Extreme Embarrassment

Almost every person who makes a living public speaking has experienced a zipper malfunction on stage. This has happened to me twice. The first time I was speaking to a group of pastors in Iowa. Standing there helpless, wishing my sweater was longer.

A preacher friend of mine had it worse. As he was speaking, someone in the front motioned towards the zipper region. It took him a minute or so to realize what was being communicated. Problem was, there was a large crowd in front of him and a choir standing behind him. What would you do? Well, he turned to the side to take care of things. Unfortunately, he zipped in the corner of someone’s choir robe. With a soprano attached to his pants, you can imagine the chaos that ensued.

Have you ever suffered from extreme embarrassment? Maybe it’s snorting while laughing. Or food in your teeth. Or maybe, like me, you’ve tripped or slipped. On a cold day, I wiped out on some ice on the sidewalk and ended up staring at the sky which for a brief moment was full of stars. I staggered to my feet as three teenage girls walked past. One asked if I was okay, I said, “I think so,” and my kidneys felt like they would explode from the pain of trying to look like I wasn’t experiencing any.

They kindly moved on trying not to snicker. I badly wanted to explain that I was a star athlete when I was their age and I am still in relatively good condition for a guy who can barely see 50 in the rear-view mirror. But I couldn’t catch up to them. Everything hurt. My lungs. My shoulders. My pride.

We all understand the sting of embarrassment. The thought of being judged by those who witness our fumbles. The desire to hide under a rock for a year or two. But there’s no undo button, no do-over.

Here are three things that can help.

  1. Remember the empathy you feel when others slip.
  2. Never forget that God sees us at our worst and loves us. “Get back up,” he says, whatever we’ve done, he offers a fresh start.
  3. Laugh. Shake it off. Few things are more valuable in recovering from embarrassment than a sense of humour.

Which reminds me of the pastor who was preaching and telling a story about building sandcastles with his kids. “This is one of my daughters’ favourite things to do,” he said, to which his six-year-old loudly replied, “No it’s not!”

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Phil Callaway

Phil Callaway, the host of Laugh Again, is an award-winning author and speaker, known worldwide for his humorous yet perceptive look at life.

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