Being asked to give a talk in sacrament meeting can be a frightening thing. Now consider what it would be like going to another ward or congregation and speaking there where you may not know anyone. Unless you lived in that ward before or have spent time with members of that ward on previous occasions, it can be pretty scary compared to the relative comfort of your own ward. Now consider my background (we’ll get to that in a minute) and it seems really incredible that I was not anxious. I’ve known about this assignment for about a month and I’ve been preparing my mind, reading scriptures, listening to conference talks with this goal in mind. I can honestly say that I was not nervous about it and I trusted that all would be fine.
Saturday, I went to a leadership training (another assignment due to my calling as a counselor in the Stake YW Presidency) and observed how the Stake YM Presidency went about this training. It was neat to see boys from all the wards of the stake (think pieces of pie as the wards and the whole pie as the stake) participating in different team-building activities. The leaders were amazing. I hope we can live up to that caliber of leadership for the young women of the stake. The bishop of the ward I was to speak in leaned toward me and said, “I am looking forward to your talk in our ward tomorrow.” And then it hit me. I am going to be giving my first speaking assignment the next day and actual people were going to have to hear me and so I better make it good.
Full-blown panic was seeping into me as the day wore on. I wanted to go and read what I had prepared so far and fill out the rest of what I would say, but I was busy preparing for my youngest’s birthday which was also the next day. Since we don’t spend money on Sundays in order to keep the Sabbath Day holy, I was getting balloons, matching plates and napkins, and a luscious cake the day before. I was especially conscious of my daughter’s dismay that her birthday fell on a Sunday, so I think I was overcompensating. (Side Note: I had brought home a piece of Chocolate Mousse Cake from a nearby Italian restaurant recently, so she was very specific about what she wanted. I was more easily persuaded since each slice comes topped with a fresh strawberry. Usually when I ask my children what kind of cake they want on their birthday it’s something I can make. She’s the youngest, and I think she just pwned her siblings.) It wasn’t until much later that I was able to spend time on my talk. (Another side note: It occurs to me after writing that last sentence that in my blessing to be set apart in my new calling, it was specifically stated that the cost in serving the Lord in this capacity would come directly from me and not at the cost of my family. Kind of cool. Also, I had promised Zoe that she would have the special honor of sitting next to me on the stand because it was her birthday and everyone else would have to stay home. This really is an honor in her mind, but for any of my other children it would be a sentence to die a horrible death. So in this, too, I feel my family had not suffered.) It took me a couple of hours of working on my talk before I could feel like I could sleep, and the only reason I stopped was to make sure I woke up on time.
When I was in middle school, high school, and even early parts of college, I dreaded speaking in front of the class. In college, I would scan the syllabus for any oral presentations and then decide if I needed to drop the class. Sometimes I had to just suffer through them. And when I say suffer, I mean the following: stutter, tremble and shake in my knees and hands, falter in speech, say things that I later could not recall, forget what to say in the moment and turn red, sweat and even get dizzy. Needless to say, they were traumatic experience for me that I can recall even now.
When I joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, all of this did not just go away. On the day I was baptized, I was told to bear my testimony as part of the program. Of the two sisters that taught me, one of them was a Harvard graduate, older and more mature. She cringed when I stood up in front of the room and said, “I am so stoked!” This statement alone should have ended my public speaking career forever.
I would have been fine with that, and content to just listen when others would get up in sacrament meeting to bear testimony. This happens once a month and is called a Fast and Testimony Meeting. We come to the meeting having fasted after dinner the night before, giving the money saved from the meals skipped the next day as a monetary offering to help others in need. We still partake of the sacrament and then the pulpit is opened up to the congregation. Everyone who feels like it just walks up and starts talking into the mic, one at a time. Of course, the bishop will say who will go last whenever the time is up, and surprisingly, the time does get used up! In our ward, if you don’t jump right up, there will not be enough time for you. I know this will seem weird to those of my family who are not members of the Church. When my dad came to my son’s baby blessing (which blessings usually happen on a Fast and Testimony Sunday) he said to me, “I don’t have to get up and say anything, do I?” I laughed and told him that no one expected him to. This is a leftover concern from our wedding reception — Josh’s parents each took turns at the mic thanking people for coming and expressing their love for everyone there, and then gave the mic to my divorced parents in fairness to have their turn. My mother told everyone to take a wedding favor which she had made out of pinecones she collected. My father told everyone that Josh’s parents arranged everything and thanked them. If we were comparing, I think Josh’s parents took about 5 minutes each and my parents maybe a minute combined. Maybe my fears of public speaking are genetic or maybe the statistics are true – public speaking, and not death, is the number one fear so people would rather die than speak in public.
For my part, I felt loved and safe. The people I would bear my testimony to in the early part of my membership in the Church were all students like me. We spent time every week in Family Home Evenings, played ping pong and took turns preparing lunch at the Institute of Religion, and then visited with each other between classes. And in Hawaii, all talks begin with “Aloha” which is both a greeting and expression of love. The time and place was a unique incubator for me. I’ll never forget the time I decided that talking about something I learned in class in front of people who were also learning was a piece of cake compared to talking in front of my friends about the love I have for the gospel or the mistakes that I had learned from or the blessings that I found so amazing that I was moved to tears. Tears! Crying in public! Nothing at a University could be harder to speak publicly about than the things close to my heart. I aced my oral presentation in my Childhood Development class that year.
I have to acknowledge that the Lord does indeed make weak things become strong (Ether 12:27). I am stronger, but not at my full potential. You know how I know? Because in my talk yesterday I pretty much insulted the whole ward when I acknowledged that some of them may be “geographically challenged”. It’s not what I meant, but it’s how it came out. I record my talks so that I can see how much time I am taking, share them with my in-laws later, and learn how to improve. So I played the beginning of my talk for my husband last night and when I got to the part where I say, “…that’s on the island of Oahu for those of you who are geographically challenged” my husband nearly spit out his drink and I said, “I know. That was bad.” I stopped the recording and haven’t listened to the rest of it. It has been kind of eating at me all night and morning.
So I wanted to issue a public apology and clarification. What I should have said was, “…for those of you who are geographically challenged LIKE ME.” Even though I lived in Hawaii for nine years, it took me forever to learn which islands had what mountains and attractions and tourist traps. I was nervous and just trying to be funny. And no one laughed. Yeah, that happened–I made a joke and no one laughed (most horrible environment imaginable). I hope the rest of the talk made up for it. No one I talked to afterwards mentioned it. A few smiling people shook my hands and even thanked me. They could have been being polite. The bishopric is supposed to say thank you, right? Well, I may yet work up the courage to listen to the recording again and make it through the whole thing.
Here’s the rub… you Church members will understand the horror… the Stake President was there. He heard my whole talk. I think my boss may have words for me later or I might not get another speaking assignment. I remember when my mother-in-law, who was also my first Teacher Development teacher, told me that whenever I am teaching a lesson and asking specific questions that are only followed by silence, do not get mad at the group. Just ask them, “So what do you think?” I have since used that question many times successfully and can honestly say that I didn’t get mad at anybody who didn’t have the right answers to my questions right when I wanted them ever again. So, I can be taught… it’s just painful sometimes.
And for my children, my advice to them is that there is life after horrible mistakes. Even if no one forgives me, I still have to live and breathe, so I may as well get over the pain and choose to do better next time. In the end, everything really does work out for the best. Trusting is better than anxiety. Mastering nervousness would be best. There is always hope that I will get there someday. I tell myself not to give up and redirect my focus…
Zoe had a marvelous time!
Posted on January 13th, 2014 by trish
Filed under: Church | 6 Comments »