Friday, November 2, 2012

Crowded Rooms

Crowded rooms can be lonely.

It always feels like a bit of irony--that sometimes the loneliest moments are the times when you're surrounded by the most people, eh? Instead of looking around and finding people that you can identify with and relate to, it's almost as if you scan the room seeing only the things that make you different from everyone else. Instead of a longing to connect, you find yourself agonizing over the fact that you're in a world of your own.

You watch them laugh and chit-chat with ease as you watch from the outside. You've never felt so alone. You try your hand at some small talk, but realize you were never meant for this kind of socializing. When it comes down to it, you don't care about the weather or where this person is from or about school junk or job situations. You want more. You're desperately searching to identify with someone on a deeper level and this is hardly the time and place in which to do it.

The loneliness sets in, buried below the smiles, nods and obligatory chuckles as you interact with others on the surface. It's especially harder in Christian circles when matters of the heart are supposed to be the thing that take precedent over the superficial musings that lack eternal significance. So, instead of forging further into relationships with other believers, we find ourselves backing away. Maybe we're not meant for this environment after all.

We return to our safe haven of literally being alone, and we find that we feel more comfortable, more at ease....and reassured to have made it there intact. Perhaps another day.

But instead of an openness, we find ourselves continually hardened and fully expecting the worst. We don't even try the small talk anymore...but we have found ways to avoid it altogether. We're disappointed with our reality and we don't know how to change it. So we succumb. Maybe this is what it's all about after all. Maybe we're the ones who are wrong. If everyone else is satisfied maintaining this level of superficiality, maybe we're the ones who are off. We suddenly find ourselves as a catalyst for perpetuating the shallow exchange among others... and it's still lonely.

I've felt this way in the church and in Christian settings a lot. Lonely. Isolated. Different. Alien. That it's somewhere I don't belong. It's especially evident during the dreaded 'meet and greet' time where I find myself shaking hands with those around me in the allotted five minute space--introducing myself, smiling broadly and asking people how they are and telling them how fine I am. I wonder how many times I've actually lied during that correspondence. It's awkward and forced.

Perhaps the loneliness is due to a faulty expectation that Christians should immediately welcome me in with open arms and I should feel that as soon as I walk in the door. Perhaps it's ideal, but I don't know how realistic it is. Sometimes I also forget how resistant I am to even allow that to happen. Sometimes I forget that relationships take time and there's no way I would immediately trust a stranger with my innermost heart issues and so why on earth would I expect them to do the same? Sometimes I forget that my own fears in inviting others to go deeper might very well be the same fears that keep them from doing the same. Sometimes I forget that maybe all the people in the room are not as different from me as they seem... perhaps they're just better at playing the part than I am. Sometimes I forget that other people are people, too. That they're sinners, that they're broken, that they're imperfect...and that they're trying just hard as me to figure this all out.

I guess what I'm saying is that I realize a lot of my loneliness is stemmed from my own thoughts and fears. A lot of the loneliness in crowded rooms comes from me imposing those upon other people. I judge them, I immediately assume that I know what they are thinking and why they are thinking it. I alienate myself from them, assuring seclusion every time.

Consider it... the next time you're feeling lonely in a crowded room.
Instead of focusing so much on ourselves and our own loneliness, I wonder what it might be like to consider that others probably feel the same way and to reach out instead of draw back. What if we initiated change? What if we initiated depth?

What if it wasn't all about us and our own comfort...?

I guess I think the moment we stop looking at things so inwardly and seek to examine things rationally, that the voids might be filled with true laughter, joy, connection and fellowship. Instead of emptiness and solitude, we might find exactly what we've been hoping for. I think we're foolish to assume that it comes easily and that it comes to us. I think, as with most things in life, that effort is required and necessary. We must walk boldly into crowded rooms. And we must not assume that the results will be instantaneous. We must be patient, we must persevere... and we must seek to know and love others before we concern ourselves with how loved and known we are.

It's a shift in perspective.
It's a necessary shift, if we hope to ever exist in a world of crowded rooms (or churches) without the loneliness consuming us.

Ask for boldness, for strength, for perseverance, for selflessness, for eyes to see those who are in need anytime you enter a setting where you feel uncomfortably surrounded by too many people. You're not so different from all of them.

We all need Jesus.
Let's not forget it.

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