This short story illustrates the thoughts and feelings that go through my mind every day as I suffer with social anxiety, and the comfort I daily receive from the Gospel. The dialogue in italics portrays this anxiety.
What is it about silence that makes people so uncomfortable? I wonder this every time I talk to someone.
Someone sits with me—an acquaintance—and says, “What’s up?”
“Not much,” I say.
Quick, say something else. He’s expecting you to continue the conversation.
But I can think of nothing. He came up to me, so why should I be the one to continue the conversation? I’ve just been sitting here, doing my homework, minding my own business, and this guy comes and interrupts my thinking process and expects me to make conversation? Why are people so rude? Everybody wants to talk, but no one wants to listen.
“So, what’s up with you?” I finally manage to ask him.
“Nothing,” the interjector responds.
Seriously? You interrupt me, ask me what’s up, and you have nothing else to say?
“Well, I need to finish this essay for Professor Robins,” I say, implying I don’t want to be bothered.
“Okay, no problem,” he says and gets up and walks away.
What a waste of time. I could’ve written at least another page or two in the time he decided to interrupt me.
Silence is a disrespected phenomenon that beholds the capacity to speak powerful volumes. Such given chances are sparse, however. A friend with whom conversation is easy—this is a true rarity and a true jewel.
Who am I kidding? I’m socially inept. No one cares about me enough to get to know me and understand me anyway, so why bother talking with anyone? No one cares enough to cease their judgements and actually talk to me beyond futile, feckless small talk. It’s probably because nobody cares. Since nobody cares, why should I care? But I can’t help but care so much in spite of their not caring.
I see my good friend Megan walk by. She sits with me and exclaims, “Hey Matt,” with a huge smile on her face.
I smiled back and said, “Hey Megan.”
As usual, I couldn’t help but stare into her beautiful grey-green eyes, her silky brown hair resting on her shoulders. She doesn’t know how deeply I feel for her. I notice we’re alone in the room. This could be an opportunity to open up to her about my feelings.
Don’t even try. She’s only going to see you as a friend anyway like all the other girls you’ve asked out. You’re not attractive enough. You’re not fit like all the other guys women are attracted to, so she’s bound to reject you. Besides, you’re going to be a pastor. She’s just going to reject you and give you excuses like, “You’re too good for me,” or, “You have more faith than I do, so I’ll make a terrible pastor’s wife, or, “I don’t want to be judged by others,” as if they’re not already judged by others anyway. After all, you hear these excuses the time. You’re never going to be good enough for anyone to actually take a risk and give you a chance, so why open up about your feelings at all?
“How are you today?” I said, actually meaning it.
“Oh, I’m okay. My classes are getting to be a bit stressful.” I could see how worried she was.
“You can do it, Megan,” I assure her. “You’re more than capable.”
“How do you know that?”
“Because I believe in you.”
She smiled and said, “Thanks, Matt. How sweet.” She touches my hand and says, “You’re a really good friend.”
There it is—the rejection. You’re no more than a friend. What did you expect? No one as beautiful as her could ever love someone as mundane and average as you.
I smile back and say, “It’s my pleasure.”
She leans back and asks, “So, how’re things with you?”
“Oh, they’re fine.” I lied.
What else would I tell her? “My heart and soul are being torn apart because I’m in love with you, but I don’t want to tell you because I know you’re only going to see me as a friend and are intimidated by the idea of even dating, let alone marrying, a pastor. It also doesn’t help that you have an immature boyfriend who is fit unlike me”? Save yourself the heartbreak.
“Good,” she said. “You know I’m here if you ever need to talk.”
“Of course.” I said.
Why would you do that? Just sitting with her pains your heart, knowing she’ll never give you a chance. You can only resolve to being her friend and showing your love that way.
“Well, I gotta’ get to track practice. I’ll see you later,” she said.
“See ya’,” I said as she got up and left.
Don’t even bother being her friend when it’s just painful to be around her since she’s never going to feel for you the way you do about her. If she won’t, nobody else will. They all reject you anyway. You’re not capable of being loved by another woman.
I swear I’ve been on the single market for so long that I’m going on clearance.
