The biggest lie about our social lives is that they're something we gain by merit rather than through intention. Let me explain.
We act like it’s a tier system, and the more successful we are, the more we have a right to connect with others. That is simply not the case. Our purpose is to bring our unique selves to the table. When we make our social lives about achievement, we focus on reflecting the parts we believe people want to see instead of who we truly are. We do this because we look at our interactions with an "endgame." Have you heard the saying, "you are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with?" There is definitely truth to that, but sometimes we interpret it the wrong way.
Yes, it's important to have boundaries with people who consistently make destructive choices, or we can lose ourselves to that relationship. Still, we shouldn't aim to surround ourselves only with people who share our best qualities. We need to make spaces where “networking” is completely off our minds! Even when our goals have nothing to do with work, we often go into conversations with certain expectations for ourselves or the other person. Especially as young adults and/or singles, the pressure to build a brand for our lives can get in the way of genuine growth and new connections.
As an introvert, it's hard to break out of the mentality that a social event needs to be "worth my time" or that I need to prepare to impress. I also know social butterflies who feel the same way. It's not that we don't think people are worth our time; it's that we convince ourselves that there is something more productive we could do if a social encounter doesn't have a long-term benefit. Some thoughts that go through my head are, "This doesn't sound like something I'll enjoy, so why go just to wait to leave?" or "This person seems nice, but I'm pretty sure I'll never see them again, so it's pointless to put myself out there," or "We're too different, so I don't have the influence to impact their lives." The problem with these thoughts is that they are calculations of the future with achievement in mind.
When we analyze every outcome, we return to the same conclusions over and over, rather than developing new foundations. The truth is, it's okay to talk to someone and have it lead nowhere. Maybe you don't “click”, but that doesn't have to count as a disappointment. It's okay to have friends who think differently, and it's okay not to always pursue long-term friendship. We need healthy relationships that move us forward, but that doesn't mean every interaction needs to have a premeditated goal.
The Bible tells us not to conform to the world but to go out into it and share the grace that we’ve been given. In our world of endless online opportunity, we devalue what it means to “share ourselves”. We base it on comparison and how we can entertain more than the next person. When we treat it that way, the problem is, that's not really sharing; it's just filling space. We can't share if we don't take risks outside of our agendas. We aren’t sharing when we overthink every move we make, like each day is a game of chess. We leave our mark and understand others better when we allow ourselves to live.
At the end of the day, we don't care about how people impress us; we care about who we are with them. And since we can't completely predict the desires of others, our best chance is to step into the moment. We need to look at people without preconceived ideas of how they can fit into our lives. Then we can see each other the way God does: as individuals with inherent value. We're all in this together, and our mission is to collaborate, not "level up."
“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not have all the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” - Romans 12:4-5
When we have opportunities to meet new people or build connections, the question we need to ask is, "why am I doing this?" If it's just to meet expectations, then it's time to refresh our perspective. Here are some follow-up questions, depending on your situation:
- If you resist activities/people outside of your usual circle, why? How can you take healthy risks to “Do” without overthinking who's around you? How can you reach out to someone new without a set reason? How could this introduce you to new insights and enjoyment?
- Maybe you're the life of the party every day. Do you still feel lonely, or like most people don't know you? Your identity is in Jesus, and He knows everything about you. How can you seek Him to teach you more about yourself and find areas to explore and expand with others?
- Does the thought of community sometimes scare you? Do you worry that attachments will distract you from your personal goals? This has to do with trust. When we trust God for our value, we start to let go of the feeling that we have to hold on to everything to ensure we get where we want to go. In the footsteps of Jesus, we find the balance to connect, even when we don't know how other people will affect us or our plans.
The next time you walk into a room, do it because you want to be there. That doesn't mean we should only do things that bring selfish happiness, but we should embrace the doors we choose to open rather than going through the motions for the sake of the show. Each of us is different in how we interact with the world, but we all need fellowship. We are created to engage and to serve. To follow God’s call to love people, we must move past our fears and find peace in the unknown.
"What is the best that could happen?" - Michelle Poler
Written Content Coordinator at Sun Valley Community Church. An avid writer since the age of 5, who loves to explore new ideas and places. Inspired by Jesus, books, and travel.