The moment plays over in my head nearly every day. At first the thought of it made me cringe. It stung me with regret and embarrassment. But overtime the memory has became a reminder of all the good that has come in my life.
I would have been about fourteen. My family had recently moved to the area. I found myself in a new school, new neighborhood, and a new church. That’s where it happened. We tried a number of churches in the area and had narrowed it down to two. My parents let me and my sister weigh in and we both settled on a church whose hundred plus year old building lay just a block down the street from our house.
In the basement, the youth gathered every Wednesday. I found there a glimmer of a friendship. I won’t call it a friendship yet. But for the first time since moving to this town, I met someone who seemed genuinely glad to have met me. His name was Daniel. I came in when we first visited and he greeted me. He sat with me through the service, relieving my greatest fear of having to sit alone. He showed me around and introduced me to his friends.
Several months had passed and I warmed to the group of youth that gathered every Wednesday. I knew a fair number of their names and they mine. But still a deep fear hid inside of me. I disliked most everything about myself. I didn’t like how I looked, talked, or even walked. I feared everyone else must think the same of me.
So on this one night, someone came up to me to say hello. He appeared friendly. But he caught me at a particularly dark moment of self-doubt. I can still hear his voice and see his face, friendly and smiling. But my fears overwhelmed me in the moment. So without a hello, a smile, or even a nod in return, I simply walked away. I can see the twinge of pain I caused him for having simply ignored his friendly greeting. I can only hope that he didn’t let my moment of weakness knock his own self-confidence.
But there it is. A moment I have frequently looked back on over the years. It marks the lowest point of my own self-doubt and anxiety. I feared people, no matter how friendly. I feared rejection no matter how unlikely. I feared being hurt, when I already felt so much loneliness.
I write this today to speak to my fellow shy, self-doubting, fearful, or socially anxious friends-to-be. God did a lot in my life in the years that followed that moment. He taught me many important lessons. These lessons brought me into a new way of living, a whole new life. In hopes that you too can find some freedom from the social fears that haunt you, here is what I learned:
Fear is selfish
The first thing I learned is how selfish my social anxieties made me. It was actually the moment that I described above that brought me to this understanding. I walked away from that person thinking of only how I felt in the moment. I never stopped to consider this other human being had put himself out on a limb to introduce himself. I saved myself at his expense. I let my fear cause him pain. That was selfish. Realizing what my fear was doing to the people around me gave me the desire to change.
Fear is unfriendly
I also discovered that my fear created the thing I feared most. Avoiding social situations, walking away from friendly introductions, didn’t save me from rejection but in fact ensured it. I can’t make a friend of someone I don’t talk to. You can’t ever avoid rejection entirely. But when I choose to be kind to those I meet, rejection becomes scarce. By being friendly, I make more friends. If I am the kind of friend I wish I could have, I find more friends. Fear makes me less friends because it makes me less friendly. Take it from me, if you risk yourself with a bit more friendliness, you’ll find your life fills up with friends.
Fear is unfounded
I used to look around at my schoolmates and be filled with jealousy. I saw them talking with friends or having someone to sit with at lunch, and I envied them. But the truth I later discovered is everyone is just a bit lonely. Everyone wants another friend and fears that someone might not like them. This simple truth motivates much of my life now. Even the most popular person is more lonely than you might think. If you remember this the next time social anxieties fill your mind, you’ll feel new strength. You will be able to look at them and think, “This person needs a friend. I can be that friend.”
The Greatest Friend
For many years, I would pray nearly every night before drifting off to sleep, “God, give me one friend.” One day, I looked around me and realized my life was full of friends. It snuck up on me without me realizing it. But when I did realize it, I remember walking out to my front porch and saying a new prayer, “God, I have prayed all these years for a friend, for someone who would care about me and my lonely self. And all this time, it was you. You have been listening and caring for me. You have been my friend.” If you’ve thought of God as this far away, distant unknown, then talk with him. You will discover he’s been waiting and wanting to hear about your life, to be your great friend.