Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Plunging into Hello

Photo Credit: Jenni C
For the second time in two years I was the new girl. I was mighty scared that when the recess bell rang all the first graders would sprint toward the playground, and I’d be standing alone. Again.

I couldn’t stand the thought of it so I decided to do something. And quick. The girl at the desk in front of me had two long, beautiful French braids. In my Laura-Ingalls-loving mind, that was a sure sign of congeniality, so I tapped her back right between those braids.

She turned.

"Will you be my friend?” I whispered.

I felt ridiculous. My face flushed. But she nodded, and I followed her out to recess.

Thirty years later, surrounded by five children and a multitude of acquaintances, I felt mighty alone again. With all the chaos, loneliness didn’t seem possible, but the demands of family and self-inflicted expectations had exhausted me. I needed a friend to lead me to Jesus in prayer.

I’d never actually done the one-on-one prayer thing before, but I knew it was the only way to survive and finish that chapter of life.

So I did something that felt socially weird. At Bible study I sat by a woman I admired, and right before our Bible study video started I feigned confidence and whispered, “Hey, would you be willing to get together to pray with me sometime?”

I braced for a reasonable rejection. Something like Hmmm, I’m traveling quite a bit lately. Or, Sounds wonderful, but I’m sooo busy. 

Instead she answered, “I would love to.” As I turned back toward the TV screen, I thought I saw her wiping tears. Then I started wiping mine.

Last year I attended a conference alone, and of all the things I worried about, the one that haunted me was a scenario from junior high. 

The dreaded cafeteria.

What if I had to weave through the trays, soda fountains, and tables to sit by myself? A veritable announcement to every observer, “I have no friends here!” 

Fortunately, I found delightful women to chat with at meals. 

But then I saw her. One woman at a table for two. Living my junior high nightmare.

Don’t be weird, I warned myself. Maybe she’s relishing solitude. So I walked past her only to discover “my people” sitting on the back side of her booth. 

After setting down my tray, I poked my head over the partition and invited her to sit with us.

Turns out she wasn’t relishing cafeteria solitude, and our table of three became a table of four.

But I’m not always so socially courageous.

During that exceedingly awkward “greeting time” at church, I find it easier to rifle through my purse in search of nothing. While waiting in line at Wal-Mart I’m more comfortable frantically texting than talking with someone in line. And I can become engrossed in a menu, doctor’s office literature, or a map in order to avoid eye contact with anyone at all.

It feels like a game of Social Chicken--each stranger daring the other to make the first move. And the worst possible outcome happens when neither person acts: the enemy of our souls wields loneliness and insecurity to frighten us into isolation.

And sometimes the only thing worse than feeling socially awkward is feeling alone.

As I’ve staggered around between the illusion of isolated safety and a nerve-wracking introduction, I’ve discovered the fastest way through an awkward “hello,” is to hold your nose--figuratively speaking of course--and plunge straight in: extend a hand, offer to help, ask a question, or simply say “Hi.”

Sure, it may feel embarrassing or uncomfortable. Maybe even stressful.

Yet God can use loneliness, insecurity, and even the uncomfortable weirdness before that first “hello” as an invitation to friendship. And once you take the plunge you just might find you’ve greeted a friend, a prayer partner, or a sister in Christ. 

What is your awkward hello story? How did it turn out?