The heart of the matter
When I was younger I was shy. I rarely spoke in groups and avoided meeting new people. You could say this was just my personality, or that I wasn’t gifted in the proficiency of making conversation. You might even say I had low social self-confidence. These are all things I’ve told myself at times when I haven’t wanted to do something or be somewhere. They’re the excuses that I tell myself.
When it comes down to it, one of the biggest reasons I didn’t say hi to the new person or speak up about my ideas is because it made me feel awkward, and I didn’t like feeling that way. My attitude was all about me. Behind my social awkwardness and ‘blend into the background’ attitude was a selfish heart. I wanted to feel good about myself and comfortable in the space I was in. And so I would abdicate responsibility in my head for the feelings of others because of one of the many reasons listed above. I cared about myself more than others.
As I got older, I did challenge myself to be friendlier, more confident. On a surface level, I might have come across as forsaking my old selfish shyness. Yet my motivations were still selfish. Really, I was caring more about how people saw me. I didn’t want people to think I was socially awkward or lacking in confidence.
It took one painful year for God to cut away all my excuses and self-justification to help me see the stubborn, selfish heart at my centre. I spent 10 months in France on a student exchange living with a local family and going to high school. It was a humbling experience where I was suddenly on the outer – linguistically, culturally and socially. If I thought my inability to make small talk was bad in English, it was worse in French. Yet I no longer had a group of friends to fall back on. It was an isolating experience, but one that drew me nearer to God. And as I drew nearer to Him, I started to see His character clearer – especially His humility.
In Philippians 2:5-8 it says:
‘Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’
Jesus gave up so much that has been to our benefit. Imagine if Jesus had decided that his public ministry was too scary because the people might reject him, or that being unjustly nailed to a cross sounded too hard and too painful. It’s sobering to consider the immense sacrifice, humility and persistence of Jesus with his other-person-centred heart.
It’s challenged me to think about how I can be leaving my selfish heart in the past and intentionally living out the other-person heart the Holy Spirit wants to nourish within me. Even if it’s going up and saying hi to someone I don’t recognize at church. After all, Jesus didn’t stick with his comfort zone, so as his follower why should I?
For you, there might be something that you always make excuses about that’s hiding a selfish heart. Or maybe, you protect your sin by limiting your awareness to yourself or the people you really care about. Next time you walk into a room, think about how you could be intentionally serving someone who’s there – even if it’s someone who’s out of your comfort zone.
Karina works with the ECU on staff as a ministry apprentice. She’s found that, with practice, making small talk gets easier and less awkward. She also did eventually make some friends when she was in France.