“shyness” and solitude

I’ve been pondering this post for months now.  The idea has been brewing, and, in truth, I’ve stalled on taking the time to really dig in and let these thoughts process.

I need to redirect my thoughts today, so…here I go.  It’s time.

My whole life I’ve bought into the notion that I am by nature a “shy” person.  Some of my earlier memories are of how uncomfortable I felt around people I didn’t know very well–even around family members that we didn’t live near.  People would tease me about how I’d just start to warm up about the time they had to leave.  I knew it was true.  I could sense in myself the change.  I’d be silly…TALKING…not afraid anymore.

By the time I got to high school, I was “the quiet girl”.  It was typically as if I couldn’t even formulate a THOUGHT around other people, let alone find much to say.  I just numbly sat there, desperate to contribute to conversations, but largely unable to.

It wasn’t as if people were mean to me or rude about it!  Many people would try to encourage me in their own way.  I remember on a field trip early in the school year (as a freshman) being approached by a few girls who were the sisters of some of my brother’s friends.  One of them said something to the effect of realizing that I was hanging around these two girls (that they weren’t friends with) because I just wasn’t comfortable getting to know them, but that they WANTED to get to know me.  Wow.  They did???  That wasn’t a magical turning point for me, but I did try to spend more time with other people.  I told myself that I could be there, and be a listening ear, and that maybe in time I’d have things to say, too.

My feelings would come flooding when I was alone.  It was at that time that I could sort things out in my writing.  My thoughts were so clear…I could think of hundreds of things I could have said…FUNNY things, helpful things…but it didn’t matter.  The moment had passed.

When we moved and I had to start at a new school, even though a lot of my friends had moved to the same school along with me (our old school had closed), I was still that same EXTREMELY “shy” girl.  I hid behind my thick hair as much as I could to avoid making eye contact with people.  I hung around the same crowd of accepting people–who didn’t give me grief (too often) about being so quiet.

Sure, the other kids from the school noticed.  There was this one guy who I had all the same classes with (and a huge crush on).  He had to have known how I felt, but was really nice about it.  He’d try to talk to me, or ask me to dance at school dances.  On the way into the Student Union one day, he caught me and addressed me as, “The Quiet Girl.”  I was mortified.  I took it as a challenge.–as if he was saying, “I want to get to know you, but you won’t talk to me!”  I couldn’t rise to the challenge, though.  I clammed up around him, and so many other people.

There were these twin sisters that I had all the same classes with, too, and I got such a good vibe from them.  After a while I just started to feel so comfortable around them.  Can that be “chemistry?”  I started to open up and be just crazy (silly?) around them, and we became friends.  Despite that I don’t keep in regular touch with them, I consider them dear friends forever, and cherish that they both were in my wedding.

Anyway, things did get a little better from there.  There were those rare instances where something clicked and I found myself able to open up to people.  Any time things got too personal I tended to put up walls and shut them out.

Where am I going with all of this?  It may seem like I have no point.  There are, of course, many of other examples I could give from high school, college, and then starting my career as a teacher (or these years of motherhood) where I felt my shyness so inhibited me.  But, I’m pretty confident that you get the picture.  I’m shy.  As much as I don’t want to be, I’ve accepted the label and allowed myself to be shy.

“Allowed myself to be shy?”

Yes, I think so.

“You can’t help the fact that your mind would go blank around other people!  What do you say when your mind is frozen in fear?”

Well, that’s awfully kind of you to be so sympathetic, but I don’t want to be patronized.

Ouch.  Was that harsh?

Sorry.

OK, everything is easier in hind sight, right?  So take everything that I’m about to say with a grain of salt…

I wish that I had not labeled myself as shy.  I do think that it is my nature.  I feel intimidated around most other people and am grounded by time alone.  I am a person of a solitary nature.

And a sinful nature.

You see, I think that it can be too easy to (perhaps subconsciously) begin to use shyness as an excuse.  Or to “need” too much time alone.

This has become impressed upon me lately, because as a mom there is no end to how much your children need you.  They need you all day and sometimes all night long.  It could be only natural for anyone to need some time to hear their own thoughts and regroup under such circumstances.

As much as I love my children, there are times when I feel like I could be perfectly happy to proceed interruption-free hour after hour– or maybe I even long for a few days of it.  If I were forced to envision what that really would mean, I surely would never wish for my children to not exist!

I don’t mean to imply that I should just be fine and dandy with having my children around me every second, chattering on whenever they feel like it and never asking them for a moment.  That’s unrealistic and, in my opinion, would give the children a lack of boundaries that they need in life.  It’s fine to go take a bath and soak a while, or to take a few minutes to make a phone call…

Everything is fine within reason, right?  Well, no…not everything.  But on this topic, there are probably many instances where it’s perfectly fine to allow yourself some solitude.

I think that for me, however, seeking solitude can become a distraction.  It becomes an excuse for making bad choices.  “I can’t be patient right now because it’s been crazy-busy all week and I JUST. NEED. 2. SECONDS. TO. MYSELF.”

No, that’s no excuse for being snippy with a child…There’s no excuse for that!  What I DO need at that moment is grace.  “Lord, I’m struggling right now!  I want to run and hide under my blankets and hear nothing but silence.  Please help me to patiently hear my children out, instead.”

I long ago realized that spending quiet time journaling is a helpful way for me to sort through my thoughts, and that when my thoughts are clear I am more likely to be able to articulate around others, even when my “shyness” tries to get in the way.

I don’t think that my shyness will ever go away, but as I look back on life, I can say that it has gotten better, in some ways.  I think it can continue to.  I did a ton of writing in college, and the positive feedback I received from my professors really boosted my confidence about my ability to communicate–which helped immensely as I began my career.  It seemed like my thoughts were more organized and I often was better able to articulate verbally, as well.

Going forward, will I choose to cop out and clam up, or will I ask the Lord to give me the words to speak up and reach out?

I want to see myself quit quickly walking past the neighbors that I don’t know well (overwhelmed by the panicky feelings washing over me)…I want to see myself begging the Lord to keep me from drowning so that I can muster maybe first a “hello” and after that a few steps across the street to say “How are you?”

Sure, it’d be easier to just get in my front door where it’s just me, myself, and–ok, my family members…but isn’t maybe part of being of a solitary nature self-worship?  What’s so great about myself, anyway?  I know full well how flawed I am.  Why is it so great to spend time alone with myself?

The simple (sad) truth is that it’s just easier–and that some of the best things in life come the hardest!

God has called us to go out into the world and make disciples.  If I can’t even do this on my own street, or at the grocery store (or the park), then being “shy” and a “solitary person” is a despicably sad state of affairs.

How dare I put myself before unsaved souls!

“Lord, please help me to continue to try to use my time as well as possible so that I can find appropriate quiet time with you.  Please help me remember that I can still turn to you when there’s a lot of noise around me!  I ask that you would please help me try to reach out to others.  Please remind me that I don’t need to worry about awkward moments of silence.  Even if they happen, life goes on!  Embarrassing things happen in life, but dwelling on them does no good.  I beg you to help me fight the urge to avoid things in fear of being embarrassed, or because of something embarrassing that has happened in the past.  Help me to remember that it’s not about ME, anyway!  May I not be so self-involved that I can’t recognize this truth!  It’s about sharing the wonderful news of the gospel, and NOTHING (including shyness) should hold us back from doing so!  Thank you for saving me!  Thank you for forgiving me!  May my joy and thankfulness show in what I do!”

The important words that are needing to be shared are all there in God’s Word.  The more I’m in his word, the more likely they are to flow freely–from my lips and as fruits of the Spirit.  “If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth…and the truth will set you free!”

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