Not long after I moved back to my hometown, I decided to dive right into church participation by volunteering at a women’s event. I was so excited to reconnect with old friends and catch up with everyone. I imagined taking trips down memory lane and catching up on current life seasons.
To be honest, I was also anticipating the idea that I had been missed–that my church peers from high school and college would be just as thrilled to see me as I would be to see them. I arrived a bit early to help set up and stand at my greeting post, with a prepared smile and hopeful aspirations, but as each woman entered the building, I was struck with the reality that I did not know these ladies. I did not go to youth group with any of them. They weren’t present at any of my college mission trips or volunteer projects. No, these women were new to me and I was new to them. The friends I thought I would reconnect with had also moved away: some for marriage or work or school. I was the stranger and I felt invisible. It wasn’t the first time I felt out of place in a familiar space. I wonder if you’ve ever experienced similar atmospheres at work or at family functions or even at church.
Sometimes, we each can find ourselves in places where we feel out of place. It’s hard to navigate unfamiliar territories while simultaneously dealing with secret uncertainties in our thoughts and feelings. But this is a normal occurrence from time to time. No matter how secure you are, confidence prefers to be comfortable. When we find ourselves in a situation that is new and uncomfortable, our tendency may be to withdraw and not take the risk to reach out.
As I took a seat at a table that was already occupied by women who seemed to be close friends, I flashed a shy smile and sat in silence. The group of women were kind, but I wasn’t sure if I would fit in with them and anxious thoughts began to cloud my mind. What if I’m older or younger than they are? What if they are all single? What if none of them have children? Do we have anything in common? Maybe one of them will just say something to me so that I won’t have to risk saying something they can’t relate to.
As I felt myself get worked up over a scenario that wasn’t reality, I realized I had a choice to make: I could sit there and hope to be noticed, I could engage myself in something else that wouldn’t require me to take a risk to be vulnerable, or I could use maturity that comes from believing that Jesus makes me valuable and that I had valuable things to contribute at the table.
And though it is a vulnerable thing to extend ourselves when we feel out of our comfort zone, that is the call of spreading the love of Jesus – not just amongst our comfortable places, spaces and faces, but to whomever the Lord puts in our path.
Though our human nature tends to size people up, it’s more productive to lovingly extend who we are rather than assume who others are or aren’t. Celebration- not comparisons- are the key to reversing invisibility. We cannot celebrate others if we choose to withdraw from them. Each of us can be at fault for holding ourselves back out of intimidation or fear, but concealing who we are isn’t honest and it will hold us back from running on mission to share the love of Jesus.
Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act”
Sometimes, we are hesitant to extend ourselves even when the opportunity is made obvious. The vulnerability it requires can somehow seem to cost more to lose than to gain. Sometimes, reaching out is scary because we don’t know if the invitation is mutual, but I am honestly learning that once we set our sails open to the truth that God’s love and value over us is charting our course, the winds of uncertainty don’t seem so scary.
I wish I could say that I mustered up the courage to complement one of the girls at the table or to ask about their work day or their family or what college they went to, or to simply complement them in order to open up the opportunity to engage, but I didn’t.
I allowed the confidence of their conversation to make me feel doubtful. But, God is good, isn’t He? Even when we cower in doubt, His Holy Spirit has a way of lining up our lives through situations He has orchestrated.
Though I was hesitant, my friend Jetta was not. She joined the table, plopped down right beside me, and began to chat away as if I had been in her life for years and years. It was her willingness to extend herself that helped connect me to so many other sweet ladies who also felt uncertain about extending themselves. It only takes one person who is willing to reach out in the confidence of Christ and in mission to be loving and vulnerable. I’m so glad Jetta was that friend for me and since then, I have grown in becoming that friend for others: that friend who doesn’t see a stranger, but rather sees a sister.
I want to encourage us all to push past the doubt that uncertainty tries to cloud around our opportunities to be loving, vulnerable and engaging. If you have a shy personality the way I do, understand that when you withhold yourself, you are withholding the goodness of God that His love has placed within you. We may not all be comfortable standing on a stage or telling public jokes or being the center of attention, but that’s not what extending ourselves is about. It’s not about attention to ourselves, it’s about extending the love of Jesus that the Holy Spirit will use to give glory to Himself and edification to His church.
If there is an upcoming opportunity where you may be in contact with someone you don’t know very well, I hope you will consider extending yourself in Christ’s love. You have valuable things to share with others, but they’ll never benefit if you keep yourself to yourself!
Trust the Lord as He aligns your life with other precious sisters in Christ. Take every opportunity to use your time, your gifts, and your life to share Jesus with those He’s placed around you (Ephesians 5:16)!
I’m cheering you on!