A Change of Focus Can Help!
by Amy Lynn Simon
For many years, I chalked up my lack of interest in our church’s women’s events to my being an introvert. The announcement about a Friday evening women’s event would pop up on the Sunday morning projector screen. My husband would lean over and ask me if I was interested in going.
“Nope!” I told him every time. I told myself that it was because it would probably be too fluffy. Not my thing. In reality, it was way outside my comfort zone. I pictured a large group of women I didn’t know hanging out and talking about things I couldn’t really relate to. I imagined myself feeling isolated, left out and incredibly awkward. It wasn’t how I wanted to spend my evening.
I have struggled with feeling insecure in large social groups for as long as I can remember. It took a lot of courage to walk up to a group of women and just join in their conversation. I figured I’d be intruding or unwelcome. I knew it wasn’t so much about being an introvert, but about lacking the confidence that I had something valuable to contribute. I’d grown slowly in that area over the years, but it was still an ongoing struggle.
When everything shut down and all the busyness that I usually filled my life with was put on hold, I had time to think and process. My oldest is leaving for college in the fall and my middle child is only a couple of years behind him. After being absorbed in homeschooling my 3 kids for the past 13 years, I could see the end of that journey in the not too distant future. Even now, my two high schoolers are very independent, leaving me a lot of time during the day to pursue other things.
It made me wonder, “What’s next? What will my next season of life look like?”
Putting the Pieces Together
I’ve always enjoyed writing and have been pursuing it since my kids were little. I published magazine articles and dabbled in fiction. Several years ago I self-published one middle grade historical fiction book and one non fiction book about homeschooling. As the magazine market began to dry up, I started looking for other writing outlets. I knew I needed direction and insight on where to go next.
The start of Covid led me to an online writer’s community which provided that needed direction, encouragement and an amazing community of like-minded writers. I began to explore things like my audience - who was I writing for? What was I passionate about? How has God gifted me and how might He want to use my writing for His purposes?
Helping others grow in their relationships with God has also always been important to me. I was involved in a college ministry during my own college years and I have remained working with them ever since. I began putting the pieces together by looking at what I’m passionate about and what I have experience and training in: helping others grow spiritually. I started blogging about (you guessed it!) spiritual growth topics.
As I began to define my writing audience and purpose, it occurred to me that it didn’t make sense to have my writing life and ministry separate from my in-person ministry. A few months before the Covid shut down I had begun serving at my church’s information booth. Even though I really don’t like big social groups, I very much enjoy answering people’s questions and helping individuals feel welcome. I knew that if I had a purpose - a role - that I would be more outgoing and feel more confident. It would give me a reason to reach out to others and get to know more people.
Stepping out of my Comfort Zone
I also started attending women’s events with the mindset that I could watch for women who seemed new or uncomfortable. I made it my job to reach out to them. Instead of seeing the event as a way to fill my own needs, I looked for how I could serve others. As I focused more on this mission and less on how awkward I felt, the events became less intimidating.
I used that same principle, finding a focus and purpose, and set up a meeting with the leader of the church’s women’s ministry to see if they needed help. Of course they did! So, I started to help plan the very events that I used to have no interest in because they caused me stress and anxiety.
The biggest leap for me was to agree to go to the weekend retreat. A whole weekend away from the comfort of my family? Possibly having to find a roommate??? The idea made me feel like I was back in middle school. I rationalized that my family needed me and wouldn’t want me to go. But, when I talked to my husband about it, he not only gave me his blessing, he encouraged me to do it!
My anxiety about the retreat remained, and I knew I needed a job. So I volunteered to teach one of the breakout sessions. I know, I’m weird. I hate open ended, large social events, but public speaking and teaching I’m fine with.
Out of the Frying Pan…
The next thing that happened proves God’s sense of humor. Just a few months into helping with the women’s ministry, I found out that the woman leading the ministry would be stepping down after the spring retreat. She asked me to take her place! Aside from the social anxiety involved with the events themselves, the planning and administrative side of the job is right up my alley. Plus, it’s the perfect next step in blending my “writing life” with my “in person life” as I get to know the spiritual needs of the women in my own church.
What’s the moral of the story? How can you overcome the desire to hide from big social groups and run away from relationships due to anxiety? Take the focus off of yourself and put it on someone else.
Who can you help?
Who probably feels the same way you do and needs a friend to come alongside?
How has God designed you to encourage and serve?
Find yourself a job, either official or unofficial. You DO have something to offer someone else. Focus on that rather than your own awkwardness or anxiety and see how God will use you!