Can I confess something to you? People scare me.
I love people, I really do. But I am an introvert. I love being alone. I love being silent. My recurring nightmare is a room full of people where I am forced to mingle and make small talk. (Some of you might be wondering at this point why I am a minister…you have a point.)
Small talk terrifies me. I feel like I never know what to say to people. I feel uncomfortable with awkward silences. I have a hard time thinking of good questions to ask to get to know people. I feel completely incapable of breaking through the “invisible wall” of conversation, moving from small talk to truly intimate and enjoyable relational connection.
People scare me. Mingling scares me. Small talk scares me.
And yet, even though I am a scaredy-cat and an introvert, I have a deep desire to connect with people. I long to be known. I long to have people truly know me. I long to have a group of people I can be myself with. I long to have a community that will laugh with me, cry with me, challenge me, and love me no matter what. My hunch is that no matter what your personality is, you want that too. So why is it sometimes so hard to connect with people?
If you’re like me and connecting with people is sometimes hard, then let me offer you some hope and four practical steps for moving forward.
1. This doesn’t mean you’re weird.
Loneliness is epidemic in our society. Just because you have trouble finding close friends or connecting with others doesn’t mean you’re weird. It’s not just you. You’re not alone!
Recent studies show that if you look around the room at the people around you in your house, your workplace, the coffee shop, or the church, at least ¼ of the people there are lonely. They don’t feel like they have someone they can dance with, cry with, go deep with, hug on, call on, lean on. If you feel lonely, you’re not alone. You’re not weird.
2. Loneliness is bad for you.
This epidemic of isolation is damaging to our society, and even to our health! Vivek Murthy, former surgeon general of the United States, wrote that loneliness and social isolation are “associated with a reduction in life span similar to that caused by smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even greater than that associated with obesity.” Science has proven that people with bad health habits (things like smoking, unhealthy eating, obesity, bad sleep habits, lack of exercise, or excessive alcohol use) but strong social connections lived significantly longer than people with good health habits who were lonely and isolated. One Harvard researcher says that if you belong to no social groups but decide to join one, “you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half.”
In other words, as John Ortberg says, “It is better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone.”
3. Jesus died so that you wouldn’t have to be lonely.
Jesus did not just die to save you. Jesus also died to save us.
Jesus died to create a community! The immediate result of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and the coming of the Holy Spirit was the creation of a community of faith-based friendships like the world had never seen before. To catch a glimpse of this kind of community, go read Acts 2:38-47 and Ephesians 2:11-22.
4. Examine your life.
So, if loneliness is bad for you and Christ desires for you to dive deep into Christian community, then the first step is to take a look at your own life to see what might be hindering you from connecting with others. It could be a multitude of different factors:
· Isolation – Maybe you live far away from other people. Maybe you’re new to the area. Maybe you’re a stay-at-home parent and it’s hard to meet people. If you’re isolated, come talk to us about joining a life group or serving alongside other people from the church! Or simply go say “hi” to your neighbors.
· Relaxation – Maybe you view your home as your castle. When you come in, you pull the drawbridge up behind you and nobody is allowed to invade your private space and intrude on your relaxation time. If that’s you, I’d encourage you to invite some people over. It may get messy, but that’s how true friendships are formed.
· Busyness – Maybe you spent so much time running from activity to activity or flipping from screen to screen that you have no margin to interact with the people you bump into. What can you say “no” to in your life in order to create the time and space necessary to form deep relationships?
· Inexperience – Maybe you simply don’t know what to say to connect with others. Just go online and Google “get to know you questions” and you’ll find lots of good stuff! It’s cheesy, but it works!
5. Give what you want to get.
There are lots of lonely people around you. Growing up, my Mom always told me, “Find someone who needs a friend worse than you do.” That’s something I think Jesus would say, and it’s advice I try to live by. You may remember Jesus saying, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
So, if you want to have friends, be a friend. If you want to get invitations, give invitations. If you want people to listen to you, listen to them. If you want people to care for your heart, then care for theirs. If you want people to pray with you, pray with them. If you want people to say “yes” to you, say “yes” to them. If you want people to notice you, notice them. If you want people to introduce themselves to you, introduce yourself to them. If you want to have friends, be a friend. Take the first step, and my guess is that you might just make some connections.