Do you know that public speaking ranks near the most common fear? Nearly 25% of people report a fear of it, making Glossophobia perhaps the most common phobia.
And yet… most of us have to speak in front of crowds of some sort from a Public Speaking class in High School to giving an announcement in church, to saying grace at a family meal… public speaking is a part of our lives.
As someone who works in Youth and Camping Ministry, I have the opportunity to
torture teach people how to do the very thing they are sure they don’t want to do. From praying for a group, learning to get (and maintain) the attention of a HUGE group of people, lead a Bible Study, share their testimony, make phone calls to reserve a table at a restaurant, talk with speakers/bands for large events… the list of ways goes on and on.
In fact, I’ve been known to joke that my spiritual gift is getting people to do things they’re sure they don’t want to do. And while I may say it in jest, the truth is that a lot of my work will bring people to the crossroads of the end of their comfort zone and their desire to grow/experience new things/step into something they’ve never done before.
Needless to say, I’ve had a lot of experience observing people at that critical juncture. And there is something I’ve noticed about what happens at that intersection, at the place where you have to face something you’d rather not:
-some people turn right around
-some people barrel straight through with hardly a glance back
-many people stop at that intersection unable to move forward and unwilling to turn back
I want you to think about how you respond as you face things you’d rather not… how do you respond?
Maybe your fear isn’t public speaking, but there will be things we each face that we’d rather not. And the truth I’ve observed (and experienced for myself first hand) is that, for many of us, how we respond at that intersection can be the biggest obstacle we face.
Take public speaking for example. My most recent group of students given the task of preparing a 5-minute devotion were a prime example to watch this happen. They’d been given the task about a month in advance, taught the basic skills, even had a “mentor” so to speak to help them. Yet, the moment was in sight when it would be time to present and fear kicked in, panic took hold, excuses abounded and requests for an extension followed right after.
And here is what I saw so clearly, not just in these students but in most of us facing things we’d rather not have to…
paralyzed by panic
When fear hits all too often we become paralyzed by panic, unable to make a step forward or backward, immobilized by fear we feel stuck in the crisis as if we cannot escape.
Overwhelmed by the very thing we are sure we don’t want to do and feeling helpless by the paralyzing panic we put off taking any action, after all, if why would we inflict further pain/discomfort on ourselves by being overcome by something we don’t want to do, can’t overcome, and aren’t able to deal with?
The very thing we put off dealing with doesn’t leave us alone though and we think about it nonstop, lose sleep over, talk about to anyone who will give us sympathy, brainstorm ways to get out of, and/or think of all the ways this is going to go wrong.
multiply the problem
We almost become professionals at making the problem worse as our energy is consumed running scenarios over and over in our minds, our will is worn down as we are frozen by panic, we’ve put off dealing with it and therefore have run out of time to get help/find solutions/work on overcoming the problem.
The thing is, as creatures of habit, it is all too easy to make this routine into a rut we fall into whenever something difficult comes across our path… and we’re stuck.
THAT is what I’ve observed, here is what I offer us:
For every one of those things listed above, we can take the very same situation and change how we respond and instead:
Put words to your fears, discomfort, unhappiness, angst, concerns. Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away, in fact, for many of us it grows larger. Instead be honest about what you’re experiencing, honest to yourself, honest to those who are close to you, honest to those who can help.
When we acknowledge the reality of what we’re experiencing and the obstacle in our path we can then begin to look at it for what it really is not the monstrosity we’ve built it to be in our mind. Here is where, having been honest about our feelings we can look directly at what is in front of us, determine why it makes us uncomfortable, and begin to see what we need in this critical moment.
We have a God who encourages us to come to Him, Jesus beckons us to bring our burdens to Him, the Father offers us refuge, strength, and an ever-present help in times of trial, and the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf when we don’t even know how to pray. The problem with perseveration is that we become stuck in the moment, overwhelmed by how we’re feeling, paralyzed by what’s in front of us, and isolated by what we’re facing. The beauty of prayer is that by nature it moves us out of our own thoughts and brings us in conversation and communion with God.
break down and move forward step-by-step
Here is where we can use our resources. How can we break down what we’re facing into smaller goals to accomplish? As we encounter hard things we’d rather not face, one of the biggest problems we experience is feeling we have to solve it all or conquer the whole thing at once. Think through the smaller steps you can take to move forward. Look for people who can mentor/teach/coach you. Stop and evaluate your progress and your needs to move to the next action step.
Now, here’s the thing, these alternatives aren’t easy. If they were, you already would have chosen to do them. And they aren’t comfortable. They aren’t the only options or even the best order. But they are steps you can take at that critical intersection of the end of your comfort zone and the beginning of something you aren’t sure you want to face.