I’m just going to say it…I hate schmoozing. I really dread it. A room brimming and buzzing with unknown people is the first sign of a great big adventure for many, but for me, it’s just limitless potential for awkward and surface-level conversation. It’s certainly not as unpleasant to me as the thought of treading water in the middle of the vast ocean with hundreds or thousands of feet of dark water surrounding me and God only knows what populating the space below. But for me, nearly every anticipation of a stranger-filled mingle produces an inner grimace and groan. I can fake clever, witty and comfortable and I might even appear to be enjoying myself (and maybe…for a second here and there I am), but just below my convincingly confident and chatty exterior there’s angst.
With all my years in church, I’ve come to understand that it’s not “Christian” to dread the “turn and greet your neighbor” time of a church service, but if I’m going to be honest, it’s a struggle for me, especially in a new church where I know basically no one. I know I can’t be the only one who’s uncomfortable. One of my major issues is that receiving and conveying genuine care and interest within the boundaries of a few meager minutes feels so unattainable for me. There are a handful of ways I’ve noticed people trying to escape the compulsory greeting. Some people slip out sneakily from the sanctuary to avoid it all together. And then there are the congregants who plop busily into their seats to nose around in their belongings as if to queue others to find someone else to connect with. And I really don’t think I’m imagining that stiff, hesitant side-turn of my neighbor. I see it play out, over and over again around the sanctuary. I truly don’t blame any of these people, I’ve been guilty of all the avoidance techniques and likely the clumsiness too.
With all this admission of my stranger stress, I absolutely don’t mean to say that I don’t desire, need and greatly value friendship. It’s very much the opposite! I don’t do life well without a deep sense of belonging and connectedness. I long to feel wanted by my friends and my constant desire is that I would fill a “Kristin-sized” hole in each of my friends lives and they in turn would come to fill a unique void seemly created just for them. But getting from the place of spotting a potential fray-nd to arriving at the intersection of comfortable and vulnerable can feel like a tremendous journey.
So…the reason I’m coming out of my reclusive closet (of sorts) is because I’ve been challenged to look at my introverted and “lone-ranger” tendencies. A common thread has been running through the conversations I’ve been having and it has woven its way into my thoughts. What (might you ask) is this mighty inspiration? It’s the concept of community.
In our modern, bustling society we don’t do community anymore, at least not in the way it was intended to impact us. We used to live side by side and raise children together. We used to plow our fields and harvest crops together. We used to do life and share life together, side by side and shoulder to shoulder. Now we’re all so spread out and spread thin, that finding a place to fit relationships can be challenging, and even when we find the time, others may not have room for it. Life can leave us feeling isolated even while being surrounded by masses of people. And then there are those who literally avoid human interaction all together. It wasn’t more than a couple of weeks ago that I nearly lost my mind on an unsuspecting shopper. In this person’s defense, my frustration with feeling ignored by fellow shoppers and treated as part of the aisle had approached its boiling point in me. As I, and this other shopper approached each other coming from opposite directions of an aisle, we twice nearly chose the same path but without ever looking up from her cell phone, this shopper adjusted her path…and never once looked at me even though we nearly smashed into each other. I was shocked by the lack of human interest and even though I didn’t have any connection with this individual apart from our near collision, the whole experience made me feel very sad and alone.
I really believe that sharing our lives with others is a large portion of what we were designed for. We weren’t meant to be alone (Gen. 2:18). I’m not my best ‘me’ in isolation. I think we were all made to be enhanced by the companionship of others. My healthiest seasons and greatest moments of revelation have sprung from a deep sense of connection with others.
So maybe the greeting time at church is a puny attempt at connecting people, and maybe for me it very sadly misses the mark, but I believe that the heart of the issue and the reason for the attempt is valuable. We all need community.
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Writer and fellow traveler on the road of life.