Shyness (easily confused with aloofness) is one of my less appealing character traits. Throughout life, I’ve worked hard to avoid talking to people. What if I say the wrong thing, or I don’t know what to say?!? Not an enjoyable way to live in the world…
My husband and I joined a small church right after college. We were young, naive, and ready to jump into the real world together. We did not fully grasp how desperately we needed more than just one another. Equally essential was a personal relationship with God AND a supportive community of believers around us. Fortunately, that support came quickly – we were both welcomed into our church community (including my shy self). However, for a long time I hid behind my husband, who is far more outgoing than I. In work, school and church I joined groups but kept my focus on the subject at hand, rarely allowing myself to engage with others on a personal level.
I traveled to Toronto for work last week. Travel for work typically makes my introverted self feel very alone, even while surrounded by people. On this trip I noticed something different. I spoke to strangers – I looked them in the eye, I smiled, I invited personal conversation. I left my interview with the Canadian customs agent knowing that he had lived in Scotland for a time, has previously worked as an accountant and he enjoys Monty Python. During dinner with colleagues, I was more interested in learning about their personal lives than sticking to conversation about work.
I commented on this phenomenon with my husband when I returned, noting how out of character it was to actually enjoy talking to strangers! He said, simply, that I am a light. Yes, of course!
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16
The way I view my role as human being in the world has matured with age. In conversation, the focus should not be on myself, the purpose not to gossip or complain. I must set aside the shyness and engage with people – ALL people – recognizing that strangers around me are beloved children of God. Conversation must include listening, should focus on positive change in the world, and be intent on bridging gaps between varying perspectives. That simple act guides me to recognize value in those around me, and opens the opportunity to share faith and be God’s light in the world in unexpected and surprising ways.
I recently saw a video addressed to church leaders around the country, led by Elizabeth Eaton, Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She said we are set free to be the church for the sake of the world. We should not see people as problems to be solved, but receive them as if we are receiving Christ.
God did not intend for us to face this world alone. We must respect each other and we must remember that we are called to work together for God’s purpose. When we live in the larger world as community, we are powerful!
Will I forget my own words of wisdom? Yup. Will it always be easy for me to talk to strangers? Definitely no. (Sometimes talking to people seems utterly exhausting!) Will I ever be something other than an introvert? Unlikely. But I’m shifting in the right direction – even a shy person can be light in the world!