When I was seventeen, our church youth group was allowed to lead one of the evening services. We came from two small traditional Anglican churches in neighbouring Oxfordshire villages, but we’d been spending our Easter and summer vacations at massive charismatic youth camps, sleeping in tents for short hours in between all night worship sessions and long afternoons discussing all aspects of theology and Christian living on the grass.
I was in the in-between year in that youth group. There had been a big group of Christian teens a few years older than me, who’d adopted me as the little sister. They’d all left for gap year and University now, and while I waited my turn to fly the nest, the youth group filled up with younger members, mostly friends of my little sister.
It could have been an isolating couple of years. I had few Christian friends at school and no one to connect with at church.
But my youth leader saw me. She saw that awkward place I was in and took action.
I was drafted in as a junior youth leader, invited to their planning meetings, to give my thoughts, to pray for the work in the youth group, to come alongside the girls my sister’s age and be an encouragement to them.
I was still finding my way at seventeen—growing out of the easy accepting faith of a child, but not quite into the maturity of an adult. I was passionate about so much, but so unsure how it all fit together. I loved the church, but I wasn’t always sure I belonged.
In our youth-led services, we were normally allowed to plan and lead everything except the sermon, which the vicar would still give. This time, for unknown reasons, he handed the teaching over to us too. It was a big opportunity and there was excitement in our group as we sat down to plan it all out. It was decided we’d split the teaching time in two, so that two of the group got the chance to preach a shorter sermon. Another boy a year younger than me asked to do one—he already has his mind set on going into church work so this was good practise.
And so who would do the other sermon? I sat with the group, wondering who it would be when all eyes turned to look in my direction and I heard the voice of my youth leader say, “well I think it should be Fiona, right?”
I’d never considered preaching. I loved leading the small group, loved coming alongside the younger girls to encourage them and challenge them. And I loved listening to the sermons, taking copious notes in my neat teenage handwriting to go home and look up the answers to my questions later on.
But preach myself?
Somehow I heard myself agreeing. I’m not sure I was given much choice. The usual sense of anxiety began rising in my chest straight away as I thought of all the people I’d be speaking in front of, the idea of standing behind that lectern and saying my own words. What if I completely sucked? What if I said something heretical and they booed me out of the church? What if I stuttered and no one understood what I was trying to say? What if I couldn’t get any words out at all?
Then I spied our youth leader across the church hall, grinning proudly at me across the room and felt a gentle blanket of assurance settle in me and covering over that swelling anxiety. She saw me and she thought I could do this. So maybe I could…
A few weeks later, I stood behind that lectern and spoke for ten minutes to our small congregation, which felt in that moment like a thousand-strong revival hall. My palms were sweating, my hands and voice shook. But as I started telling my story—the story of a Father’s love, the confidence we find to keep climbing up the mountainside, even when it’s tough, because of his strong presence at our side—the fear slipped away and was replaced with something else: joy.
It would be seven more years before anyone asked me to lead again—to teach a study, come alongside other believers in their walk, stand up and preach. In those seven years I often wondered if I had imagined that feeling, the joy that swept through me when I spoke the words I felt the Spirit had given me. I convinced myself that perhaps it wasn’t the lightning moment I had thought it was at the time. My path must lay in a different direction.
Until one day, in a cafe in Brussels, a pastor sat across the table from me, small cups of strong coffee in our hands, and he looked at me and asked me what I was really passionate about. And words started spilling out that I hadn’t planned, about my desire to walk alongside people as they journeyed in faith, my love for the Bible, my hope that I could somehow speak truth and grace into lives and see them transformed.
And he saw me in that moment. And he invited me to be part of the teaching team.
There I found people to train me, to challenge me. People who believed in me and took risks in me and my gifts until I started to believe the image of myself that they saw and called out.
When I look back, it was these two moments that were most pivotal in taking me forward into the calling God had for me, a calling I’m still figuring out step by tentative step. And it was little that I did. I was only vaguely aware of the Spirit whispers in me, but others heard them. Others saw me and chose to empower me.
Now it’s my prayer too, that I’d have eyes to see, to see the gifting in people that they don’t yet fully understand themselves. That I might be the one to spot the seed in the fertile soil and pour on the refreshing water of encouragement, bring the sunshine warmth of acceptance and support as that little seed grows into a strong and fruitful tree.
May I always have eyes to see, just as I was seen.
This post originally appeared at She Loves Magazine.