The idea for this post was the result of the Young Adults Weekend Away with my church. A whole weekend of spending time with people my age.
The problem was I knew very few young adults in my church. Plus everybody was in clusters (our version of small group communities). The thought of trying to join ready-made friendship groups made the weekend one big, socially anxious, disaster waiting to happen.
I love my church. I love the teaching and worship and focus on doing good things. But as someone who prefers to close people out, I have found the community emphasis really difficult. It’s not just about meeting midweek and doing a bible study. Here, the midweek communities are about fostering friendships, supporting each other and then doing outreach as a group. That requires openness and confidence, neither of which I’m very good at.
The problem isn’t that I’m introverted, though I would love to blame that part of my personality. It is that I have mucked up by doing or saying the wrong thing socially so often, I don’t trust myself with new people. I would much rather watch from the sidelines, cradling a fruit tea in my hands. Or at least until someone spots the anxious tea-hugger in the corner and says hi to me.
In any church, being a socially awkward tea-hugger is not great. In a big church, it spells disaster for fitting in. No one knows everyone so 95% of the congregation won’t know you are new. Everyone has friends already, and often strong friendships, so won’t think to reach out to new people when talking during coffee time. Even when you do become part of a small group, it still takes time to meet people outside of that group.
Can churches, particularly big churches, do anything to make life easier for the anxious tea hugger? Aside from having an easy access welcome point and getting newcomers into small groups ASAP, probably not. It is the people like me who need to make the change.
The Saturday evening of the weekend away was when I realised this. I had gone up for prayer because of my general anxiousness over meeting new people. Phoebe offered to pray for me. Everything she said about knowing I had a great cluster (I’m in a non-young adults cluster), needing to accept community’s support, that I was loved regardless, was totally on point. Then, after I’d stopped crying (I’m such an awful cryer when being prayed for. Snot everywhere!), she invited me to her lodge for cake and wine. I said yes (eventually) and it was the best decision of the weekend. I was welcomed and made to feel comfortable (as much as I allowed myself to be).
I had a glimpse of what community could really look like. The shocking part was that I liked what I saw. People who cared for and loved each other, as genuine sisters and brothers in Christ.
I wanted to be part of it. I saw what community could look like and I craved it.
2 months later
I’m still a work in progress. Let’s not lie about this. I have made some progress. I’m a lot closer to my cell and cluster, to the point that I felt able to discuss both my love life and potential jobs with them. My one close friend in Young Adults has informed me that I have to have a sofa bed wherever I move to because she WILL be visiting me. It seems that I’m starting to be part of the community that I realised I was craving.
Even more amazing, I asked one of the girls I met on the weekend away if she wanted to grab a drink sometime. I actually ended up having dinner round at hers and spending hours discussing everything from what books we read through to being gluten free and other food lifestyles (it is me so food was bound to come up).
The biggest achievement of these past two months is how much I’ve noticed my social-anxious-awkwardness come down. Yes, now we only have morning services, and therefore a new congregation to navigate, I do hunt out my cell group to sit with them. After all, there is safety in numbers… and I don’t have to introduce myself to someone new again. But now, when I do stay for tea after the service, I recognise people. I can smile at them without feeling weird. I might even say hi to someone I’ve only spoken to briefly twice.
The anxious tea hugger is still inside me. Only now she has to compete with this other girl, who craves community, doesn’t want to shut people out and is learning how to smile from the inside. Walking into church each Sunday is still an internal battle over whether I stay afterwards or not. The only difference is that I’ve changed my allegiance to the girl who wants community, not the girl who lets being anxious block out people.
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