by Judy Allen
Have you ever been surprised to lose something? I don’t often lose things; my car keys, cell phone and lipstick are always where they are supposed to be. It never occurred to me that I would lose confidence in my voice.
My voice had been developed by teaching roles at Community Bible Study (CBS). When I started teaching my voice was nervous and insecure, but through the years it grew confident and strong. It amazed me that the class seemed to appreciate what I said. They listened. I had never thought of myself as a public speaker and am not the kind of person who craves attention, but the CBS culture didn’t encourage self-promotion. I believe that it allowed me to develop confidence in my voice.
I was studying the Bible, teaching what I learned, leading a class full of people that I genuinely loved and had just finished a master’s degree in Communication and Culture. I felt like I had arrived. I would use my voice to the glory of God.
Then everything changed.
On a beautiful summer evening in 2014 I was jazzed to teach a women’s group at church. I felt good about my preparation, my voice was strong, and I knew that God had given me truth to speak.
While I was happily preparing salmon and my husband was outside lighting the grill, I suddenly couldn’t process what I was doing. I remember standing in front of the spice drawer thinking, I feel stupid.
My husband came in and noticed that something was very wrong. He said I had an expression on my face that he’d never seen before. After 30 seconds – during which he thought to himself, this can’t be a stroke – he asked me to raise my hands and smile, and when one hand raised higher than the other and my smile was lopsided, he said, “We’re going to the hospital.” I was having a stroke.
The next several hours are a bit of a blur, but an MRI confirmed that it was indeed a stroke. Shortly after being given the miraculous clot busting tPA drug, I was mostly back to myself.
Mostly. Sometimes I couldn’t find a word or remember a name, and that bothered me. What if I couldn’t find a word when I was speaking? I pictured myself blanking out in front of a room full of people, which was not a confidence building mental image.
After a few weeks, I shook off my fears and went back to my teaching role in Community Bible Study. I pretended like nothing had happened. Business as usual. No problem. CBS was such a familiar and encouraging environment that it was helpful to simply get back to work. The year was a success and I think I taught well.
After that year I was asked to take the role of Area Director in CBS, which requires less time but involves more oversight. It was a difficult decision, and after considerable prayer I felt the Lord leading me to take the new position. That meant I had to leave the teaching director role that I loved. It was difficult.
It’s only now, five years after my stroke and four years after leaving teaching, that I realize what I was feeling. I doubted my voice. I questioned my calling. Circumstances converged to shake my confidence.
The experience caused me to wrestle with humility, to look at myself unflinchingly and to open myself up for whatever God wanted to teach me.
Why didn’t my confidence in God, which was strong, translate into confidence in myself, which was wavering? Had I become prideful in the gifts that God had given me or was I burying a gift that God wanted me to use? Can successful people be humble? Can humble people be successful in this world? Is God glorified by my writing words that won’t be read by thousands of people? Is it a waste of time?
Genuine humility is perhaps the rarest of virtues. Bible studies and passages have stung me with intellectual conviction about the necessity of humility, and I would dutifully grit my teeth and determine to reject pride, to be more humble. It was never good enough. I am beginning to wonder if humility is a character quality that must be absorbed through the experience of being brought low. It must be felt deep in one’s soul. Pride is ripped away, and it hurts.
Colin Smith expresses what I was feeling as he discussed being poor in spirit in his book Momentum,
…the blessing of God makes humility harder. Here’s the irony: the poor in spirit experience the blessing of God, but the more you experience this blessing, the harder it is to remain poor in spirit. The more successful you are, the easier it is to believe that you are something, and the harder it is to humble yourself before God.
I had been given some success, and although I thought I was humble it seems that he wanted to deepen my humility. He had developed and strengthened my voice, and then he allowed a stroke and led me to step away from teaching, which caused me to question my gifts and my calling. Was that God’s training ground? His discipline? Was he reminding me that I can do nothing of value in my own power?
Yes, I believe that’s exactly what God was doing. Intellectually I knew about humility, but I don’t think I had ever experienced it like I have in the last few years. God showed me that my abilities, my voice and my confidence would amount to nothing without him.
My life looks different now that I have a part time job as a Career Advisor at a local high school, am serving as CBS area director and am still writing and speaking occasionally. I feel more confident now. Words and names don’t escape me as often. My misplaced voice may be on the way back. Even if it’s not, I’ll use the opportunities God gives me to his glory and do my best to remember what I’ve learned about humility.
It’s a difficult lesson to learn.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5