I think Henri Nouwen had the same thing going on. Nouwen’s understanding of the nature of life involved cultivating one’s self — inwardly, outwardly, and upwardly.
But if I am very honest with myself the very things I long for with people I resist! It is much easier to be alone.
I avoid — the telephone, Christian small groups or even just “Mom” groups, making new friends, more than a wave to my neighbors, calling my family, and even at times real conversation with Tom or my shrink or my friends!
No, not all the time. Not every time the phone rings, but often. Not every email or someone asking to get together. Not my best friends, usually. But — I— just— avoid. I recoil at church when I have to talk to strangers and duck and hide when I see a acquaintances in the grocery store.
Am I shy? Yes. Am I as arrogant as I come off? No way. I do have a social anxiety, badly. I can “talk” at length on-line or via email, but I sweat bullets to talk to the same person face-to-face. I go to a church of 6,000 so the chances of seeing someone I know at church is slim to none. But on the occasion that I do see someone I know I don’t scoot over to say hi and catch up. I am persistently filled with dread to see people! I stammer and stutter and end the conversation as quickly as possible. I shut down. Getting away is all I can think about. And then on the long drive home I think to myself “how lonely church is and how I don’t know anyone. Does anyone even care? Poor me….”
It’s— quite —pathetic.
For almost fifteen years now, Tom and I have had one conversation more than any other.
Me: “Why are we so disconnected?” Or, around the holidays “We rarely talk to your parents.” It’s infrequent at best that we see my sister and her husband and we see Tom’s siblings once or twice a year and all live in the same town. I can go a month without seeing my mother and weeks without talking.
And we always come back around to the same place.
Tom: “Tons of people love you Melody — Love you and are always conveying that to me!” Or, “We just have to make some effort. People are busy.” Or “If you really wanted closer relationships you’d [fill in the blank.]”
If you really wanted deeper relationships you would …
That is what I want. I have a hole in my heart you could drive a semi through in the shape of people. I need people and I don’t know how to be with them. So I’m shy. And I have social anxiety in most settings. And I am terrible, I mean terrible and I don’t even want to try to be good at small talk. It makes my skin crawl! And the hole comes from (trust me my shrink and I have been through this many times) my low self-esteem thanks to my crummy upbringing.
So what can a person do to change all that?
In the past my best approach has been to have incredible vivacious outgoing friends. They sought me out. They made plans. They were a party in and of themselves. But, I am now a forty-three year old mom and I don’t work outside the home and my church is mega- and I just don’t have it ‘happening’ any more. I’m frumpy and middle-aged, and I don’t drink. How droll!
So who is this strange person that I don’t even recognize (me) that needs her friends more than ever
and seeks people
than e v e r!
Nouwen describes this longing I have, saying: “The spiritual life is a reaching out to our innermost self, to our fellow human beings and to our God. In the midst of a turbulent, often chaotic, life we are called to reach out, with courageous honesty to our innermost self, with relentless care to our fellow human beings, and with increasing prayer to our God. To do that, however, we have to face and explore directly our inner restlessness, our mixed feelings toward others and our deep-seated suspicions about the absence of God.” From Reaching Out— The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life by Henri Nouwen.
How and where do you find community? What do you do to develop and keep it in your life? What is important for you? Yes, this is a response question posed even for the lurker (you know who you are and you don’t even have to tell me who you are.) I hope to glean from your wisdom.
Yes, I quit Facebook (for the time being) because I’ve been lulled into the sense that I am — “so connected” — with people all over the globe and it’s crock. It really is. I need and want some face-to-face time no matter how scared that makes me.