December 1, 2016

Making Friends When You're Shy Or Insecure

When I was a child I was painfully shy. When adults spoke to me, I'd hide behind my mother, answering their questions from behind her skirt, afraid to look them in the eye. I rarely spoke to other children at school unless they first spoke to me or invited me to join in whatever game they were playing. Perfectly content with one or two close friends, I remained quiet in most social situations. I was never the initiator, the includer, the leader, and most definitely never the life of any party.

And then, prior to my 6th grade year, my family and I moved to a new city. I was petrified and cried myself through that first year of middle school. My poor parents; they probably had no idea what to do with me or how to help me adjust. I signed up for softball and warmed up with my teammates in silence, hoping they'd include me in their conversations. I joined the youth group at church and sat in silence, waiting for girls to approach me. And then I'd go home, uncertain and overwhelmed, and cry my eyes out to my mom once again.
One day, as we were warming up for a game, a girl on my softball team named Kimberly said something to me that immediately etched itself into my memory. Kimberly was pretty and bubbly and friendly, one of the most popular girls at school, and just the thought that she was speaking to me made me instantly nervous. Standing beside me during warm ups, she stopped, looked right at me and said, "You know, I used to think you were a snob, because you never said anything to anyone." I just stared at her, gaping at her directness and wondering if "used to" had ever really changed. It felt like she was trying to send me a message, in a helpful sort of way, but the words stung bad. How could she think I was a snob? Didn't she realize that, being new, I was extremely unsure of myself and that, in fact, it was her duty as an insider to come toward me, the outsider, with friendship?

After the sting subsided, however, I realized Kimberly had given me a gift--an outsider's perspective on myself. My quietness wasn't the invitation and opportunity for others to come toward me that I'd hoped it was. Instead, my quietness had built a wall between myself and others that sent a loud and clear message: don't come near.

The gift Kimberly gave me changed my life, because that day I realized that if I wanted to have friends in my new city, I'd actually have to talk to people. (I know, revolutionary.) I'd have to carry myself in a way that invited rather than repelled. Above all, I'd have to do things that felt unnatural and uncomfortable.

I am who I am. To this day, I am still shy, reserved, and don't mind a bit being by myself. However, I still very much want to have friends, and sometimes this combination of personality and dreams can be tricky. I often find myself reverting back to that 6th grade girl's expectation that others should do the work of coming toward me and helping me and befriending me.

It just doesn't work like that, not for me and not for you either. Waiting for others and hiding away (literally and figuratively) quickly builds a wall between others and ourselves and very few, if any, women will try to scale our walls in search of friendship.

Friendship is hard enough. I don't want to put obstacles in my own way. As an adult, I've obviously learned to look people in the eye and speak, but I think the greatest lesson birthed out of Kimberly's words is that I should do things that feel uncomfortable to me. For example, it's uncomfortable and nerve-wracking for me to attend women's ministry events at church--and I'm in charge of them! I would much prefer to stay home in my pajamas. But after the fact--after a retreat or a gathering of some sort--I'm always glad I went. Always, always, always.

It's not only worth the risk of doing uncomfortable things, but now I know something I didn't know when I was with Kimberly on the softball field: I know that I'm enveloped in the sure love of Christ.   I am secure, so secure in his delight and approval, that He's become a anchor for my soul. He has me so securely in His hands that I can go toward others with friendship and not worry if I get the response I hope for. I am hidden in Christ, so I don't have to be afraid to be who He's made me, but I also don't have to self-protect. I can go toward others with confidence, extending an invitation rather than building a wall.