I was wrapped in chilly winter darkness as I tentatively walked around unfamiliar buildings looking for my destination. I ended up taking the wrong path and having to back-track to the main road before finally seeing the proper sign to follow. Not the best start to an evening event I was already nervous about. But I found my way inside and was bombarded by some of the people I fear most on this planet—moms from school.
The dreaded moms from school have nice hair. They have nice other things too, but the hair is something I can’t quite wrap my brain around how to duplicate. I wear my hair long and get it trimmed maybe twice a year. This is partly out of hair-styling ignorance, and partly out of I-don’t-care-orance. But clearly I care a teeny bit if I’m intimidated by other womens’ knowledge of curling irons and hairspray.
Let’s rewind to the part where I said I was bombarded. That’s not quite accurate. My senses were bombarded, that’s for sure. But my person (the huggable parts of me) was not. At least that’s how I felt. I felt like an outsider, even though many of the faces were familiar to me. It wasn’t too long before I got a couple of hugs, and the reasonable side of my brain knew I wasn’t unwanted despite a little devil on my shoulder telling me I was.
You see, I have baggage. I walk around a confident and competent adult, but throw me into a setting like that and I am a terrified teenager again. I can give presentations at work, lead Bible studies, and help strangers, but put me into an unstructured social setting with semi-acquaintances that I’m going to keep running into—it’s torture. I get through it, I survive, but it’s not my idea of a good time. You could call it social anxiety, PTSD (partially traumatic social disorder???), or unwillingness to conform yet still feeling left out syndrome…
On this particular evening I was feeling especially vulnerable. I blame hormones, but I was sure there was something additional stirring in my heart as well. I was overwhelmed by memories of social rejection. Being the new girl at school (again and again), sitting alone at lunch because I didn’t have any friends, sitting alone at recess because I didn’t have any friends, being picked on because I was “different”, being picked on because I decided I wouldn’t do what the “cool kids” said I should, being used as an intellectual resource but never getting invited anywhere, watching as all the other women at work went to lunch together but never invited me, crying at work and no one comforting me, and on and on. It’s as though in this evening, that I forced myself to sign up for, all of this past hurt was welling up inside of me. Great timing, Lord. How am I supposed to even pretend to have a good time now?
Now, I’d just like to take a moment to say that in no way has my life been terrible or bad. For every sad memory I have a million happy ones. I was bullied, but only mildly. I was rejected and ignored, but certainly not by everyone. This is not a pity party, keep reading…
I was so relieved when I found my friend, Jayne, and she insisted I sit next to her. She was at a table that was already full, but she kindly scooted over a little and had me pull up a chair. I so desperately just wanted to have meaningful conversation with Jayne or maybe a very small handful of the women—because that’s my comfort zone. I think I missed some gene that allows me to enjoy or understand small talk. Everyone else seems to love it—so I’m not quite sure how I missed the boat. But clearly God did not want me to be in my comfort zone that evening.
So like a good girl I sat there and tried to follow conversation. Some of it I found genuinely amusing, but I still could not shake the heaviness on my heart. In the moment I didn’t really understand the heaviness, which was annoying because I’m an over-achiever who likes to understand everything.
Eventually I made eye contact with one of my sons’ teachers across the room and walked over to her. I began chatting with her and a fellow kindergarten mom I’ve seen around. The conversation moved to my personal dreams for the future and I started crying. It’s a topic that is a little sensitive to me right now and was apparently enough to send me over the edge into the cry-zone. I hate crying. It’s so annoying. I rarely cry (although, I won’t admit this, but after having 3 kids I find I’m much more susceptible to becoming teary-eyed for no good reason). Standing there, in front of two women I barely know, I was kind of in between full-blown cry mode and teary-eyed. Like, I’m pretty sure none of the tears hit my cheeks, but I was dry-sobbing if that makes sense. Got a mental picture? Good, let’s move on…
I pulled myself together, at least externally, and made it through the rest of the evening. I kept asking God why I was there. I kept waiting for some big revelation, or a deep conversation, or something obvious that let me know I was in the right place. The event ended and I headed back to my super-cool minivan. I cried the whole drive home. The real crying this time. What the heck, Lord? What’s the deal here? I’m ready for whatever lesson you have for me because this just seems dumb…
Days later I’ve still been mulling over that evening. It’s almost as though I’ve been carrying it around as…wait for it…more baggage! Just another instance of feeling like an outsider to add to the stack. But today I realized something—what if I’m carrying this baggage because I haven’t opened my hand and let it go? I guess the thought hadn’t really occurred to me before now. I haven’t ever consciously forgiven the people who have wronged me (whether intentional wrongs, or just wrongs in my imagination). So that’s where I’m at tonight—ready to truly let go of this social baggage I’ve been carrying.
However, I am grateful for these tough lessons over the years. I can see how God has softened my heart to people on the outskirts. People who maybe also feel ignored or aren’t connected. I throw brunches and parties and holiday gatherings and invite anyone and everyone. I know what it’s like to feel like I’m never invited anywhere, so I make a point to create reasons to invite people to things! God has redeemed my baggage already and used it for His glory. Maybe it’s time for me to let it go.
I have a plan for the next time I’m in a social setting I’m feeling vulnerable in—I will approach the situation as though I’m called to be there to minister to someone else. Giving me purpose puts me squarely in God’s hands—and that is definitely my comfort zone. However, that idea did not originate with me. After sitting down next to Jayne, and quickly confessing my lack of comfort in the setting, she told me that sometimes she attends events under the impression that maybe she’s there because someone needs to talk to her. I love how that mindset shifts the focus off of oneself and back onto God’s calling. Thanks, Jayne!
Dear Lord, thank you for this day. Thank you for leading me to experiences that are not ones I would choose for myself. Thank you for showing me how to be a kinder person. Thank you for redeeming all things.
Lord, please help me forgive those who have wronged me in the past. I know that my memories of such instances are probably more exaggerated than the truth, but they still hurt. I don’t like feeling rejected or ignored, but it’s something that you have used in my life to be more sensitive to the needs of others. Please continue to use these past hurts to give me acceptance of others. Please continue to redeem other areas of my life that need work.
Lord, I open my hands and surrender these past hurts. The memories will still remain, but I don’t need to carry them any longer. Lord, please heal what needs healing and restore what needs restoring. I trust that you will continue to use these experiences for your glory and I can be satisfied in that.
Lord, thank you for being a God who redeems all things. Thank you for giving purpose to my pain and revealing your hand in every situation. Lord, please help me continue to see you working in my life. I love you, Lord, in Jesus’ Name, Amen.