I turned 40 earlier this year. To commemorate the occasion I’m doing a series of posts highlighting valuable lessons I’ve learned in my time on this planet.

In downtown Holly Springs, Georgia, there used to be a plumbing business. It might still be there, but it’s hard to tell. Things around these parts have changed so much in the last couple of decades. Back in the early ’90’s there used to be a guy who would put on Christian concerts in the basement of that plumbing place. I don’t know how I found out about it, but I went to a show there one time. And afterwards I worked up the nerve to ask the guy if my band could play there. “Sure!” was his response. We were slated to play there about a month later.

This would be Third Day’s first show.

I don’t know how much I slept during the next month, but it wasn’t much. When the day of the show finally rolled around, I was absolutely petrified. I don’t know what time we were supposed to get there, but I made sure we were there about four hours before showtime. This ended up being about two hours too early. I was in a panicked state, and this continued right through the show. I remember very little about the actual performance other than being terrified. Only after we were done playing was I able to enjoy the experience of our first show.

Isn’t that kind of missing the point?

Weeks of dread, a day of paralyzing fear, and a nervous blur of a show, all followed by relief that it’s over. This pattern would pretty much repeat itself about 100 times before I got a handle on it.

I had performed all my life in some capacity or another. But something about this was different. Maybe because it was “for real” and I didn’t want to blow it? Whatever it was, I didn’t understand it. And I didn’t like it.

A simple change in perspective

I think it was the summer of 1995. We were doing a show in Cedartown with Jars of Clay. It was a fun night for both bands that we still talk about to this day. Jars had just been signed to a record contract and we were about to do the same. There was a buzz about both bands, and we were just close enough to Atlanta to call it a hometown show.

Something different happened this time. Something clicked. Because I’d never seen Jars play before, I stood out in the crowd. I saw people around me singing and having fun. I realized that I actually might be having fun myself. Somewhere deep inside I realized that this was it. All I had to do was approach going onstage as something fun. Not something tedious. And definitely not something to be scared about.

This simple shift in mindset was all it took to rid me of my paralyzing stage fright.

Do I still get nervous before shows? You better believe it. But these nerves are different than that all-encompassing stage fright I used to feel. I’ve learned to recognize being anxious before a show as a need to be prepared. Now when I get nervous I get a guitar and warm up. I look at the set list and think through all of the parts I play and anything different from normal that I need to be aware of.

One other thing on being nervous and being prepared. I’ve also learned that part of my nerves are from a general dread that something will go wrong. This isn’t totally unfounded. After almost 2000 shows, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, from my guitar not working to falling down embarrassingly onstage to – yes – wardrobe malfunctions. Again I approach this as a need to be prepared. I check and double check that my guitar and other gear are working. Anything outside of my control is a trust issue. I trust our techs. I trust our stage crew.

But most of all, I trust God – he’s the one in control, not me. 

All you can do is all you can do. Beyond that it is, as Billy Joel used to say, a matter of trust.

Do you have any issues with stage fright? Has God helped you conquer a fear? Do you have any advice? Please use the comments section to share your thoughts!