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The Truth About Being a Socially Awkward Christian September 24, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Christianity, confession, Danny Jones, extroverted, introverted, life, socially awkward, The Church.
36 comments

I get  a lot of compliments about the title of this blog. Most people think it’s cute at worst, funny at best, and the people who know me think it fits me well. I’m glad that people enjoy it, but honestly being a socially awkward person, much less a socially awkward Christian, in today’s culture is anything but cute or funny. Let me set up a little bit of what being this way is like. I can think of no better scenario than this past Sunday night.

Recently, my church started a new young adults ministry led by my friend, B.J. This ministry has two services a week; one for the young adults in Picayune on Mondays, another for the young adults living about an hour north in the college town of Hattiesburg on Sundays. This past Sunday, a small group of the “leaders” from the Picayune campus traveled with B.J. to Hattiesburg to both help set up as well as get connected with some of the students at that campus. I know the people that traveled there, but not that well except for B.J., who was driving the 15-passenger van with his wife riding shotgun. I sat in the very back, without saying one word the entire drive, at one point even causing B.J. to say “Brandon, you sure are quiet back there.” I really didn’t know how to respond, so I just smiled and nodded. The fact is trying to say something witty that turns out to not be so witty in front of the people I was with was absolutely terrifying.

We finally got to our destination and started setting up for the service. This went well enough for me, I can make small talk at times when everyone is working on an equal task. The big problems began when people started showing up. I knew some of them, but again not that well, and the majority I did not know at all. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone to introduce themselves, but for introverted people, I think it’s only slightly better than chemotherapy. I see new people and I lock up. I can’t make eye contact, my palms become sweaty, I become cottonmouth with no amount of liquid able to wet my dry throat. Thank God for my Blackberry. I start scrolling up and down, looking at nothing in particular, but at least the appearance of me texting someone will convince these people that I’m not a loser, and maybe even sway them from trying to talk to me. It doesn’t work though, some guy does try to make small talk, asking how I’ve been. I say good, and ask the same of him, he says good as well, and then just stands there, obviously waiting for one of us to say something that could start an actual conversation. If meeting someone new is like chemotherapy, this is like being tortured by shoving bamboo sticks under my fingernails. Eventually, I just look back to the safety of my smartphone and he walks away.

After a awhile, I talk myself up reminding myself that I’m a leader and am not supposed to be afraid of people. I see a group of people standing in a circle and laughing, I decide to try and go enter the conversation. The circle doesn’t open to let me in, so I stand on the outside looking in, as if I’m the only kid on the fieldtrip to Disneyland that forgot to get my parents to sign the permission slip and have to stay at school. Somebody then forgets what movie a certain line he’s referencing is found in, and I know it so I speak up. My answer is correct and he says, “That’s it!” and continues with his conversation, once again leaving me on the outside of the circle. I thank God when it’s time for the service to start. On the ride home, I’m more involved with the conversation, thanks to a lucky joke I made that was actually funny. Then I start to overdo it because of my excitement of being involved and try to think of more funny stories or witty statements, but I’m not that funny or that witty so I start to use other people’s stories or jokes and claim them as my own, but unfortunately, they only work for the people who actually own the rights to them. The agony only ends when I’m back in my truck, graciously alone.

They say the Christian life isn’t meant to be done alone. We need community to survive. I believe this is true. But, for people like me, the thing that’s supposed to keep you alive causes you so much pain and anxiety. It’s like drinking water that tastes and smells like gasoline. You know you need it to live, but drinking it can be vomit-inducing. I get jealous of people that others naturally gravitate toward. My friend, Danny, is like this. People naturally like him; and he’s just naturally good with people. I watch him when he’s dealing with the people in our church and I’m amazed. He might as well be wearing a cape and a big “S” on his chest. It’s unbelieveable to me. How is he that comfortable with people? How are people that attracted to him and others like him? It’s strange. We have even discussed the dichotomy of how people react to him and to me. He can make a certain joke and people will think it’s hilarious. I could make the same exact joke and people will think I’m just creepy. It all goes back to the fact that I’m socially awkward and he’s not. I’m introverted, and he’s extroverted. These are just common personality types. Being one way is not better than the other way, it’s just the way we’re built. Sometimes, though, being introverted can feel less like a personality type and more like a disorder or a condition. This is magnified in the Church, which is an extroverted culture. Introverts have a much harder time with it than people think they do. We often get the label of “weird” because they think we don’t like people, which is not the case. Introverts like people just as much as anyone. It’s just that we want to be liked and to be seen as “cool” so bad that we have a hard time socializing. People will say that’s shallow and that we should just be ourselves, but they don’t understand that we are.

