I first developed the dread of public speaking during my last year at El Dorado Junior High School (now renamed Barton Junior High). I was elected president of the 9th grade, and a few of my responsibilities included addressing the entire student body on occasion. I can remember one specific instance in which I got so nervous the evening before a scheduled address, I developed stomach cramps, and Mom had to call the next morning to report I was unable to be present. I would never have accepted the presidential position in the first place had I known I would be speaking in front of several hundred students and 15-20 faculty members. What was I thinking?
Over the next 25 years I occasionally addressed a public audience, usually in the form of teaching a Sunday school class, but I was not a regular teacher until the mid 1970’s at First Baptist Church, El Dorado. Over the next 10 years I gained more experience in teaching and following a spiritual conversion in 1977, was invited to preach in a number of local area churches. By the mid-1980’s Cathy and I were very active in the teaching and encouragement ministry of our church. I was one of 4 teachers of the Men’s Bible Class, a unique class of senior men that was broadcast live over a local radio station from 10-11 am every Sunday morning. The other teachers that shared the teaching duties were Judge Oren Harris, a Federal Judge; Bob Watson, the school superintendent and Bob Merkle, a business executive. I was not aware of a Sunday school class anywhere that was broadcast on radio each week. The challenges for a teacher in such a format included among other things; the inability to ask questions of the listeners and have any vocal interactions with class members. The speaker was required to continue speaking with no interruptions, otherwise listeners at home would think the program was over and turn off their radios. We had no way to judge how many people tuned in to the Men’s Bible Class, but all week-long I would hear people in the community say, “I listen to your Sunday school class each week.”
During those years I began wearing contact lenses for the only time in my life. I had worn glasses since I was 10 years old and had never considered contact lenses in the intervening years. I was playing tennis one day with my friend Dr. Myron Shofner, an excellent optometrist and outstanding tennis player. He was causing me to sweat profusely with his aggressive play, and while wiping my glasses between sets, I told him the only times glasses bothered me were while playing tennis and jogging. He said, “Why don’t you come to the office tomorrow; I’ll fit you with contacts and solve your glasses-fogging problem?” The lenses he used were gas permeable lenses (hard lenses) because of my astigmatism. I was able to immediately wear them and really enjoyed the freedom they offered. The only problem was occasionally a speck of sand or an irritant would get behind a lens causing tearing and great discomfort until I removed the lens, cleansed it and replaced it. That particular problem never occurred while teaching or publicly speaking until one particular Sunday morning while teaching on radio.
I don’t remember the subject of the lesson that morning but right in the middle of the 30 minute teaching time, I developed considerable irritation in my right eye. I assumed it was nothing more serious than an irritant speck, but it was causing excessive tearing down my right cheek. I refrained from rubbing my right eyelid lid too vigorously, because when I had done that in the past, the contact lens popped out and I was temporarily blind in that eye. I decided the best course of action was to continue teaching and tolerate the irritation. My eye; however continued to water profusely. That’s when I looked into the audience and noticed two of the men who were regular attenders shedding real tears. They perceived I was being moved to tears by the things in my heart I was trying to say to the class, and they were empathizing with me. I recall those men who were so moved had trouble in previous weeks remaining awake and alert during my teaching time.
I learned some important teaching principles that tearful Sunday morning. There are certain stresses of teaching that are unavoidable, but if one can prevent continuing eye irritation while teaching, it is much less stressful. Second, teaching the Word with tears from a real broken heart is very impactful to a sensitive audience; just don’t try to manufacture tears that are not real. If nervousness produced tears I would have shed a bunch. Either way; however, God’s Word will not return void. It will accomplish that which He pleases and will prosper in the thing to which He sent it. (Isa. 55:11)