I smiled, hugged, and waved at the women who organized the women’s day as I opened the trunk to deposit my props and books inside. Clicking the unlock button, I climbed in the driver’s side, and turned the car keys as I rolled the window down. One more wave, I thought, as the smile was plastered on my face. They waved back, laughing and smiling.
And then I was out the driveway, onto the highway, heading home. The smile came off of my face. I exhaled loudly, slumped in my seat, set the cruise control, and hunted for a radio station to fill the car with music so I wouldn’t be alone with my thoughts.
I felt like an impostor.
I think that is one of the most common feelings speakers have after an engagement–or perhaps even before one! We worry about whether we were present our message properly, whether our message was relevant, correct, and effective. We’re nervous. We’re scared. And yet we have to appear upbeat, energetic, and excited all day as we’re surrounded by women who are hanging on to our every word.
At times it feels more like being in a high school play than it does delivering God’s message. So many times I feel as if I have been acting.
And I have learned that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
A phrase hit me this week as I was loading up the car with books, once again, to drive three hours away from my family to speak at a retreat. God said to me,
Can you offer me a sacrifice?
And in many ways, that’s what speaking is. It is hard to believe that, perhaps, when you are just starting out and you’re so desperate to get some speaking engagements. In many ways the inception of a ministry is a wonderful time–a period of dreaming and visioning and working and excitement.
But the time comes when those speaking engagements roll in, and we are consumed with doubt. I know my messages are effective. People tell me they are, they cry with me, they pray with me, and most of all, perhaps, they ask me back.
I also know, though, that some of the best days I have had speaking are not days when I have felt particularly energetic. They’re days when I had to push myself. When I had to remember that it was God who originally helped me to write this message, and it was God who gave me the gifts to deliver it. And so I deliver it, and I see the impact, but in the meantime I’m thinking about missing my own church that Sunday, and wondering how the youth are doing without me (I teach their class). And I’m wondering if Katie made it back from Youth group okay last night, and if she’s made up with that friend who was being silly to her last week. And I’m wondering if my husband’s okay, because he was on call on Friday night and he’s always tense being on call when I’m not there, because he hates having to leave the girls (even though they are teenagers now).
And quite frankly, I want an afternoon to knit. I haven’t had an afternoon to myself in a while, and I’m tired.
Yet nevertheless, despite all these things running through my mind, I plaster a smile on my face, and I deliver my message.
Am I an impostor?
No. I’m not. Here’s what I realized, driving back through the array of fall colours last weekend. Those words I spoke were true–whether or not I was excited by them right then. I have heard them so many times, given them so many times, that I sometimes miss the power of them. But God’s power is still there, in those words, and He does not depend upon my mood. He simply asks to use me–even if I’m not excited at that very moment.
Isn’t that what a sacrifice is? To offer yourself to God, knowing that what you have to share is important, even if your feelings aren’t necessarily in line right now? I’m not talking about sin in your life. If there are major sins, we definitely have to bring those before the Lord and work them through before we stand in front of an audience. But sometimes we’re just engulfed in our humanity–worried about health concerns, or family, or laundry, or church. And none of those things stops just because we have a speaking engagement.
Here’s another scene that is repeated many times when I speak: I am standing alongside my book table, shaking hands, hugging teary women, praying wih some. So many come to me and say, “that was just wonderful. You spoke directly to me.”
And I don’t know what to say. I want to cry, “I’m glad, but I’m worried about my daughter, and I wish that I could have been there for her today!” I want to say, “I sometimes wonder if I’ve lost my enthusiasm for this; why aren’t I more excited today?”
But I don’t feel that I can say those things, and so I simply smile and say, “thank you for telling me. I’m so glad.” And I leave it like that, empty, hanging in the air, as if there was something else that really should have been said.
I don’t leave it hanging anymore. Sometimes, in those moments when people sing my praises, I just decide to be honest once again. I say, “Thank you for that encouragement. I needed that today. I’m tired, and I sometimes wonder if I’m having an impact. So it’s so great to know that God can use me even with all the things I’ve got running through my mind, too!”
People appreciate that. They like knowing I’m human, too. And so I have realized I don’t have to be an impostor. I don’t have to pretend that everything is okay, that I was completely excited to be there, that there was no other place I would rather be, no other people who are tickling at the edges of my brain, no other concerns that I can’t seem to leave behind. It is not “acting” to act excited on stage, to deliver your message with a passion that you don’t necessarily feel. It is simply giving it the attention that it deserves because it is God’s message, and it IS exciting.
And usually, once I start, that excitement returns. Berate myself for feeling selfish, and it doesn’t.
I am trying to practice the art of being quiet on the drive home, of letting God speak to my heart, and quiet me after delivering a retreat. I am trying not to flee from the people who tell me that I spoke to them, trying not to flee from the thoughts that accuse me of not being worthy to speak because my heart is sometimes divided. I am simply offering God a sacrifice–my time and attention and energy–and a sacrifice has to cost something. In this case, it costs my emotions and my energy, and it is lovingly offered, even if sometimes it is difficult.
We cannot expect ourselves to be always on an even emotional level when we speak. Some days we will be over-the-top energetic. Other days we won’t. But God stays the same. And we are offering Him our sacrifice. We are offering Him our best delivery–even if we’re tired. And I believe He is happy with that, and that He will use it, if it is honestly offered, even in the midst of worry or exhaustion.