No Fear...

I'm not ashamed to be afraid of most of what scares me. Zombies? Scary. People who aren't afraid of zombies? Even scarier. Horror movies? The worst. Animated villains? Let's fast-forward those scenes. But today, after narrowly avoiding a situation that scares me more than almost anything, I texted my sister in frustration, "What is wrong with me... after all these years, I can't face playing the piano without turning into a shaking lunatic?" (Her compassionate response was, "You're basically insane." Agree to agree.)

Last year, I wrote this post, outlining the worst of my nervous quirks. It got a lot of feedback (I'd like to think because it struck a chord with similarly handicapped people and not just because chortling at my misery makes for an entertaining read.) Anyway, one thing that I've heard from nearly everyone who's tried in some way to "counsel" me about my stage fright is this: "It gets easier." I have a response to that:

No. No, it does not. Nearly 18 months after that original post, and having actually performed more in that time than I would have planned on, I can say without any qualifiers that it really hasn't gotten easier. Also, I'm writing this after several instances in the past week in which I played the keyboard, or, as I like to call it, "Are you sure you're related to your sister?" I've been performing in different ways for a long time now wonder if it will ever get easier to get up in front of people, knowing all the while that I will be shaking like a leaf and feeling close to a mental and/or physical meltdown.

For example: this morning when I arrived at church, I was asked to play the hymn for the invitation. Now, honestly, that shouldn't be a big deal. But rather than swallow my terror fear and agree to it, I immediately called upon my friend Blake to do the job. Because Blake enjoys watching me suffer helping me grow as a person, he did not jump at the chance to minister through song but instead insisted that I play. I said no; he said yes. I began to feel sick, my whole body felt weak and tremble-y, and I barely heard a word of what I'm sure was a great Sunday school lesson from my husband. After talking myself in circles for the next 45 minutes ("You can do it; no you can't; yes, you can... NO, you can't!") I realized that I hadn't actually heard from Blake whether he'd play and having a Mexican standoff while people are laying their all on the altar seemed like a bad idea. Fortunately, he'd had his fun and assured me that he would play the invitation hymn. I nearly crumpled to the ground in relief and gratitude and went on to (finally) enjoy the service.

HOWEVER, I was dumbfounded by the fact that, after playing the piano for about 18 years now, why in the world the prospect of chording my way through a familiar hymn, quietly, while most people are distracted by getting out for lunch praying, should leave me paralyzed with fear. Because while it makes for a funny story, it's completely true. I wish I were making up the fact that this situation, and others like it, make me afraid. But I'm not, and they do. 

What am I so afraid of? Why does playing the piano terrify me? Why do I have a deathly fear of confrontation of any kind? Why would I rather be in the coffin than giving the eulogy? After all (and I remind myself of this regularly), "God hath not given us the spirit of fear... but of power, and love, and of a sound mind." This morning, the only "sound" registering in my mind was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. And, what's worse, is that every time I "fail"- every time I have to say, "No, I can't do that because I don't have control of my nervous system" (literally and figuratively) I feel the confidence of those around me, and of myself, slipping. "Can't count on Ashley... she shakes. What a freak." Now I hope know that no one is actually thinking that, but I am. And I really don't like it. It starts the whole internal me-bashing:

"You're not using your talents for the Lord."

"Every time you say no, you're missing a future opportunity to say yes."

"Get over it."

"It's not that big of a deal."

"Seriously, get over it."

By the way, this is not a cry for compliments or flattery. One thing I've learned in all this is that I am truly not being overly humble when I say I can't or shouldn't do something. It's because it really will not go well, not just because I don't feel like remembering which sharps to play in the key of A. I've just grown weary of feeling like I'm disappointing myself, others, and the Lord, not to mention every piano teacher I've ever had.

SO... a couple things. First, I've made peace with the fact that, while playing music may be a "talent" (used loosely), I really don't think that God's going to be mad at me if I don't try to overcome this debilitating fear. Yes, God gave me that musical ability, but He's not the author of confusion or fear and I don't think He really wants me to beat myself up about not being okay with plunking out a song now and then. Maybe I'm like the guy who buried his talent in the ground instead of using it, but I think you have to have something to bury in order for that parable to really take root, you know? As I'm reading through Start, Jon Acuff has said a lot about realizing that some things are not "your awesome," or part of the major plan for awesomeness that lies ahead. I think, at 24, that I can safely assume that public speaking and performing (the piano) are not my awesome. If they are, I probably need to run for the hills. (Jon also talks about punching fear in the face, which I'm clearly doing a bang-up job of doing.)

On the flip side of that, I need to learn that these things that terrify me are actually not that terrible. (Way to contradict yourself, Ash.) What I mean is, there are things in this life worth being afraid of: sickness, losing someone I love, Scar from The Lion King. In the grand scheme of things... I know, I know. I shouldn't be afraid of anything, because my faith is in God, not me. (Thank goodness.) 

Mark Hall, an anointed songwriter if there ever was one, sings, "The voice of truth tells me a different story; the voice of truth says, 'Do not be afraid.'" When I am listening to the voice of truth, it tells me that I'm not a big fat loser who wasted years of my parents' money on piano lessons. It reminds me that I happen to have other interests and pursuits that I use for the Lord. It also reminds me that should I really need to do the unthinkable and face a fear, whether it's on the piano or otherwise, I can do it... with fear and trembling, but do it regardless. Because, too, the voice of truth "says this is for MY (God's) glory."

Don't feel sorry for me, really. This is not a desperate attempt for sympathy... just a glimpse of me, struggling through life. But next time I want to hurl myself off the balcony at the thought of doing something scary, I'll pause and listen to the voice of truth. 

By the way, did anyone ever watch The Swan Princess? Because all I can think about is the song in it, "No Fear," which should be the soundtrack of my life. Something scary? I'll just belt that out, different voices and all. Nothing says fearless like imitating cartoon animals from a low-budget animated musical. 


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