I know I’m not the only one. The experience of feeling alone (or invisible) in a crowded room. OK, for introverts this may be a welcome experience. I say, however, that maybe we have different experiences of social anxiety – introverts and extroverts.
It happens to me in the church lobby of all places after the Sunday morning service. If I didn’t walk out into the lobby with someone, it is like I could walk straight through without being seen. Skirting around various little circles – backs to me. Sometimes, I engage with a set of eyes, not wanting to break in or interfere with a conversation, but too often, it’s eyes forward with the exit door in view.
You might be thinking “How weird”. I agree with you. My aim on Sunday gatherings is to watch for loners, new people, those outside of the small group conversations. Dr. Curt Thompson puts it this way: when we come into the world, we are looking for someone looking for us. We have that need for attachment throughout our lives. I want to be that person looking for the someone looking for someone looking for them (was that understandable?).
However…there are days, not just on Sundays but at work and definitely in any large group setting, that my default is awkwardness which is even odd for me. This has not always been my modus operandi. It seems to have crept up on me later in life…but I fight against it!
Have you ever read something or heard a piece of music that went right to your core? This:
Singer/songwriter Savannah Locke authored the article and co-wrote the song. She talks about how we can feel orphaned in life for various reasons. Those orphaned especially need to know they have a place – a real belonging somewhere (Psalm 68:4-8). We can take comfort in close friends and family, but the confidence of knowing we always have a place, Locke writes, comes from experiencing the love and care of God.
Abiding in God slowly heals the part of me that is convinced I am on the outside; slowly thaws the part of me that has iced over in hyper-vigilance. – Savannah Locke
It’s been decades since my college years, but there is one book I kept from those days. Through all the moves and all the pain of downsizing our book collections, Paul Tournier‘s A Place for You has remained.
Tournier writes “What we are looking for is not someone who will cut through our dilemmas for us, but someone who will try to understand them. Not someone who will impose his will upon us, but someone who will help us to use our own will. Someone who, instead of dictating to us what we must do, will listen to us with respect. Not someone who will reduce everything to an academic argument, but someone who will understand our personal motives, our feelings, and even our weakness and our mistakes. Someone who will give us confidence in ourselves because he has unshakeable confidence in us…The ideal support, then, is a presence, a vigilant, unshakeable, indefectible presence, but one that is discreet, gentle, silent, and respectful…All [people] are looking, in fact, for God’s support. It is an absolute support that men and women are looking for, a support without limit – and it obviously can come only from God.”
This is the place we need…this place that bolsters us in times of stress, fear, betrayal. This place, this Person, where our own struggle can point us to those with similar struggles and we can make room for them as well…see them as we are seen.
As I was sharing all the above with a friend, she pointed to a similar point of connection from a podcast she watched. Lysa Terkeurst was speaking about her own social anxiety, entering a room full of people alone. During a quiet moment after such an experience, she sensed a word from God in the following:
“You were walking in that room desperate for acceptance and approval. Instead of walking into that room bringing My acceptance, bringing My love into that room, bringing My peace into that room. Every single person in there is desperate for that same kind of acceptance, approval, and love. I don’t want you walking into any more of those rooms begging others for scraps of all that. Live from the place that I have accepted you; I love you. You are a conduit of My peace, My acceptance, and My love to other people. You walk into that room bringing that with you and the atmosphere will change for you…Doing that practice of walking into rooms eager to give that [peace, acceptance, love] to other people (will) change something in you. Live from a place of love, acceptance, not desperate for it from other people.” – Lysa TerKeurst, YouTube podcast with Louie Giglio, Minute 33:30+
Such a great word for me, too.
So…if you see me in a crowd of people, not engaging, and you also are trying to make a quick get-away, I’m looking for you. You have a place. We can all hold space for each other, especially when we trust in the One who is doing the same for us, and making a place for us…forever.