I got up from the library table I was sitting at and walked to lunch. After getting my food, I walked into the seating area looking for someone to sit with.
I don’t see anyone I know well enough to sit with, so I’ll just go sit by myself.
After a couple minutes, some of my friends from my classes walked in with their food. Finally, they’ll sit next to me so I’ll no longer eat alone.
Moving my backpack to make room for them, I watch as they sit at another table far from me.
What did you expect? That these “friends” actually care about you? You’re boring! Why would they ever care about you? All they care about are sports, and you hate sports. If they sat here, they’d just talk about sports and ignore you anyway, so it’s better this way. And it’s not like you’d say much anyway whenever they’re not talking about sports. They don’t like you. You’re not good enough to be their friend. Why would anyone like you? Thanks to the military, you’re serious all the time, and nobody wants to be with someone who’s serious. They only care about insignificant things, yet you’re so insignificant they don’t even want to deal with you! They’re not your friends; they’re just people who put up with your existence. Nobody sees you. You are naturally repugnant.
So be it. Loneliness is no longer a stranger to me anyway; it is more of an invited familiarity. Might as well use the time to replay my conversation with Megan in my head.
Seriously? “Because I believe in you”? How pathetic. You should’ve said something more pragmatic rather than something so personal. Something like, “Well, because you have good grades, so if you keep doing what you’re doing, obviously you’re going to do well.” Idiot.
My replay was distracted by my “friends” laughing and having a good time with one another.
You’re going to spend your life alone, so get used to it. You’re not worth anybody’s time. Friends are only good for betraying you anyway; you already know this. And girlfriends? Nobody wants to commit to you, so why bother trying? It’s easier being alone; you’re really good at it. You’re just a social outcast. Nobody wants you.
I went back to the library to do my daily devotional. The devotional for the day is Luke 19:1-10, which reads:
Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So, he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see Him, for He was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So, he hurried and came down and received Him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus, a rich chief tax collector who took advantage of the people, was hated by all. He was also small in stature; he was insignificant and went unnoticed. He was a social outcast. Zacchaeus is a lot like me. Whether it’s true or not, I feel that I’m disliked by a lot of people. I feel so insignificant all the time because I always go unnoticed. I’m easily forgettable.
Yet Jesus saw Zacchaeus. The people saw him as a sinner, which was a social outcast in his time. Jesus, however, did not see Zacchaeus as a sinner. He didn’t see his small stature or his insignificance. He didn’t see him as a social outcast. Jesus just saw him and desired to stay at his home and spend time with him. And how did Zacchaeus respond? Jesus brought him to faith, which is evident in his calling Him “Lord.” In his faith, he responded by giving half of his finances to the poor and then restored four times what he stole from others in dishonest gain. Jesus saw him, and He gave him faith, and he received salvation that day.
The Lord must see me too, then. I’m just a quiet, reserved man who has dissimilar interests than others, so it is no wonder why I go unnoticed and appear insignificant, because I’m not like the rest of the crowd. Zacchaeus was an outcast, and so am I. Yet that doesn’t make me any worse than anyone else, for Jesus Christ has seen me and He has given me faith. The Lord knows who I am. He knows my name, He knows my strengths and weaknesses, He knows my character—He knows my very essence. What greater knowing is there?
I’m not a chief tax collector who has become wealthy through dishonest gain, but I have become an outcast like him for other reasons. I dislike sports, so people cast me outside. The military has made me a serious man, so I don’t like meaningless talk, so people cast me outside. I’m quiet and talk only when I choose to, not when others want me to, so they cast me outside. The popular things that people consider amazing—like Disney, Harry Potter, rap, and pop music—I consider rubbish, so they cast me outside. I’m an outcast because I don’t meet their criteria.
Yet Jesus doesn’t see those things; He merely sees me. If this is who I am, this is who He created me to be. I have my faults, but Jesus still loves me and chose to die for me. If people cannot take me as I am, then it is they who have a problem, not me. The Lord Christ sees me as I am, and He has made me His in my Baptism. I might be outcast by men, but I will always be the Lord’s, and He will never forsake me.