If I had to think of one word that would describe me when I was young, it might be “shy.” At times, I was painfully shy. (I still can be a tad bit shy—though not painfully so!) More than once, when all alone, I would be brought to tears. I would wonder, “What is wrong with me?” Why is it so difficult for me to just enter into conversations, just like all of my classmates? Actually, there were times when I didn’t feel real. Oh, and if there were a girl I liked? Well… if you are unable to talk to her, what’s the point?
[Who would imagine this guy could be shy?]
As a comic book fan, I imagined, “What superpower would I like to have?” Invisibility.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “There is something beautiful about shyness.” Really? Do tell. “Shy people have long shadows, where they keep much of their beauty hidden from intruders’ eyes. Shy people remind us of the mystery of life that cannot be simply explained or expressed.”
I used to be afraid of public speaking. Not everyone who is shy has that fear, and vice versa. I was both. I would become visibly nervous, on occasion even terrified. My chest would tighten up; I would forget to breathe!
In my early twenties, I joined an Assemblies of God church. My pastor apparently saw something in me. He invited me to preach several times, and I slogged my way through it. To be honest, sometimes I still get a bit nervous.
I remember one evening in particular. Before inviting me to the pulpit, he was saying things like, “Boy, I wouldn’t want to be him! I can only imagine how he’s feeling.” In a quite awkward way, he was letting the congregation know to be forgiving for what they were about to witness. However, I wasn’t nervous at all; I was completely calm.
But when he started spreading the peace, I felt anything but peaceful. It was back to my chest tightening up and forgetting to breathe.
Some people might be puzzled to imagine a pastor who is shy. Maybe language like “introvert” and “extrovert” is helpful. It speaks to a basic orientation in life. Neither is wrong nor right. That goes back to something I mentioned about wondering as a boy what was wrong with me. Even while I was agonizing over it, I had the deep sense that there was nothing wrong with me. I didn’t think of it in those terms back then, but it was how God made me.
Speaking of shy, in 1977, Oscar Romero was made Archbishop of San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. The powers-that-be believed this reserved bookworm wouldn’t stand against their repressive policies. However, witnessing the atrocities filled a timid man with the boldness of the Holy Spirit. As the saying goes, he spoke truth to power. Evil tried to silence him by executing him during the celebration of the Eucharist in 1980. Still, his testimony lives on.
A holy boldness can enable us to stand against the dictators in our lives. We might even be able to talk to that cute girl.