We waited our turn in the long, slow-moving line as the sun beat down on our sweaty foreheads. Ahead I saw only three windows open to grant admission to the local zoo, and that seemed too few for a busy Saturday. When we finally made our way to the front of the line I could see the frazzled frustration and fatigue of the older woman dealing out our tickets. Eyes downcast, brow set in a determined frown, she busied herself with the task at hand, not looking up at our approach while she called out, “how many?”
Against my quiet character, I felt the necessity to answer with more than just the number count of our crew. So after commenting back the answer she desired I added, “how are you doing today?”
Along with my question I presented her with a genuine smile. It was the kind of expression that lit up a face, that offered kindness. The type of facial expression that exuded joy while also offering a true desire to interact on more than just the typical business level. In other words, my smile, my inquiring eyes, crinkled at the corner and beaming with contentment spoke more than just a cursory question. My countenance spoke that I really wanted to know. I saw her as a human, not just a ticket machine, and I cared. Sometimes that’s all a person needs.
Now, I’m not trying to say I hold a deep affection for strangers. And such a fake sentiment would surely show. Yet I did love her as a fellow person in this world, trying to transverse through the difficult mess of it, just like me. A sister almost, even if not by blood. I had not always seen others this way. Sometimes I still didn’t, but I was trying.
At my question, the most amazing thing occurred. As if an invisible veil was lifted, so did the dredging darkness from her face. She looked up, her eyes took on a spark, and her entire appearance transformed. So light was her spirit at that moment, so airy, so encouraged. She smiled back, a big one, and she began to animatedly share about her day. A friendly banter among strangers. My heart felt as light and airy as her countenance had appeared.
As I walked away I thought about her response to my interaction. It had been a joy to watch. Someone having a busy, difficult day, found some glee in the middle of it by something as simple as a smile and question directed towards her well-being. It reminded me of how on a hard day of bedside nursing I could be lifted out of my pit of despair by a friendly patient with a compliment and smile. Funny how kind interaction could alter someone’s little universe.
I can remember a time back just a few years when I celebrated my inability to function in social situations. A self-proclaimed introvert, I shied from conversation, kept my eyes averted, and walked the other way if I saw someone in the store I knew. It was simply easier for me that way. Interaction made me uncomfortable, people weren’t my favorite thing, other than the select few I invited into my life.
But I have begun to question lately… is being an introvert from God?
I mean, I know He makes us all unique. I’ve tried to embrace my idiosyncrasies over the years, and instead of feeling like an outcast, see myself as a special creation designed by God. And that’s all true and good. I am how He designed me to be. But I am also what the world has shaped me to be.
So, could my once-celebrated introversion be a side effect of rejection, hurt feelings, and loss? After years of being left behind, excluded, or put down, did I put on a garment of introversion like a shield to protect me from harm? I mean, man can be cruel. Sometimes it’s easier to just avoid it altogether.
Over the years, as I read the Bible more and sought God’s will for my life, I realized a disconnect from how Jesus interacted with people and how I did. My actions and behaviors didn’t inspire the love of the Father. I wasn’t offering comfort or serving others in need. I was avoiding them. Almost running from them. And yeah, in Walmart, exactly that sometimes. I began to see that Jesus was calling me for more. He wasn’t asking me to become the life of the party and exceed my limits of human interaction. I mean, even Jesus went alone by Himself to rest. He wasn’t asking me to be someone else, but He was encouraging me to stretch my ability to love others and shine His light.
It was uncomfortable for me at first, and sometimes it still is. Yet I will feel an encouragement from His Holy Spirit to reach out often. A gentle whisper inside me will say, “ask her how her day is going.” Like it did this last weekend at the zoo. It may seem like a very small thing in the grand kingdom of God, but even the small parts are valuable to our Father. Even the small gestures, kind words, or [a] helping hand can move mountains when accompanied by the Lord.
Opening a door for a stranger, a smile, a friendly conversation. Small tokens that show someone they are seen, they are worthy, they are special. The devil would tell us these gestures are too small to even be noticed. Satan will tell you to place a wall around yourself, stay in your lane, keep your head down, and worry about you and yours. But Jesus would say you are a house on a hill. He’d tell you to turn on the porch light, invite that neighbor over, feed them at the table. Everyone just wants a seat at the table.
I’m a work in progress. Social interaction still isn’t my jam, but I am stepping out more. I no longer celebrate being an introvert. Instead, I stretch my extrovert muscle. I’ll never show the love of Jesus locked inside myself. So I try each day to let others in. I’m an introvert reformed. Funny what God can do.