A guest post by Janet Eriksson …
After nine years in seminary, the big day had come. I was graduating! I should have been excited, and I was. After all the hard work, I could finally celebrate and enjoy the moment.
But as I made my way toward Orlando, Florida for my graduation, I felt something stronger than excitement. It was fear.
Fear? Seriously? What in the world did I have to be afraid of? I had done the hard work already. Successfully completed 96 credit hours of papers and exams. Shown up for classes on campus in Florida and Kentucky, exhausted and disoriented, after driving for hours to and from my home in Georgia.
What was left to be afraid of?
After some reflection, I was able to identify my fear. I was afraid of showing up at the graduation ceremony and not knowing what to do.
Seriously? I’m 53 years old. I’ve traveled all over the world into stranger situations. What in the world?
“I’m pretty sure they will tell you what to do,” said my friend who accompanied me on the trip. “That’s why you’re having rehearsal that morning.”
But as Orlando loomed closer, this knot of fear began to grow. I wanted to enjoy this weekend. Not only was it my graduation celebration. It was also a visit to one of my old home towns of Orlando where I don’t get to visit much anymore. One of my friends had surprised me with a day at Animal Kingdom as well. Surely I could set aside this fear and just enjoy my time.
I tried to do exactly that. I was determined: I will enjoy this weekend. I will not be afraid. And I did have a great time at Animal Kingdom. But whenever the thought of the next day’s events crept into my mind, the knot of fear increased. By the eve of my graduation ceremony, that fear had reached unreasonable proportions.
All along, I had been asking God to help me and was wanting just to trust Him. I kept reminding myself, “God will be with you. What do you have to be afraid of?” But the fear kept growing stronger. Why did it have such a hold of me?
“Why won’t they tell us what to expect?” I kept asking my friend. “Why can’t they send us instructions for the ceremony, so we will be ready?” As if a bunch of graduating students wanted yet another set of instructions to study.
“I’m sure they will tell you at rehearsal,” my friend kept saying.
Finally about 10 pm the night before the ceremony, as the fear began morphing into terror, I asked God what I should have asked all along: “What is going on that makes me so afraid?”
Immediately He showed me. He brought to mind a scene from when I was four years old. I was graduating from nursery school, and I was the “valedictorian.” My teacher asked me to give a speech at graduation, a speech that I wrote myself and rehearsed until I had it memorized.
I was so short that I looked even younger than my four years. My head could barely be seen over the podium. But I wasn’t afraid to address the audience. I have always loved public speaking, even way back then, even as a shy kid. Put me in a room of people I don’t know and ask me to mingle, and I shut down. Put me in front of a crowd and ask me to speak, no problem. I love it and always did.
“Lord, what does that nursery school graduation have to do with my graduation from seminary? I already know I wasn’t afraid to give that speech when I was little. And I’m not even speaking at this graduation.”
As I pressed further in prayer, the Lord brought something to mind that I had not thought of in close to 50 years. I had been afraid at that little nursery school graduation, but it wasn’t the speech that caused my fear. It was my teacher. She never prepped me on what to do logistically – when to stand up, when to approach the podium.
I had tried to ask her for the details. It’s the way I am wired. I have to know how to map things out. I can’t just “show up.” I need some idea of what to expect. Neither my teacher nor my mom seemed to understand that about me.
My teacher kept saying, “Don’t worry. I will cue you.” For a little kid on stage, what does that mean? What’s a cue? Will I know it when I see it? What if I miss it? Is there a backup plan?
As adults, we can look at this situation and realize it’s no big deal. But put yourself in the mind of a four-year-old kid. Everything is riding on this cue, and you don’t even know what a cue is.
All my mom told me was, “Just follow your teacher.”
Great. So I couldn’t even enjoy my nursery school graduation ceremony. Because my eyes were glued to my teacher.
And the stress. Oh my goodness, the stress. My heart pounded every time my teacher made a move. I couldn’t hear her or see her half the time. Why are my fellow students so squirmy? Why won’t they be quiet and hold still? Don’t they know everything is riding on me not missing the cue?
Everything I felt in that moment at four years old had been stored away in my heart as a big bundle of fear. It had never been dealt with or resolved. It just got pushed way down into my heart. When my seminary graduation day approached, that door in my heart was unlatched. All of that four-year-old fear rose to the surface.
“Lord Jesus, show me where You were on graduation day when I was four.”
He was right there, kneeling beside me, holding my hand. And smiling the proudest smile I have ever seen.
“I’ll show you what to do,” He said. “And we will go up there together.”
Immediately my entire being was filled with calm and peace. I could breathe. My heart stopped racing and settled into a calm rhythm. I was holding Jesus’ hand. With His big strong hand wrapped around mine, there was no way I could miss my cue. All I had to do was let Him lead me up there to the podium. When I got up to speak, He stood there with me the entire time. Then He led me back to my seat when the speech was over. I didn’t miss a beat because He had my hand in His. And He knew what to do.
Which is exactly how it happened. Because that little nursery school speech in Miami, Florida in 1970 had gone off without a hitch. Jesus had been there with me all along. And now that I knew He was there, and I believed He was more than able to care for me, I could let go of fear.
And just like that, all the fear was gone. Deep breath. Exhale.
“Thank You, Jesus.”
With the help of my friend, I was able to pray through repentance for fear and lack of trust. I was able to forgive my teacher and my mom for not sensing that I needed more help with instructions. Back to the present moment, I was able to forgive the seminary for not telling us much ahead of time. I was able to tell God, “I trust You for the ceremony tomorrow. I just want to enjoy it with You.” And I meant it with my whole peaceful heart.
I was able to sleep well. I woke up refreshed and excited for the day.
When I got to the graduation site, I finally understood the lack of advance instructions. The ceremony was so complicated they could never have explained it ahead of time. If they had tried, no one would have shown up!
But it was so well-planned and implemented. We had lots of leaders guiding us at each stage, numerous prompts and cues, with extra fail-safe measures folded in, and plenty of rehearsal time. I was so impressed by the graduation crew, how well they had planned it out, how diligent they were to triple check that everyone was in the right place at the right time. It was a well-oiled machine.
And Jesus was right there, leading everything and everybody. Smiling, proud as can be of all His kids.
I enjoyed the events of the morning so much. The minute we put on our robes, I was grinning from ear to ear. My excitement was through the roof – as it should have been. I had no worries. And my smile never left my face. It was a day I’m sure I will always remember. And I am so grateful to God for healing my heart from fear so I could enjoy that amazing day with my friends and with Jesus.
Janet Eriksson is a prayer minister, writer, editor, and teacher in Dahlonega, Georgia. She loves conversation with friends, front porch swings, sweet tea, and spending time on lakes and rivers. The author of eight books and editor of many more, Janet blogs and teaches online at https://adventureswithgod.blog/.