When I was googling for information about obedience the other day, I came across a sermon that briefly mentioned shy people, so that caught my eye. It said the following:
Let us remember this when we are tempted to estimate the faith of another. We are limited to visible indications of faith- church attendance, Bible knowledge, involvement in church ministries, and so on. We do not see into the heart.
The faith of one with rather modest Bible knowledge, infrequent church attendance, or a somewhat sharp character; or one who is shy, says little and does not do much around the church- their faith could be much purer and deeper than of many who are active in the church.
Only God knows the heart. [emphasis mine]
That encouraged me because I’m really shy. I won the label of “most shy girl” in both junior high and high school. I’m not, by the way, sharing that quote to say that my own faith is purer and deeper, but because it encourages me to see someone speaking out in support of shy people, not dismissing shy people right off the bat, and saying that it could be true. And of course it could be. . . it’s sad that it even needs to be said, but it seems that it does need to be said.
I remember when a teacher in college gave a message during chapel in which he said that being shy was a sin. What he said felt like a sock in the gut to me, and it left me wondering, do people look at me with my shyness and think I’m self-centered, self-absorbed, not wishing to help people or not caring for others?
I’m also an introvert, too, definitely, so I have both of those marks “against” me. Introverts are often terribly misunderstood. Because I’m an introvert I “recharge” by being alone. I also tend to be careful and make decisions more slowly than an extrovert would because I need to gather and weigh the details before coming to a decision, and I’m not usually very quick to offer my opinions. But that is different from being shy. I see “shy” more as being nervous around people, worried about saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, and shy people often find it hard to step out and try to connect with people. I think part of the reason I am shy is because I never learned to accept failure as important, even good, because it’s something from which we can learn and grow. I’m working on that, but it’s a scary concept. By the way, I like being an introvert, but I’d really prefer not to be so shy.
I wish I could reach out more in real life. I want so much to be able to do that, but it’s hard, really, really hard. Though part of it is that I’m afraid something I might say or do might cause myself embarrassment, I also worry that I’ll mess up in a way which will hurt other people. No, I admit it. . . I don’t think very highly of myself. That’s something else I’m working on.
While reading a description of myself I wrote maybe 12 or so years ago I saw that I had written that “people scare me.” Generally, I do tend to get anxious around people that I don’t know very well, especially in new situations or situations in which I’ve never learned how to be relaxed. The anxiety I feel doesn’t mean that I don’t like people or don’t care about people, though. In fact when I see someone hurting, I hurt, too. I want so much to be able to help people. That is why I enjoy being online so much. I prefer to write out my thoughts, and I can reach out to someone one on one, all while I’m at home, the place I feel most safe.
For various reasons shy people can be intimidating to people who are not shy. I remember someone years ago telling me they felt like I was like Piglet (in the Winnie the Pooh) and they were like Tiger, and they were afraid they would bounce on me. You don’t need to be afraid of shy people, though. I’m not that fragile, really, I’m not.
I worry that people think I’m aloof and want to be left alone. But I don’t. Just because I’m scared to go up to a person and talk with them doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate it when someone else makes the effort. I do, I really, really do. I enjoy talking with people one on one, and I enjoy listening.
I’ve learned that we can’t assume that people want to be left alone. I mean, it can be really easy to misread that. Some people seem like they want to be left alone, but if you reach out to them, you might encourage them and help to draw them out.
There was a situation a couple years or so ago in which someone I knew in real life truly thought I wanted to be left alone. It created such tension. I finally wrote her about it, wondering if I had offended her and seeking the opportunity to work through things and make things better. She wrote back explaining that she didn’t have any trouble with me, but she just thought I was trying to stay away from her and she was trying to respect that. It was more complicated than just my being shy, I bet, but I feel that my shyness really played a big part in the misunderstanding.
That situation, as painful as it was to me at the time, helped me better understand how being quiet and shy can be so easily misunderstood. I appreciate what I learned from that, and amazingly it actually helped my relationship with my dad. My dad is shy, and he’s an introvert, too. Sometimes he’s really quiet, and I used to think that meant that he didn’t want to talk and I felt anxious about talking to him when he was that way. I’ve found, though, that I can’t take his silence as a sure sign that he doesn’t care or doesn’t want to interact. If I say “hi” to him and interact with him so he knows that I care, I’ve found that most often he’ll respond in kind.
If you see someone who is quiet, it’s possible they may be shy or an introvert or both, but I encourage you to please remember the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” and, as the quote at the beginning of this post says, “Only God knows the heart.” Don’t judge them as being self-centered, don’t assume they don’t care or assume automatically that they want to be left alone, or assume that they don’t want to help or that they can’t help. Don’t even assume that they aren’t already helping. For example, in the quote from that sermon it mentions a person who does not “do much around the church.” They might really want to help, but don’t know how (it can really hard for introverts and shy people to find a role in the church), or they may be doing more than you realize, but quietly. And please note that quiet people are often really good listeners, and I know that some are really good, as some would put it, “prayer warriors.”
We all have our place in this world, and as Christians, we have our place of importance in the body of Christ. Shy people have their place just like anyone else. Sometimes we can get too isolated and end up feeling really discouraged, or we can feel like we are unimportant. If you are shy and you are reading this, I want so much for you to know that you are important, you are needed, and you are unique and wonderfully made!