One of the things I have noticed about social media networks like Facebook and Twitter is that introverts don’t exist on them. I don’t know what it is but introverts thrive online. I realized on Sunday night, that I would have a much easier time talking to these people through a screen than I do face-to-face. Through this blog and through my Twitter, I feel closer to my online “community” of people that I have never met than I do to some of my peers in my own church. I am not saying this is right or even healthy, I’m just saying this is what being socially awkward is like. It’s a prison. It’s not cute and it’s not funny. It’s lonely. It’s painful.

Where do we introverts, we socially awkward, fit within our Christian communities? Social awkwardness is not sin. Let me make that clear. I don’t think the problem is within us, though I do think that there are some things about our personalities that we need to overcome. However, there are also some things that extroverts, or people who are not socially awkward need to understand. Namely, we are not weird. We are not creepy. We are just nervous. We like you, and we want you to like us. We have wisdom to offer, if you will just allow us to say it when we finally work up the courage to say it. Be patient with us and continue to reach out to us, though understand that sometimes we will need more space than you might.

To others who are socially awkward like me I want to say this: God has given us callings and dreams, too. We can lead just as well as extroverts, God did not limit us to be followers. We can be pastors, teachers, prophets, artists, entertainers, worship leaders, and anything God has called us to be. We can do “all things through Christ who gives us strength” just like people who aren’t socially awkward can. We can overcome the aspects of our personalities that would hold us back. We can overcome the fear that often paralyzes us. I think we can even have an advantage over our extroverted brothers and sisters. The way we are forces us to rely solely on Jesus. We aren’t tempted to use our personalities nearly as often as extroverts do. When we find the courage to do what God has called us to do, we can have the confidence that we are not working at all in our own power, but in the strength of the One who loves us unconditionally, as we are. Our strength and hope is found in the One who at the sound of His Name, every knee will bow, socially awkward or not. Never forget this.

Gideon: “My clan is the weakest…I am the least.”

God: “But, I will be with you.”

Judges 6:15-16

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Theology Vs. People September 23, 2010

Posted by thesociallyawkwardchristian in Christianity, Danny Jones, Fruits of the Spirit, The Church, theology.
4 comments

I read a tweet this morning from my friend and High School Pastor of my church, Danny Jones (a good follow on Twitter by the way: @thedannyjones), in which he issued an interesting challenge to his followers. He said, “Here’s a challenge for everyone. Let’s try and value people like we value our theology this week.”

What struck me as interesting about this tweet is that Danny assumes, like a lot of people do, that theology doesn’t value people. That’s when I started wondering, “At what point did theology and people become enemies?”

I am passionate about theology. I am also passionate about people (though admittedly, I have an easier time dealing with theology than people due to my social awkwardness). But, I believe that the theologies that I adhere to help me to value people more. Somewhere along the way, it has gotten into our heads that theology is a divisive thing. I think Danny tweeted what he did, because he has seen, like I have, people get into loud, obnoxious arguments over differences in theology. The problem with that ,though, is with the theologians and not the theologies.

Theology is good. It needs to be taught in our churches, but it needs to be taught in a way that lifts people up and explained how it can be used in everyday life. This is the whole point of what is called, “Practical Theology.” The reason some people value their theologies more than people is because they haven’t been taught that theology is for people. I think most churches have strayed away from teaching good theology because they have seen how it can be abused, so they leave it for the seminaries and Christian universities to teach. That’s the main problem. As a graduate of a Christian university, I have seen firsthand that most of the professors in those settings, while brilliant, aren’t exactly the most loving Christians in the world. So, naturally, the students who learn theology from these people have a hard time communicating just how people-friendly theology can be.

Bottom line, good theology values people. If a certain theology doesn’t value people, it’s simply a bad theology and should be thrown out. But, just because some theologies don’t value people, or some theologians don’t understand how their theology values people, doesn’t mean that theology is bad. I value people because my theology values people.  I can’t value people without it.  Theology and people are not enemies. They are not at odds with each other. We can’t value one more than the other, because they are not mutually exclusive. Our theologies should always be something that help us live out a Christian lifestyle. If your particular theology doesn’t produce in you the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) towards people then you don’t have a Christian theology at all.

Let’s stop thinking of theology as a bad thing, and remember that it is a good thing designed to help us communicate who God is to other people.

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