So, blogging freely and being rather open in my newsletters, public speaking, etc. has had an unintended consequence. When I run into people who listen to me give talks or read what I write, they seem to expect me to be just as transparent and vulnerable in casual conversation. That's not something that comes so easily. Oh, hang out with me for a while and I might spill everything. But when put on the spot I'm just as apt to turn shy - or defensive.
Showing up at my home church last Sunday - kind of tired and overwhelmed after the holidays, not much sleep, and a couple hours' drive to get to a 9:00 service - I think I disappointed some people. I wonder if they expected me to be more eloquent, engaging, or expressive "in person."
Sometimes I'm quite the charmer - other times, not so much! Circumstances make a big difference. First thing in the morning, I'm not so good, and I've warned my coworkers that I'm more likely to turn negative or lose my temper at a 2:00 meeting than any other time of day. No, it's not fair, but there you have it.
'Mingling' can be an uncomfortable thing for me, especially in situations where my role or identity is unclear. When I'm, say, the guest speaker, I can be as bold as brass, talk to everyone. Less formal events are tougher. A recent example: Our Christmas eve family event. These gatherings have always been a bit intimidating for me as they involve distant relatives I see very seldom and we don't have much common ground. I don't know how to bridge that distance. As a kid I always wanted to go, but sometimes felt like the wallflower at the junior high dance. (Or what I think that would be like. Actually go to a dance? Are you nuts?)
Well, I no longer feel that wallflower thing very often; I'm a grown-up now. I know who I am, and I can cope. I still want to go to these things. But Christmas Eve was harder, this time, than I expected. Here's the dilemma. I didn't know who half the people in the room were, but on the other hand I didn't know if they were bona fide strangers whom I could happily chat up, or the spouses of second cousins whom I should remember and ask about their children. Shy and confused, I fell silent.
You know the feeling: Is it OK to ask this person their name, or am I supposed to know it? If I were truly an introvert, like some members of my family, I would just passively endure until it was time to go home. I'm not and I can't stand to do that: I want more! Nobody seemed to realize my discomfort and bail me out. Until... "You don't know who I am, do you?" asked Delores, kindly; she's my late grandmother's sister's son's wife. I've only seen her once in the last decade, so now, I didn't recognize her. Oh, Cousin Delores! I was so glad she did was willing to take my embarrassment away, let the light shine in on my confusion. Emboldened, I soon admitted to (first cousin) Liz, "I don't recognize half these people!" "They are friends and neighbors," she explained. "I think some of them have often come to these things but they aren't our relatives." Relieved, I talked to more people, and had an OK time, but still felt too shy to exchange names.
(I guess there are a lot of things in life like that - I vastly prefer being a stranger or beginner than an ignorant or incompetent veteran!)
All of this might serve as a reminder of the importance of cultivating the kind of self-knowledge that sets us free to focus on other people. I don't need to be scared of people seeing me as weak or silly, for example, if I know and accept that I'm a foolish and beloved person, depending on Christ. I can be free from concern about how well I'm performing in different situations, if I know I'm loved and accepted on the basis of things much more stable than mere performance. I need not feel guilty or ashamed about mistakes for the same reason.
By God's grace, I don't have to deal with this kind of stuff every day. Even after the trauma and relational diaspora of the last year I still have the pleasure and privilege of spending a lot of my time in 'safe' situations and mostly with people I enjoy and understand, people who get me (more or less).
That gives me courage to face the ambiguous situations, and to do what I can to =turn= them into places that are safe and comfortable for people - often by behaving like Cousin Delores: taking the initiative to reach out and set people at ease.