Months of preparation had come to an end. Throughout the staging area small groups gathered altos here, sopranos there, all softly singing.. A Roman soldier, a shepherd, and a wise man sporting full costume leaned against a wall quietly chatting about the shepherd’s new car.
I could hear the stirring of the congregation as they anxiously awaited the beginning of this year’s Christmas drama. As I stood in the wings, the jackhammer in my chest competed with the butterflies in my stomach.
This was not the first time I had been a part of a Christmas program. As a preacher’s kid, I was usually cast as Mary sitting in the manger scene with Joseph who was portrayed by my older brother. The doll we used as the baby Jesus sits in my hope chest to this day. The audience for those early programs was small and consisted mostly of family and longtime church members.
But, the West Oakey Baptist Church program was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I loved singing with so many voices, but my feelings of anxiety threatened to overcome the joy I had felt during rehearsals.
I began to doubt why I had signed up for this. I wondered if I could feign some illness and excuse myself. What good would I be to the others if I flubbed my lines or was paralyzed with fear? Surely, I would enjoy the program just as much as an observer. I told myself if I didn’t feel better in the next sixty seconds I would bow out gracefully.
Suddenly, as if on cue, the crowd silenced. The backroom where the cast was waiting became so quiet you could hear shuffling feet and the occasional sniffle. Our director was welcoming the congregation. Too late for my flight. I kept repeating to myself, Don’t hyperventilate! Applause. Laughter. Prayer. Then the first strains of familiar music filtered through the sound system. The time had come to take the stage. Was this how the shepherds felt when the angels appeared on that first Christmas night? Eyes wide, I willed my feet forward.
As soon as the lights hit my face, something magical happened. The jackhammer in my chest stopped, and the butterflies flew out of my mouth as I lifted my voice with the others. Like waves of water, the choir flowed from one side of the stage to the other.
Mary slowly rocked back and forth, as she sang to her Baby Jesus. The wise men and shepherds made their appearance as they laid gifts of gold and myrrh beside His manger. The notes of my favorite song began, and I sang at the top of my lungs.
Scenes we had rehearsed repeatedly for the last few months were acted out with fresh enthusiasm. Responses from the audience fueled our excitement as we sang words of hope and love. Too soon, the last notes faded, the lights died down, and the room exploded with applause as we exited the stage.
I stood breathless, a silly grin plastered to my face. I heard the pastor say a few short words. The houselights came up as he summoned the choir back onstage. We took our places, and my eyes swept across the auditorium.Tear-streaked faces beamed at one another. Front pews were now makeshift altars as people gathered to pray for loved ones who had come to know Jesus just moments before. Tears of joy filled my eyes. My friend leaned to my ear and whispered, “I cry every year.”
At that moment, I realized it was over. The nerves and anxiety I had fought just ninety minutes earlier seemed childish and insignificant. In that moment, God taught me a valuable lesson.
Fifteen years later, I still think of that night. Imagine if I had followed my anxiety and fled the stage. What a tragedy that would have been. I believe that every challenge offers an opportunity to receive a unique blessing. Shying away from an occasion to serve in an unfamiliar capacity will rob us of extraordinary blessings.
The holiday season is an excellent time to branch out and stretch the person you are. Join a new committee. Get involved with Toys for Tots. Volunteer at the local rescue mission. Find something that gives you those butterflies and enjoy the blessing God has in store.