Monthly Archives: November 2013

Performance Anxiety

“I get to be a person for a living. A person who every morning thinks about her quirky little church and prays, Oh God, it’s so beautiful. Help me not fuck it up.” Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve prayed a version of Rev. Bolz-Weber’s prayer. OK; I don’t use the “explicit” version, and not from a fear of divine retribution, either. I simply don’t care for the word. I think Nadia would appreciate that, too; she impresses me as very supportive of people speaking from a place of authenticity and integrity. And while her book and prayer is written in the context of pastoral ministry, you don’t have to be a pastor to pray the prayer.

Come on, admit it; most of us have prayed this prayer–or at least a version of it–right? Some of us may use only the second part of the prayer without invoking any deity; still, we pray it. Think about it. We start dating a great person, and as we check our appearance before heading out to meet them we take one last look in the mirror and say, “Please don’t let me (insert favorite action verb here) this up.” Or perhaps we begin our dream job and do the same thing.  Go ahead and imagine your own scenario.

This prayer doesn’t always come from a negative self-image, either. Often we have a good sense of ourselves and our abilities.  We just want to make a good impression by presenting our best selves, by performing to the best of our abilities. We’re aware of our good fortune; and we want to show appropriate appreciation for that good fortune.

There are, however, times when this prayer does come from a negative self-image. Humanity, while possessing the potential for doing great good, also possesses the potential for doing great harm. The horrific stories of bullying we read in the news are testament enough of this potential–and those are just those stories of which we’re aware.

I was a victim of bullying as a child and teenager. And while I don’t think anyone deserves to be bullied, I will admit I was a bit of a “goody two shoes”–well, most of the time, anyway. I was a staunch soldier for Jesus–again, most of the time. I was smart and loved school. I hated guns and hunting–and in rural Kentucky that’s just unnatural. Being somewhat effeminate didn’t help matters, either. My only saving grace was I loved basketball (a religion all its own in Kentucky), and I managed to make the starting lineup in middle school. The bullying I endured, however, was nowhere near the severity level of some of the bullying we read about today. Besides, I thought God was on my side as I fought the minions of Satan incarnate in the form of my tormentors.

While I’m opposed to bullying of all types, there’s a specific type of bullying that angers me most of all–religious bullying. As a young person there was a time when I prayed the last part of Rev. Bolz-Weber’s prayer almost every day–again, without the “f” word, because that was a one-way ticket to hell. I prayed it because I was taught that any infraction not confessed before I died meant I would go from being a soldier for Jesus to being a “crispy critter” for all eternity. I mean, really, who does that to kids?

At the time I bought the explanation that my pastor and Sunday School teachers tried to scare the hell out of us (so to speak) only because they loved us and were concerned for our souls. I still believe these folks meant well, and I feel no animosity toward them. You have to admit, though, dangling a young person’s feet over the flames of hell is a pretty effective way of  convincing them to toe the line.

As a matter of fact, it’s still a pretty good tool to use to keep some adults in line, too. Only today religious bullying tends to be far more political in nature, and “hell” usually takes the form of losing political office–and possibly being denied communion and/or admission to church. Who does that to people, anyway? Religious people who are afraid of change and who have to resort to playing on people’s fear of death and the unknown in order to prevent the changes they fear from happening, that’s who.

Of course, I still suffer from performance anxiety from time to time– I think most of us do, too. The good news is fear of upsetting God, getting kicked out of church, losing my job or losing the love of family and friends for speaking from a place of authenticity and integrity, or burning in hell are no longer part of my motivation for being the best person I can be. In fact, it’s when I started to release these fears that I was able to begin really living.

May we all learn to release unhealthy fears and the performance anxiety they cause. May we learn to travel both light and in the light of Divine Love.

Blessings on your journeys!

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