This past weekend, I had the privilege to participate in an Archdiocesan Catholic Youth Conference. During the Archbishop’s homily, he told a story that went something like this:
God created the whole world and every creature in it. There were many animals with four legs who spent their days running, jumping and leaping. They could run fast, jump high, and leap across barriers with their four legs.
There was a little bird who watched how much fun the other animals were having while running, jumping, and leaping. When the little bird tried to leap, all he was able to do was a little hop, for he only had two short legs and two flaps covered with feathers.
The little bird decided to file a complaint with God, for he desperately wanted four legs so he could run, jump, and leap like the other animals. He wanted to trade his seemingly useless flaps for another set of legs. So, the little bird met with God and stated his request.
God looked at the little bird and said, “Move those feathery flaps up and down, and then come and tell me whether you still desire to have four legs so you can run, jump, and leap like the other animals.”
The little bird was reluctant, but decided to give it a try. He closed his eyes and started to move his feathery flaps up and down, just as God had said. Soon, his two feet were no longer on the ground. He opened his eyes and found that he had risen above the land. He was flying! He was soaring! These feathery flaps were not useless after all!
After his flight, the little bird found God and said, “I’ve decided to keep my two feet and two feathery flaps. I wanted to leap, but now I can fly!”
Part of my role at the youth conference was to deliver a keynote address to the room full of about 350 teenagers. Normally, the only time anyone hands me a microphone is to call bingo at the nursing home. I have never spoken to an audience like this before, and was terrified. When the sound man asked me if I wanted to hold a mic or use an around the ear mic, I lifted my trembling hands and he said, "Around the ear it is!"
Throughout the weekend, I watched the other speakers on stage and desperately wanted to channel their confidence, charisma, and conviction. God, I want to give high-fives and run around with electrifying enthusiasm like him. I want to make the room break out into laughter like that guy. Lord, I want to speak with eloquence and confidence like her. I want to lead the youth in prayer like him.
And then God responded, “Be who I made you to be. Flap your wings!”
After my keynote address, a parent chaperone was sitting next to me at supper and asked how I thought my talk went. I am a critical perfectionist and started a list of criticisms and things I would have done differently, not losing my conclusion page being the first. He shook his head and said, “The teens don’t care about any of that. Do you know why they connected with you?”
I was silent. They connected with me? He continued, “They connected with your transparency. They connected with your vulnerability. They knew you were uncomfortable and afraid to be up there, and they watched you deal with that fear on stage. I've been going to these things for a long time. They saw a vulnerable human, just like themselves up there on stage.”
I just sat there for a minute. Wow. I thought I had put on a confident front, but these teenagers saw right through me. I guess I don’t have much of a poker face after all.
Something that I have taken from this experience is that God makes us who we are, and we need to trust in that. I am reminded of the words of St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God made you to be and set the world on fire.” Like the little bird from the story, I thought I needed to present myself as a confident, comfortable speaker on stage in order to be an effective instrument of God’s message. However, in my transparency, my feelings of fear and vulnerability, I connected with the teens in a different way. I realized that I didn’t need to compare myself to the other more experienced, professional speakers who spread God's message using their own gifts and talents. I discovered my wings and learned to fly.