At our former church several years ago, the pastor preached a heartening message on anxiety and loneliness. At the end of the service, they announced that instead of Sunday School (some congregations call it “Adult Bible Fellowship”), there would be a fellowship time with coffee and treats. I had to stay because I sang in choir for both services, so I went into the fellowship hall with Mary, we got our food, and sat down next to some people. They talked among themselves, but not too us. I tried to edge my way into conversation with the person next to me without much success.
There is not much worse than being lonely in public, which is far different than being alone in public. I can sit at a table in a coffee shop with a book or notepad and be perfectly happy if no one bothers me. However, except for the cost, I would rather have a root canal than be lonely in a crowd. At least the dentist gives me drugs to relax me beforehand.
A few years ago, I went to a fund raiser where I sat alone at a table with Mary. All the other tables were filled up, or people were saving chairs for their friends. The missionary we supported was there with his family. Finally, he came over to talk to us for a little bit, and then some late comers sat at our table. I went home from that meeting feeling that I had failed again. Sitting at that table alone with Mary was not a very good strategy for meeting people. Yet sitting down at a table with people already there resulted in being told that seats are being saved. There is no place for you. I find it hard to make either choice. I usually hope that someone will have mercy on us. Someone who is talkative.
I have been a Wall flower all my life. Reserved, shy, introverted. and at times terrified. When I was younger I was pathologically shy. I would shake if a young man sat at the table where I and my roommates were eating. I took an honors psychology course when I was in college, and I was able to conclude that I was shy, but there were no solutions offered.
I’ve read Dale Carnegie’s famous book, “How to Make Friends and Influence People,” and it has helped somewhat. Over the years my battle with shyness and a tendency to sit alone has improved.
However, at almost 60, I am still battling shyness. Standing at the wall and waiting to be invited to the dance. I recently walked out of a noisy weight watchers meeting because they were all talking to each other and no one was talking to me, even though I introduced myself to a couple of people. I’m going to a different meeting now and someone I know from church is there. That is very helpful.
We have now been at our new church for just over a year, and I wish I could change this about myself. Ralph is better at making friends that I am. Our church has something called “Life Groups” – which are made up of groups of three to four women or men (of the same sex) which meet twice a month for prayer, encouragement, discipleship, and study. This has helped me to know a few people more deeply. A plus for me. We are older now, so we don’t have a lot in common with the younger families in the church. Even in our old church, raising kids with autism often left us isolated. We just didn’t do the same things as other families. They went to little league and sports; we went to therapeutic horseback riding.
If you have any wallflower coping strategies, I would be happy to hear them. We joined a new Adult Bible Fellowship a few weeks ago, so we are starting over with getting to know people there. I am planning to go to a writers retreat in May where I will be spending extended time with a group of people I barely know. Some of them I met in critique groups before Ralph’s health failed. So I have some challenges ahead.