I witnessed something incredible this week.
I teach a public speaking class at a local private school. Needless to say this is not a favorite among my students. This class should have a warning label: Can cause hives, sweating and the jitters. On the first day of class one of my students asked if he could transfer out the next day. I laughed and told him no and that I knew his mama.
Several times a week the students have to participate in improvisation exercises. They have to speak (yes, in front of the class) on a random topic for a predetermined length of time—usually two minutes. To me two minutes is not a very long time, but to my students it seems like fifteen.
My daughter hates public speaking, and she is one of my students. She hates being in front of a crowd and looking into the sea of faces. She hates trying to think on the spot. She hates being watched and observed. Exaggerating I am not. Hitting the time mark in the improvisation exercises has been a true struggle for her. Usually she is at least a minute under the time requirement.
The class is a mix of several freshman, one sophomore and three seniors. My daughter is the one sophomore. And it was her turn. Often I will throw a twist into the format. The twist this week was I decided when they had to speak, but they got to choose the fellow classmate who would pick the topic.
Carefully my daughter assessed who she would choose. She chose well. Her fellow student asked her to talk about why she disliked public speaking so much. I laughed quietly. This was a topic she understood. She had quite a bit of personal experience with this subject.
My daughter started well. She was in control of her voice and her body movements. Her eye contact was strong. Her voice was well modulated. Thinking she was going to reach her time I began to cheer inwardly for her. Suddenly like a fan that had been unplugged she wound down. She looked at me and stated that she was finished. I told her she could sit down, but she would have to try again the next day.
That’s when it happened.
And it happened so quickly I almost didn’t catch it.
From the back of the room one of the boys raised up the phone they were using to time the improvisations. Several boys began to talk at once.
“No, wait she’s just on pause. “
“Go ahead, Abby. Finish.”
“You can do this. You got this. You were just on pause. ”
The whole room began to encourage and cheer for my daughter.
“C’mon, you can do this. Try.”
Turning back to Abby I saw she hadn’t moved far from her spot. I nodded, and she took a deep breath and began again.
The boys took the stopwatch off pause.
This time she finished. Actually she went over the required time.
And the class burst into applause.
I will never forget that moment and the look on my daughter’s face.
She will never forget that day.
Because that day we witnessed an incredible illustration of the Kingdom of God fleshed out.
Sometimes we just can’t reach the required mark. We are too afraid. Too tired. Too embarrassed. Too overwhelmed by the task. Too intimidated by the sea of faces before us. We start well. We move forward. And then, suddenly, we hit a wall. We are stuck, and we just decide we are done. That’s all we have.
I hope when this happens to us (notice I say when, not if) we have a cheering section putting us on pause. Just a moment so we can catch our breaths, gather our thoughts and garner our composure.
I hope when this happens to someone else we remember to encourage and cheer.
I hope we remember to offer a pause—even if it is just a brief one.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Hebrews 10: 24 (NIV)