Hello, folks, and welcome this Thursday’s broadcast by yours truly. I think it’s high time for another Awkward Adventure of an Abnormal American.
We all recognize that I’m shy, nerdy, and hard to get to know. Apart from my awkward (and usually bizarre) social behavior, I state my lack of people-skills ten times a day. As such, it’s no surprise that on the bright, chilly Sunday morning of our first Baran excursion to a new church, I locked myself in the bathroom and threatened to stay there unless my family went without me.
You see, the worst part about moving somewhere remote and faraway is that you have to leave every scrap of known human contact behind. Family, friends, the nice Walmart optometrist – everyone I previously recorded in my list of acquaintances disappeared when my family moved away from our home state. And for a person who doesn’t have a whole lot of friends to begin with (read: none), the thought of having to make new ones sounds excruciating.
‘Cause hey, guys – I’m an introvert.
Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
“Here’s what will happen, Sarah,” said my unsympathetic sister, drilling me on ways to behave that wouldn’t convince people I was slightly mental. “When we get there, we’ll spend seven-and-a-half minutes loitering around our car, waiting for mom to double-check we all have our Bibles. After that, we’ll walk towards the door, just slow enough to look nonchalant. Henry Thatcher, the Door Greeter, will open the door for us and give us a program—”
In my terrified stupor, I genuinely believed that Anna had looked up the church website for the express purpose of learning what the door greeter’s name was. The fact that I might know something ahead of time (even something as insignificant as the door greeter’s name) almost made me feel better.
It never occurred to me that she’d created a hypothetical name for the sake of her example.
Anna continued her set of instructions, but I was more focused on keeping my hands from shaking. We pulled into the church parking lot, mom double-checked we all had our Bibles, and—
I had been lied to.
There, manning the stately double doors, was not one, but two Henry Thatchers.
Any sense of preparedness promptly died.
But despite the overwhelming desire to hide behind my parents for 90% of the experience, it was a surprisingly good day. I learned an important fact about new churches — if you stand close enough to your sister (who has absolutely no problem with the whole “extroversion” thing, despite being an INFP), you get included in all her conversations. No one mistook me for a reticent, stand-offish snob, and I didn’t even have to say a word.
Win-win, am I right?
Then came the Sunday two weeks later when, after the evening service, everyone went downstairs for a snack and a game. After hearing numerous horror stories on the types of games this church usually plays (all of them involve nasty food…), I wasn’t feeling particularly confident about the progression of the night. I had mentioned many, many times in the car ride over that I did not WANT to play the game, but apparently, my family doesn’t love me.
They made me play the game.
Fortunately, it was only a matter of sacrificing my dignity, not the contents of my stomach. We had to transfer cotton balls from one bowl to another, using nothing but a plastic spoon gripped between our teeth.
Despite the horribly undignified situation, I tried to retain my majestic qualities.
In my defense, Anna was even worse.
But strangely enough, as saliva dripped down the handle of my spoon and people I barely knew laughed and yelled around me, someone shouting directions on how to hold the spoon a certain way between my teeth for better control, I felt a strange lack of tension in my chest. I couldn’t quite describe the feeling, but I held it tight. Even when it disappeared again and I was back to my shy, awkward self, stumbling over words and avoiding eye-contact, that sense of comfortableness glowed in my memory like a beacon of hope, reminding me that strangers don’t always stay strangers, and what is foreign will eventually become familiar.
For 3.27 seconds, I felt comforted.
Then someone I didn’t know started talking to me, and the feeling promptly died.
Fast forward to last Saturday. All the churches in the district gathered for the young people’s Bible Quizzing tournament (it’s like Jeopardy, except Christian), and despite the fact that we’d barely been attending a month and weren’t involved in the Bible quizzing, my family decided to go. We cheered on our team, listened to a message, and I was invited to play dodgeball with our church’s group after the provided lunch.
I’m not a big sports person (read: the most strenuous thing I’ve ever done in my entire life was lift three bags of groceries at once), but after being assured that my lack of dodgeball skills didn’t matter, I agreed to play with them. For a moment, it sounded like fun — getting out there with the people I was slowly but surely getting to know, and playing a simple, good-natured game where athleticism doesn’t matter and and the point is to have fu–
Then a man got up behind the podium and began to list the rules for what he called the “Dodgeball Tournament.”
Nobody said nothing to me about a ‘tournament’.
The weird tremors in my hands started back up again.
See, here’s the thing about my introversion: It’s not the people that scare me. I don’t mind being around people I don’t know. But I’m also a control freak, and the thought of getting thrust into unknown circumstances with unknown outcomes, having absolutely nothing familiar to cling to, makes my palms sweaty. Imagine, then, my terror as I somehow found myself stuck on a dodgeball court with the opposing team (a group of six ferociously intense people) standing across the line and staring at me with (what looked like) murder in their eyes, and the referee shouting “GO!!”
I wanted to point out that my foot was currently stuck in the wall of netting behind me, and I couldn’t go, even if I wanted to, but–
UM, MR. REFEREE? THE OTHER TEAM IS THROWING THINGS.
And that was the moment I learned that the “dodge” in dodgeball is meant to be taken literally.
It was also the moment I realized that church sports were actually the beginning of the Hunger Games.
The desperate need to survive just a few more minutes took hold. And I learned something: When you’re stuck on a court with five other people — sweating, screaming, jumping, and fleeing for your lives together, as children with blood-lust in their eyes hurl flaming projectiles (AKA rubber balls) at you — there is no room left to be introverted.
I was too focused on not dying to worry about whether the vociferations gushing forth from my mouth made sense or not. (Hint: They didn’t.)
And when the members of the “Super Homeschool Squad” (for that’s what we called ourselves) congregated afterward, panting and laughing and cracking jokes about coming in second-to-last place, I found myself right in the thick of it. The control-freaky fears had fled, the nervousness had abated (somewhat), and I felt…. almost…
So when the girl next to me glanced over, grinned, and said, “Gee, I’m glad you played with us,” I found myself uttering the words I never dreamed I’d say.
I think that must be the secret to it all; the way to conquer this introversion I laud as both a privilege and a curse. Even when its scary, even when it’s awkward, even when its the exact opposite of what I deem “comfortable” — a willing attitude speaks louder than the words I stumble over.
And when you throw yourself into whatever’s going on, participating regardless of the fact that you’re new and frightened and shy, people will see that no matter how quiet you may be, you want to get to know them and make yourself a part. They will see, and they will appreciate it.
And, you know… a shared love of Lord of the Rings doesn’t hurt anything.
Happy Thursday, guys, and may the introverts feel strengthened, the extroverts feel thankful they don’t have to deal with any of this, and the ambiverts feel excluded because I have no words of wisdom for them other than “You guys are confusing.”
*fingerguns* So yeah.