First post in a series of reflections on friendship prompted by writings of John Townsend
Today I was reviewing and preparing a lesson I get to teach as part of a semester long training for those wanting to work with survivors of human trafficking. The class has given me the unique experience of getting to both learn and teach, as many of us students are also trained to facilitate the class.
While reviewing the lesson plans, I found myself welling up with passion as I recalled the significance of these specific lessons as I learned them over the years. The underlying principles have shaped my understanding and given me ahealthier perspective of those in our community. I became increasingly more excited that I took on this particular unit and that I get to offer the wisdom I’ve gleaned from people and experiences I’ve encountered over the years.
I also recognized that I love teaching. I specifically love teaching things that I feel are important to equip people to live in God’s Shalom, whether it’s a deeper understanding of human dignity or how to make balloon animals that might bring joy and connections. I love learning and understanding and growing and I love imparting what I’ve gained on others.
I am thankful for those opportunities to teach… and this has made me mindful, and again thankful, for the encouragement I received from a friend that helped me overcome a belief that would have limited me.
You see, for a long time I considered myself to be not very good at teaching or speaking in front of groups.
I have had a long history of bad experiences trying to teach or present before groups. I struggle with reigning in and simplifying all the ideas in my head during presentations. I’ve often rambled when making announcements during worship services. When I did my first human trafficking awareness event, my presentation was a mess. Afterwards a friend and I went over my strengths and weaknesses and we recognized that traditional teaching wasn’t my strength, though many good attributes were.
While I was part of leadership of a fellowship,however, my friend and then senior leader, Ted Harder, had our team practice writing and giving sermons. He believed that the pastor wasn’t the only one with something to share with the congregation and that we could all could present a message, we just needed to learn by doing it. My first practice sermon went over the time limit and then I rambled as I tried to wrap it up.
I decided after the human trafficking presentation that maybe teaching or speaking to groups wasn’t my thing. I was better suited to one on one interactions.
But in the year following, Ted persistently encouraged me to do a sermon. I had ideas of what I would share, but I resisted.
Then I went to Guatemala, stumbled awkwardly along few teaching/preaching opportunities, and was given valuable insights about life. I returned to my fellowship and perceived that I ought to share one experience that I felt God wanted to speak through. I thought it would be a short testimony, but I ended up with a whole, and surprisingly clear and concise message. Then, because we encouraged people to interact, another best friend added something God has shown her with a scripture, which prompted addendums by three other people in succession. What resulted was a beautiful and potent five person sermon.
That in itself was deeply encouraging to me. Then Ted pointed out, as an encouragement to me and the fellowship, that I hadn’t believed I could give a sermon or teach, but I obviously had just done so. This one simple comment has stuck with me since then. It helped foster confidence to not longer be afraid of teaching or speaking in groups, but to simply practice and just do it when I felt led by God. Just because public speaking didn’t seem to come naturally to me didn’t mean that the door was closed to me.
God had other things in mind and that manifested in a persistent desire to find opportunities to teach what I care about, even if I seemed to be the least talented in speaking among my colleagues, because I knew I had something to contribute in a way that no one else could. I wrote to be able to reign in my thoughts, I took opportunities when people asked to share things, and when I did end up getting an opportunity, I prepared in order to overcome areas of weakness. I needed to be aware of my own style of teaching, which is largely interactive, and elements of personality that has to correlate with how people best learn and receive.
Last year, I spoke on labor trafficking and mindful consumption, and the experience was so positive for the audience and myself.
I think I’ve since recognized that for me personally, I must teach, just as I must create and explore.
I thought about all this when reading about an important role we have in our friends lives, especially those we are closest to.
Ted saw me in a way I couldn’t; he saw my potential and he encouraged it in the midst of my reluctance and disbelief.
We have the opportunity to see potential in our friends that they may not see or believe and to call this out in their lives.
As our friend reveals his or her self to us and we are attentive, we see more and more clearly who they truly are. We get to proclaim their identity to them and how we see God guiding them to live it out in His glorious calling. In our conversation, Townsend encourages friends to be aware of this and to honestly and lovingly voice our observations, ask questions, refuse to let it drop. This is not some sappy unrealistic encouragement to something that really isn’t a reality for them. This is cultivating confidence in the truth God is showing them and in God Himself who is gently, but persistently leading them forward.
In this, we also partner and reflect Christ. The church is called “ekklessia,” the called out ones. God has taken us out of a very different reality and called us out into the identity and life of His adopted sons and daughters.
In our friendships we get to partner with Him in calling our friends out into specifics of the bigger “Calling Out.”
We have the joy of seeing each other become and live out more of who we are.
I realized that how I have engaged my friends and invested my time has fallen short of this glorious opportunity, but feel encouraged and inspired to pay closer attention, be more confident myself, and be attentive to areas where I can speak truth into their lives to build courage to step in that reality, going from “glory to glory.”