Old school preachers will tell you that the secret to a good sermon is having excellent stories, solid theology, appropriate delivery, being personal but universal, being honest but not making people too defensive, being funny, listening, helping people make meaning, giving people something that can be translated into action, offering hope at the end, and above all NOT TAKING TOO LONG.
I work very hard to do all of these things and more in EVERY SINGLE SERMON, and I pride myself in packing in an extra 20% value relative to other speakers by talking really fast and eliminating grammar. Me public speaking is like... when you invite a speed eating competitor to your dinner party. It’s impressive, but not exactly what you were hoping for.
Which is interesting, because when I asked the preacher who is actually my favourite preacher what his secret is, he said “You need to look people in the eye and smile at them a lot. Most people’s need to hear sophisticated theology is a lot lower than their need to be seen and people mostly just need to be seen and smiled at.”
This made me feel grumpy about all the theology term papers.
In September, at the writer’s retreat, everyone said “you need to slow down when you are reading” and I said “yes, yes, I’ll (pigeon-rat) try”.
And Bronwyn, who trains people in this and is brilliant, said “you’ve been trying unsuccessfully to slow down for many years… what do you think is really going on here?”.
And I said “They never give me enough time!”.
And Bronwyn waited a minute, for me to have a Realization. And I had the Realization that I have this problem in everything from a thirty second speech in a committee meeting to a twenty minute sermon. It doesn't matter the amount of time, because the problem is that the amount of things I have to say is approaching infinite.
Interestingly, in any conversation, the amount of things the person I’m talking to needs to hear from me is distinctly less infinite.
So instead of writing every thought I had about solstice, this time, I read the surrounding service and asked myself “What’s missing? What really needs to be said?”. The result of that process was a single sheet of paper which would not even use up the three minutes allotted for me to speak. (Okay, I came up with more than that, but the other parts were Distinctly Not Appropriate For Worship so I put them in a blog post entitled "ruining solstice" where they belong).
So, when I stood up to speak, I looked down at my single sheet of paper and was overcome with joy. Because I had all the time in the world.
It was wonderful. I gave every sentence room to yawn and stretch. I repeated things when I wanted to. I paused and looked people in the eye. I didn’t feel afraid, because I wasn’t performing for them, I was talking with them.
And people laughed, and sighed, and responded in all the right places. Probably because they could actually hear what I was saying.
Spending your voice on earning your voice is like spending your wishes on wishing for more wishes. It’s like stockpiling food without eating any, and wondering why you’re still so gnawingly hungry.
Time is like that, too.
I used to think time management was about skillfully shuffling things around, like piles of stuff in your living room that you are trying to figure out how to organize in a way that will make “maximum use of space”.
Except, “maximum use of space” in a living room is living in it.
The question is not “how do I rearrange these piles?”. The question is“how do I get rid of these piles?”. It’s “how do I evict the regifting-seamstress-environmentalist-person I’ve always thought I should be in favour of the tea-drinking Netflix-loving-kaiser-playing person that I actually am?”.
Because my house does not have enough room for the many people I think I should or might be, but it has plenty of room for the one person that I actually am.
Time management is not about technique. It’s about identity. And bravery. Knowing you who are, and having the guts to be no more than that one person.
My schedule for over a year now has consisted of doing only the things that I absolutely feel must be done by me. I volunteer so much less, but when I do, my time matters. I’m keenly aware of how much of my old "essential work" was not actually about being of service. It was about telling myself a story of my own importance. About stockpiling connections, skills, usefulness—because I might need those things someday. Like piles of clutter from hobbies and interests that represent the crafter or sports-ey-person that I should be or might be but am not right now.
I am learning to give up on all the people I might be. I am learning to be just the one person, and to let that person talk less and breathe more.
I am learning that I am way less important than I’d originally assumed.