I glared at my mother’s back, willing her to stop talking. She cocked her head to one side, laughing at something her friend said. Our church service ended at 12:30 and it was now almost 1:15. She chattered away with her friends oblivious to the passage of time. The rumbling growls in my stomach grew louder while I slouched down further into the pew behind her.
At age 15, every single one of my friends thought my mother to be the coolest. I didn’t agree. Our personalities sprung from opposite ends of the spectrum. People and conversation energized her while they drained me. She loved to bake and sew. I endured home economics class. She dressed like Jackie Kennedy, all sweater sets and pearls. I preferred bell bottoms and ribbed turtlenecks.
Our temperament clash often reached a crescendo on Sundays. I enjoyed Sunday School, worship and hanging with my friends but by 12:30 I was ready to hit the road. A book waited for me at home. I treasured the uninterrupted hours of a Sunday afternoon to read, free of chores and homework. My mother, on the other hand, was reluctant to end her social intercourse. Sunday was one of the highlights of her week.
Ten years later, as a young pastor’s wife, I lacked the social skills my mother flowed in effortlessly. I didn’t struggle around friends or family but, in church leadership, you’re thrust into situations which require interaction with people you barely know or don’t know at all. Weddings, funerals, open houses, all church meetings and such, left me depleted.
How sad that I didn’t appreciate my mother’s gifting’s in my formative years. God knew full well He designed me with an introverted personality and chose my mother, deliberately, for me. If only, I’d listened and learned instead of sulking and slouching.
Some of you are designed the same way. You love people, but prefer limited doses. Time by yourself energizes and releases creative energies. Sally Socials, please understand that your natural ease around people is a learned behavior for a Solitary Sue. You might know someone in leadership like me. Often we are misinterpreted as uninterested or aloof. Try to think of us as unskilled.
The holidays are upon us, with many special occasions. What can be done to improve social skills? First remember we were designed for relationship. There is nothing more important than people. They are the only thing in this world destined for eternity. Jesus treasured humans and took his time with them. To follow His footsteps means we can’t use our personality as an excuse to retreat in social situations. God created every temperament to play a vital role in the body. As we make meaningful connections with one another we are changed. We experience the mind and heart of Christ from the fresh perspective of another human.
Second, know that God is always more concerned with our character than our comfort. The desire to stay in a safe zone often runs contrary to God’s destiny for us. Jesus left all the glory and grandeur of His home for the sake of relationship. Surely we can allow the Holy Spirit to empower us to engage in genuine conversations, right?
Here’s a few ideas to keep in mind, which may help you at your next social event:
Make other’s needs more important than yours. I’m not suggesting a personality re-invention. Simply focus your mind away from how uncomfortable you feel towards someone else’s needs. In many situations, you will find people even more out of their element than you. Converse with them, invite them to sit with you if they don’t seem to know anyone. Time after time God places outsiders in my sightline. I must to choose to leave my island and swim through the party over to theirs. Sometimes the conversation never launches and I just swim away. Most times I wind up in interesting conversations and suddenly I don’t feel awkward anymore.
Be specific with compliments and questions. Are you in someone’s home? Find something kind and positive to say. This can range anywhere from the behavior of their children to the physical appearance of their home. Ask them questions about interesting objects or evidence of hobbies. Visitors to my home often ask about my photography scattered through the house. Stuck at a wedding reception table with no one you know? Ask specific questions about your tablemate’s lives outside their relationship to the bride or groom.
Seek common ground. Once you start asking questions, you’ll often find common ground. It’s astonishing to me how frequently I find people who also grew up out East, or love gardening and reading, or who read certain books and movies, or struggle with health issues. After you do the work of finding shared interests, conversation flows easily and sometimes friendships are formed. As a young, overwhelmed mom of a newborn, I met one of my dearest friends on a retreat, simply making conversation and discovering mutual struggles. 32 years later we live in different states but remain friends of the heart.
I’m praying that we will not succumb to our culture’s lure of doing what’s best for us inside our bubble wrapped safe zones. More than ever our nation and our world need us to be the ministers of reconciliation God calls us to be. It starts with simple, grace-filled conversations.
When my mother went home to heaven a few years ago, I met numerous individuals at her funeral who repeated various versions of the same sentiment. “She always made me feel special.” Well, Mom, thank you for your example. I still can’t wear high heels without falling but I’m trying to follow in your footsteps.