Craft of Preaching

Saturday Night Fever

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I do not yet have a cure for what I call the Saturday Night Fever: that weirdness that settles in on the Saturday nights before I preach.

I have found that I really don't enjoy myself on those evenings, and it probably goes without saying that the people around me don't enjoy me either. Honestly, I walk around as though I've got some kind of low-grade fever. I'm irritable and distracted. My patience decreases. I can't seem to let go and enjoy fully whatever I'm doing, whether a night out with friends or a night in with a book or a movie. 

Now that I'm in a new call and preaching less often than before, the contrast between when I do preach and when I don't is all the more striking. I feel downright normal on the Saturdays when I don't preach the next day, but when I do, it's back to that strange, jittery feeling. About the only thing I can do is exercise and try to go to sleep. 

There was a time that I thought it would get better if my sermon was finished early, that my nervousness stemmed from ill-preparedness. I have a procrastination streak, so I figured that if I just found some discipline and worked ahead, I'd feel better.  So, I experimented. I started earlier in the week. I tried writing manuscripts instead of my usual outlines or note cards. I read more. I wrote more in my journal. I gave myself an arbitrary Friday noon deadline. 

What I have discovered is that "being prepared" never really lessens my anxiety.  I feel this way when my sermon is "finished" and I'm excited to preach it. I feel this way when my sermon is "finished" and I suspect it's not all that great. I feel this way when I have a good idea and not much structure. I feel this way when I have next to nothing. I have also learned that it's possible for me to be too prepared; when that happens, my sermons sound a lot more like reading a paper at an academic conference than like preaching a living Word to hungry people. 

I've told myself that this is just a rookie thing, and I'll grow more comfortable as I gain more experience and more trust with the people I serve. I'm still so early in my preaching career that surely this nervous energy will lessen, or I'll find some way to use it creatively. It's possible, of course, but I'm still waiting.   

For now, I'm trying to look at this energy as a challenging family member: a companion I didn't choose but not necessarily a problem I can solve. And, I'm coming to terms with the idea that it's possible I will always feel this way about preaching. There's just something about it, standing up and proclaiming the Word of God. It's exciting, inspiring, and always a privilege. But it's not easy, and I'm not sure it's supposed to be.  In the absence of peace, I'll rely on my rock and redeemer to make acceptable even the feverish words of my mouth and meditations of my heart. 

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