by Carole Duff

I walked to the altar, bowed my head, and positioned myself in front of the lectern’s microphone. As a veteran teacher, I had felt poised and professional when speaking to groups small and large. But it had been a few years since I taught, and this was different. I had never read the Word in front of a congregation, although I’d been sitting in church for twenty years since becoming a believer in my forties. It’s never too late to put your skills to good use, I’d told myself when volunteering to serve.

“A reading from the Holy Spirit through the prophet Jeremiah,” I said, using my teacher voice to project volume—and a confidence I didn’t feel. I thought about the story behind the scripture and how to use voice inflection, pitch, pace, and pauses to communicate that story. While clearing my throat and taking a deep breath to calm my pounding heart, I prayed: Lord, help me get over myself.

One of the books I keep coming back to is Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp. As defined by Lane and Tripp, selfishness in our relationships is putting ourselves first and God second. The authors identify six, selfishness types based on what we want for ourselves and from others:

  1. Self-centered: want attention or approval
  2. Self-rule: want to be in control
  3. Self-sufficiency: want to be independent
  4. Self-righteous: want to be right
  5. Self-satisfaction: want pleasure (self-defined)
  6. Self-taught: want a platform for one’s opinion; being opinionated

I keep this chart close at hand as a reminder that, although I can exhibit each type of selfishness, my number one “me-before-God” behavior is self-centeredness, and my want is success. I want to succeed and fear mistakes because I crave approval. Fear of being less than perfect makes me anxious. So, even now in my 60s, I have to practice getting over myself.

A couple years ago, when I played flute in church for the first time, I was close to panic. Though professionally training, I had never been comfortable performing and hadn’t played in public for nearly forty years. In fact, I’d just started practicing after not touching my flute in over thirty years. It’s never too late to put your gifts to good use, I’d told myself when I said yes to playing in church.

That day, I rolled my shoulders, shifted my body, adjusted my clothes, and nervously tapped my foot. After swallowing several times, I took a deep breath to calm my pounding heart and prayed: Lord, help me get over myself.

And so, it goes. During the three-month Covid-19 stay-at-home time, I recorded readings for video playback during Sunday services and practiced flute every day. Now that stay-at-home orders have lifted some, I’m playing and speaking in person for live-streamed church services. Sometimes I stumble over words or get tongue-tangled, play a wrong note or miss count. No matter. I keep going, keep praying, keep practicing.

I figure it’s never too late to get over myself.

Carole Duff is a veteran teacher, flutist, and writer of narrative nonfiction. She posts weekly to her long-standing blog Notes from Vanaprastha, has written for The Perennial Gen, Streetlight Magazine’s Blog, and Brevity’s Nonfiction Blog. Currently, she is seeking representation for her book titled Wisdom Builds Her House: A Memoir about Faith, Love, and Forgiveness. Carole lives in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband Keith Kenny, also a writer, and two overly-friendly shelter dogs plus a new shelter puppy.