Public speaking did not come naturally or easily to me. In fact, I would have preferred to have avoided it altogether. God had other plans. While in high school, I spoke for the first time at a youth-led revival at my church.
The thought of standing in front of a large congregation and saying anything was slightly unnerving. I could barely eat for three days before speaking and when I was finally standing behind the pulpit, I was shaking like a leaf. After wading through what felt like tremors beneath my feet, I began to gain a bit of confidence as the kind congregation began laughing at my corny jokes. My sermon ended up being long enough for two sermons and several deacons reminded me of that on their way out.
Sometime later, I was asked to do an Easter reading at another church. Reading should have been a piece of cake, but it wasn't. As I started reading, I was so self-conscious about pronouncing every word just right that my tongue took on the texture of shoe leather and the earth seemed to again be quaking beneath my feet. This was really bad. I had no moisture in my mouth and my tongue alternated, clinging like velcro to my teeth, cheeks and the roof of my mouth. Most of my words lacked a syllable or two from being recognizable.
Though I never regained my composure, I did manage to finish reading. By the time I finished, I sounded like I had just left the dentist office after enjoying a delightful root canal. My saving grace was a little old lady who sat about three rows back. She approached me after the reading with tears in her eyes. "That was so emotional and heartfelt," she said. I didn't have the nerve to tell her that the only heart that I had during that performance was the one beating like a drum in my chest.
Even after high school, my nerves weren't finished making a mess out of me. My pastor asked me to fill in for him on his daily radio broadcast. I was mortified but he wouldn't take "no" for an answer, so I reluctantly agreed to do it.
When the day came for the broadcast, my nerves were more lively than my message. About three minutes into it, I realized that I wasn't breathing while I was talking, at least not the exhaling part.
In my infinite wisdom, I shoved the microphone over my head and attempted to force the bliss of natural breathing to resume. It didn't. While I continued my message, I repeated this ridiculous process until I was finished. However, before I reached my much anticipated "amen," I noticed the station manager in the next room. He was laughing hysterically at my antics, almost rolling off of the couch he was perched on.
I'm sure the sight of my huffing and puffing for air between sentences was quite entertaining and I shared his laughter once I was safely off of the air. Eventually, all that practice paid off and I got comfortable in front of a crowd. It's a good thing I did, since I spent 25 years teaching school and preaching, all of which required being comfortable in front of a crowd.
Life is full of opportunities that require us to be stretched out of our comfort zones before advancing to the next assignment. It's important to remember that God often only allows comfort zones so that we can be effective until it's time to move on. Most of the time, we mistake the comfort zones as our calling, rather than a resting place while we wait to continue our assent up the mountain of God's bigger plans for us, where the true calling lies. Callings, like many other aspects of our lives, mature and change over time.
Had I ran from those years of stretching and discomfort, I would have missed out on the blessing of doing something I grew to love rather than dread. God will always bring a passion for what He purposes in our hearts.
We need to be careful not to embrace our comfort zones as substitutes for genuine passion. Where there is no stretching, there is no growth, so look for the things that bring some quaking under your feet and a good dose of dry mouth. You just might be about to reach your next assignment.