Along with participating in the high ropes course, a major aspect of my experience with LifeTeen and the youth group was pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. This happened on a regular basis during 11th and 12th grades through lectoring at Mass.
One of the adult leaders made the rounds among the teens one night seeking recruits to be readers. I got guilted into signing up. Not because my friends jumped up to agree and I risked being left out. That wasn’t it at all. Hardly anyone stepped forward, and for some reason I felt responsible to fill in since no one else did. The people pleaser in me couldn’t resist the request from an adult. Or maybe it actually indicates some degree of leadership skills, taking on an undesirable task instead of waiting for someone else to do it.
So I was assigned certain weeks to read, but I ended up reading much more frequently. Usually someone else would be assigned yet fail to show up. So I checked in each week with the leader organizing ministry assignments to see if there was a need. I read and served as a Eucharistic minister on a regular basis, even filling both roles during the same Mass if volunteers were limited.
I did my best while reading to look up and make eye contact. They were fleeting moments of connection but at least there was some effort. I tried to consciously read slowly, enunciating and adding inflection, knowing how much I hated to hear someone rush through the words or speak with no emotion at all, almost like a robot.
I did pretty well with this new challenge. I agonized over the proper way to pronounce certain words, but I think the ultimate piece of advice was: Pick something and go with it. You can’t stop and react because you think you butchered the delivery of a name. Most people aren’t really going to know the difference.
Wanting to sink into the floor
Senior year brought an occasion where being short on ministers for Mass meant I served as lector (proclaiming the second reading), reading the intercessory prayers and serving as a Eucharistic minister. I had been reading so often at this point where it had become routine and I’d lost some of that nervous energy. That in itself is pretty amazing.
I had grown accustomed to looking at a certain side of the book for the passage I would read. This particular day I was going through the motions without really processing the words. I was excited and nervous for another reason: trying to be cool with a new outfit, trying to be trendy.
I had assembled an outfit that was totally unlike my reliable jeans and blouse, or even t-shirt. I paired a blue blouse that fit me well with a new black skirt that hit about the knees. And then pleather (yes, the days of pleather) black boots, calf high, that I bought that afternoon. It was a very bold look for me. I had never worn boots before, but nearly everyone I knew wore boots and they were fancy footwear. They only just fit my feet, though. It didn’t take long for my feet to feel claustrophobic. One of a few instances where I consciously chose fashion over comfort.
I got up to read the second reading and my eyes focused on the right side of the book because that had become the usual side. And I started reading from the Gospel instead of a letter from St. Paul. No one stopped me. It didn’t register to me that I was wrong because I was on autopilot at this point. I made eye contact as I read and was met with glazed over expressions, no indication of alarm or error. I finished and went back to my seat. The priest stood to read the Gospel passage, and the words sounded very familiar. Comprehension of my error set in, and I was mortified!
I don’t recall if I went back up for the prayer petitions or if I just made a beeline for the bathroom. But I did go hide in the bathroom to begin a round hyperventilating crying. A woman followed, one of the adult leaders for our youth group. She talked me down and emphasized that people make mistakes like this all the time. It’s a small blip in the grand scheme of things. It’s not something to get upset about. She probably also shared a story or two of something stupid she’d done to help me feel better. I went back to my seat. Later I helped with serving communion and she came through my line and offered a little smile as she passed, a silent offering of support.
I could have stayed in the bathroom for the rest of Mass or gone outside and left. Not options that I, personally, would have followed through with, but still options and choices a person has in this situation. But I didn’t do that. I can finally say I’m proud of myself for not staying hidden but, once calm again, that I rejoined everyone else.
I walked away from that experience focused on my feelings of being self-conscious.
I was unable to appreciate the number of times I had read at all, considering not many volunteered.
Unable to appreciate the number of times that I had read correctly, not even giving myself credit for the times that I got up to read despite being nervous.
Unable to appreciate that despite the embarrassment, I continued to help rather than giving up the reading altogether.
But now I am proud of myself for sticking with it.
This incident spurred me on to not be so apathetic. I was more careful in preparing before Mass, double and triple checking that I was reading over the proper passage. I probably avoided attempting eye contact for a while until I got comfortable again.
Preparing ahead of time isn’t just a matter of practicing the words because you can look up the readings in the Bible and familiarize yourself that way. The lectionary (book used at church) has a special format, so the passage looks very different. It’s laid out like a poem with shorter lines, so the line breaks are different than they would be in the Bible. To feel comfortable and prepared I needed to go over the passage in the book a few times, get familiar with how it breaks and figure out the pacing. Mentally make note of good spots to attempt eye contact, no matter how brief. I never got so comfortable that I could deliver an entire line while looking at the congregation, but I could connect on a few words. Something small.
Another moment that stands out was being asked to participate in the Palm Sunday readings. This is the longest Gospel passage of the year during Mass. (For an example of this lengthy passage, click here.) An earlier reading focuses on Christ’s jubilant entry into Jerusalem. The reading I was part of describes Jesus’ celebration of the Passover meal, praying at the Mount of Olives, his arrest, the trial, carrying of the cross, crucifixion, and ending with being laid in the tomb. The Gospel is broken up into speaking parts: Jesus, narrator, voice (these are lines spoken from specific people who change throughout the passage) and then the crowd (which the congregation speaks together).
Another girl and I served as narrator and voice. We were given the binder just before Mass. We had no time to practice in advance. To add to the awkwardness, we shared a microphone. That just made it more difficult to know when one of our parts ended and the other’s began.
But we did it! Survived! That wasn’t a small feat, either. And I think many people felt like it was a smooth delivery. I’m really wondering how we made that work because that’s a lot of reading to do without practicing.
To recap: Obligation or bravery?
It was a constant battle of feeling comfortable in social situations. I’m realizing now how much I pushed myself to try, how much I purposely put myself in these uncomfortable situations. Wanting to be a turtle and hiding out, yet making some type of effort to do otherwise.
Many times these situations seemed like obligations, as if I didn’t have other options. But I could have said no, I could have refused to get involved. Others did. But being the people pleaser it was difficult to say no to authority figures. I pushed and tried, and was met with a lot of awkwardness in the process. Much of it failing to register as “Lindsay being brave and taking a risk,” but rather like something I was expected to do.
But rising to expectations doesn’t mean you aren’t being brave in the process. Because there’s always that option of saying no and flat-out refusing. It is very much a choice.