standing, and people were sitting in them. Which is a totally normal concept I realize, but when you're having a nervous breakdown, all you want is for it to not be normal for people to be sitting in chairs waiting to watch you perform so that they all get up and leave, and you can perform in front of God alone.
Inevitably the night started and soon it was time for me to perform. The harder song I was doing, "Voice of Truth" by Casting Crowns, was (naturally) the first song I had to do. The Silent Praisers and I were sitting against the wall waiting, and I was anxiously freaking out while everyone else seemed to be completely collected about the upcoming event. I was nervous that I would be so nervous while I was performing that I would forget the signs.
Yeah, that makes pretty much no sense unless you've experienced it. Well, when it was time for us to get up off the comfort of the floor and go to the focal point at the front of the room, the nervousness rooted itself even deeper in my soul. While I stood up I said "you can do this" and then "Jesus, You can do this," when I realized that really I wasn't sure that I could do it, but I knew that Jesus can and does work through us, even when we're incapable. Better to bet on Jesus than myself.
Myself and the three others went to the front of the room, and before I knew it the words started playing. Faith, same, Peter, I signed. This was good; I had gotten through the "Oh what I would do to have" part of the first phrase of the song. Notice that sign language is at times considerably different than English, and in this particular song there was no relying on the lyrics to help me sign. And then I saw all of the people looking at me.
I felt like I was going to faint. The butterflies that had entangled my soul now squeezed on it and I started to sweat. My heart beat accelerated under the pressure. My thoughts raced. Why did I tell my roommate to come to this? I questioned myself. Why did I say I would do this? Why can't I remember these signs? Why didn't I practice one more time? Why can't I make appropriate facial expressions when other people are around? A world full of why's filled my head, but they were pointless. I had practiced the song a thousand times. I knew the signs. I wanted to do this because I love sign language. I wanted my roommate to be there because she's cool; and I wanted her to see that the practicing she was forced to hear paid off. I had the answers to all these questions, but I was too anxious to make my hands move. Who knows what signs I signed next, I just know they weren't right.
For a split second I was able to cover my anxious thoughts with a realistic one. Wait, Molly. How could you forget this quick? It's not you that is courageous enough to sign in front of all these people. But Jesus is. I focused on the truth of the song: while voices laugh at me and remind me of all the times I've tried and failed, Jesus tells me different. He tells me not to be afraid. He tells me to do this for His glory.
The thing is, we all want to be perfect. We all want to never mess up. Even more than others do, we look down on ourselves when we fail. The shame of our past and even of our present situations eats away at our souls, telling us we don't deserve the love demonstrated to us on the cross or any love for that matter. Sometimes our shame even tells us that the Savior didn't die for us.
But He did. And the thing is, we don't deserve it. We never did anything to make us worthy of God's love. We can't do anything to earn His love. There is absolutely positively nothing we can give God to make the sacrifice on the cross seem fair. In my flesh, I'm lazy about my schoolwork and I find enjoyment in everything except God and His word and I give into temptation. But I am not obligated to my sinful nature, and neither are you. We can lay ourselves down, and give all the glory to God. We can graciously accept the love shown for us when Jesus died for us and live. When I die to myself I want to bring glory to God through my schoolwork. I can say no to my temptations, even when it's the middle of the night and I'm surrounded by darkness. When I'm stressed out I don't need to eat or talk about nonsense with my friends to satisfy myself but my soul yearns to spend time in the Bible.
Courage has been on my mind since day one of this school year. But only recently I made some sort of breakthrough with this concept. I was Looking through old convocation addresses to different incoming classes for the liberal arts essay every freshman here writes. 5/18 of them mentioned courage. Of those five, three of them mentioned humility and courage in the same sentence. The same sentence! These speakers could have spoken about anything in the world, and three of them could still somehow be so similar? It was enlightening in the fact that I had never thought about humility and courage going hand in hand, and this made it pretty evident that I had to at least consider them together.
