I recently performed in a play at church about women in the New Testament. I played The Woman Caught In Adultery. There were no auditions or anything like that. Basically, the very talented lady who authored the play just asked for volunteers. Many of the volunteers said they would be happy to play any part… except The Woman Caught In Adultery. People even cheerfully volunteered to play Mary Magdalene…just not The Woman Caught In Adultery. Maybe they had a certain amount of respect for someone who, at least, demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit in a time when there weren’t a lot of career options for women. The Woman Caught In Adultery seems to have abandoned her moral principles simply for the sake of giving the milk away for free.
Anyway, I was cast as The Woman Caught In Adultery not based on talent but on my general guppiness. I’m pretty much willing to do whatever anyone asks me to do to help (well, maybe not actually commit adultery), with or without the scarlet letter. In this case, there was no scarlet letter… just a vibrant banana-yellow head scarf. It is safe to assume that the respectable women in the community would be able to see me coming.
It was kind of fun preparing for the play. We rehearsed each Thursday night for about a month. I enjoyed working with the other women. I juggled inflection and volume with my lines, trying to ascertain what combination of emoting produced the most effective result. I liked experimenting with makeup. We thought it likely that women in Biblical times would be too busy to just sit around and talk. The director asked us to each find some sort of hand work we could do while we reminisced about our experiences with Jesus. I taught myself to knit using a YouTube tutorial. Mind you, I didn’t learn how to FINISH knitting, but I did manage a rather mangled stretch of congealed blue yarn. I felt quite accomplished.
I wasn’t even particularly nervous about the play. At least, I wasn’t even particularly nervous about the play until the day before the performance. Then, the goblins in my gut started dancing around with torches. My insides felt skittish. I had a couple of dizzy spells the night before and the day of the play. None of this is surprising. What is surprising is that it took so long for the stage fright to set in. I tend to experience a pretty high level of anxiety just living normal life. The other surprise is that the show went on and everything went well. Nobody died. There was no blood on the floor. Contrary to all the good wishes I received, I did not break any actual body parts. I’m not joking. Between my long robe, ascending a couple of steps, and doffing my glasses (apparently, no one wore glasses in Biblical times…. although, it seems they did wear a rather alarming amount of makeup), I was kind of a danger to myself and others.
This experience led to me to think about the concept of stage fright. Can you still have stage fright, even when there is no stage? I wonder how often in my life I have resisted doing something because of anxiety or fear of failure. As I mentioned, I live right on the edge of manageable anxiety most of the time. I can remember times, especially as a younger woman, where I talked myself out of activities and experiences because of that anxiety. The anxiety meter slipped over the line into the red and I shut down. I missed out on meeting new people because I was always sure that I was a waste of their time. There were times I drove to events and then could not go inside. There were times when going to school on a given day was impossible for me. I missed a free trip to Ireland because I couldn’t get past the idea of traveling with people I didn’t know very well. I am sure my career progression was slower and more painful than it would have been if I had been able to check my anxiety at the door.
I’m not sure what has changed over the past few years. Maybe it is retirement. Maybe it is maturity. Maybe it is figuring out that EVERYONE (even me) has a right to pursue happiness. Maybe it is my ever-increasing awareness that the clock is ticking and I want to make the most of all the time I have left. Maybe it is the Holy Spirit. Maybe it is a combination of all those things. I still wrestle with the anxiety and insecurity, but it is no longer the battle royale that it used to be. Most of the time, I win the battle. My “play” is going pretty well, despite the stage fright.
I am learning that, despite the jitters, everything will probably be fine if I step out of the shadows. Everything might even be BETTER than fine. In general, nobody cares what I look like or how badly I perform when I try something new. I’ll either get better or I won’t. I’ll either enjoy something or I won’t. I’ll either be a blessing for someone or I won’t. God will still keep the earth turning on its axis.
Maybe Shakespeare was right and all the world’s a stage. If so, that might explain my anxiety. Stage fright is normal, but it doesn’t have to cripple me.
Have you missed out on things because of “stage fright?” How do you manage anxiety? Do you find it gets easier or harder to overcome as you get older? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a brave day!