As the ninth of ten children, I watched my older siblings leave home every two years for college and return with more friends, memories, stories, and life than they seemed to have left home with. It was as though college, or leaving home, was this collection of essential relational building blocks and memory making that seemed to lead to greater things. I saw them collect identities, friendships, lessons, and futures with smiles on their faces and enthusiasm in their hearts. Unknowingly, I took notes in my mind about what success in life and relationships looked like according to what I saw in them. Granted, I was a child. But to me, it looked like fun and laughter, it was so incredibly appealing. It looked like energy and parties and presence in abundance. It looked like everything a person could ever want to collect and I found myself wanting what they seemed to have.
So upon graduation from high school, I set aside the identity I had always felt safe in. I stopped hiding behind a soccer ball and a camera; I was determined to become a person people called when they wanted to have fun. I literally set out to be the life of the party. Late nights, loud interactions, drinking, and constant efforts to love and be loved became the stuff inside my schedule. It was a not so masterful performance fueled by insecurities and a desire to belong. A performance I could maintain for a handful of hours before returning home and crying myself to sleep in exhaustion, emptiness, and loneliness. I would spend countless hours and nights surrounded by people who I genuinely loved and enjoyed but who I did not necessarily feel connected with or to. I’ve learned that in those years my real self was being ignored, was unknown, dishonored, and without a platform to even exist because I was feverishly attempting to live a life that was completely incongruent with who I was created to be. I was diligently providing a space for the self I thought I was supposed to be, the self I had seen others be, the self I thought would lead to connection, happiness, success, relationships, and eventually God. Ironically, I learned that being close to the creator was almost impossible when you actively deny what He has created inside of you. Which is why my love for Him, for others, and for myself was so trivial, shallow, and manufactured at that time in my life.
When I began to both realize and embrace that I was not created to be the extrovert I was trying so hard to be, God’s truth began to take root in me for who He uniquely did create me to be. I began to see more of Him when I learned how to embrace His creation inside of me. I am a person who loves solitude, deep connection with a few people, faith, and the introverted activities of writing, art, and photography. Allowing myself to consider that these traits were not wrong, bad, or lesser than was a somewhat long and painful process of honoring God and facing my own pride and judgments regarding what were desirable qualities in human beings. I had to let go of the need to be loved by others so that I could understand I was already loved by the God who made me.
The truth is, I am really not that comfortable in settings traditionally known as “fun.” I can carry my own because I was born into a crowd, but it is not my preferred venue of living. I’m not the life of any party that I know of, unless you meet another introvert who considers deep emotionally connecting conversation a place where streamers can be hung and confetti can be thrown. I am, however, comfortable in people’s pain. I can sit in the muck and mire of grief, confusion, hurt, anger, depression, doubt, and hopelessness and God comes alive in me in those places like He never could have with my extroverted false self. I limited Him. I denied who He was in me by trying to be somebody I am not. He, when I live authentically, allows truth to be felt and heard when lies are being believed. He increases hope with His presence when I am willing to just be present with others in their pain. He reveals Himself to me when I take the time for solitude and silence. Our creator continues to create anew when we surrender to His original and intended design. When we deny how He created us and others, we make it impossible for new and beautiful things in us, around us, and through us to be made or remade.
Loving our God is to love all that He created. Embracing and loving ourselves is to embrace the one who made us. Embracing others is our opportunity to love Him more fully, as well as to extend His immense affections to another human soul. Our ability to do this, to love our neighbor as ourselves, is in direct proportion to how much I allow my God to wrap His arms around me and convince me that all He created within me is absolutely lovable. If I am able to do this, then I have what I need to turn and wrap my arms around someone else so that He can convince them as well.