I remember walking up the only slight hill on campus a little while back and I was thinking about the predicament of courage; when the Spirit leads us to do something that requires we are courageous and we say yes, it feels good. But it's scary, and the only thing that makes it better is that our God is a comforter and He never leaves us. But I was wrestling with the fact that God continually presents us with situations that require we be a little more courageous than we were last time. We can never feel safe while being courageous, because each courageous thing is a little more unfamiliar than the last courageous thing we did. This process continues until we're so courageous we follow Him to the ends of the earth.
Which is the point of this whole thing called life, to follow Jesus wherever He takes us.
I can't even remember what it was I was proud about being courageous about while walking up the sidewalk. All I can remember is the fear that descended upon me because I knew soon the Spirit would lead me down another uncomfortable path, albeit worthwhile and rewarding. I saw the problem with this way of thinking today. I saw why I'm so afraid of being courageous. I saw that I was partially leaning on myself, as much as I was trying to lean on Jesus.
The thing is, courage and humility are definitely very intertwined. You can try and try and try and try to be courageous without being humble, and you will at least partially succeed if you're leaning on Jesus. But without humility, you're missing a huge aspect of what it means to be courageous (and this is the part of courageousness that makes it easy to be courageous). Humility requires that we don't think much of ourselves. It requires that we realize it is truth that we can't do anything to earn God's love; it is just unconditionally poured out on us because He is that good. And it requires that we accept this love (because really, you have to be humble to accept love knowing you don't deserve it). Humility requires that we don't feel the need to be good enough or courageous enough or collected enough or anything enough. Being courageous is scary because it calls us to do something that isn't very comfortable. And if we're focusing on our pride, if we're worried about what people think about us, if we're worried about making fools of ourselves...it's easy to say no to the call to be courageous. And it's easy to fear the concept of being courageous.
If we're worried about ourselves, we're not practicing humility. I too often put importance on myself and other's view of me. But we aren't being courageous for us. In fact, we're not even being courageous. I am not courageous. But my God, oh is He ever courageous. Jesus prayed courageously; He lived courageously; He's pretty much the epitome of courageous. I was right in the fact that we need to lean on Jesus if we have any hope of being courageous. But that alone doesn't make courageousness particularly less stressful. Until we completely forget about ourselves and do what the Spirit leads us to do as Jesus would, courageousness is stressful. When you care about the person the Spirit wants you to help instead of yourself, courageousness is a piece of cake. It's logical. It makes sense to lay down your fishing pole and follow Jesus when you're humble, because His plans are greater than yours.
I signed the rest of "Voice of Truth" with relative accuracy, and the nervousness went mostly away. I focused on Jesus instead of on myself.
While I was nervously forgetting the signs to the song, I saw a glimpse of my future flash before my eyes. I saw the deaf people that I've been dreaming about sharing Jesus with, and I saw me give up. I saw me realize that I'm not deaf. I saw me realize that my brain does not think in American Sign Language format. I saw that there are a million hurdles to communicating with people in a new language.
And then I saw that my insufficient self doesn't matter. I saw that if I rely on myself to bring Jesus to everyone, it's likely no one will ever believe in Jesus because I am not that great. But the Holy Spirit is that great. Relying on the Spirit to reveal Himself to people and to change me will allow me to learn ASL and communicate with deaf people if that's what He calls me to do. With this humility in mind, I know it won't be that hard to be courageous.
Our society is one that seeks comfort: in family, in friends (when was the last time you saw a teenage girl alone?), in sports, in food, in alcohol, in TV. Anything that is unfamiliar is desperately avoided by most people in our country. Even though it was uncomfortable for me to sign in front of a room full of people, it was rewarding: enlightening, even. And it would not have been uncomfortable had I been humble in the situation. It's uncomfortable to walk across the room and start a conversation with someone you don't really know. But all you have to do is give Jesus a quick second to take over; with it in His hands, you won't regret taking a step out of your comfort zone.
Our society is one that seeks comfort. Will you conform to the ways of society? Or will you lay yourself down, listening to the Holy Spirit to guide you while you let Jesus live in you?
You'll be surprised how much you enjoy being courageous in Jesus.