The Antidote To My Social Anxiety

SELF | Alli Patterson | 6 mins

I walked into the room not knowing a single person.

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You know that feeling: the social anxiety, the awkwardness, the wandering and faking it, trying to find a friendly face without looking like you’re lost. Sometimes it’s minor. Sometimes it’s a doorway to subtle—or not subtle—feelings of shame and fear that you just don’t belong.

I hate feeling like an awkward middle schooler. I tell my friends, “I do awkward badly.” If I feel out of place, it’s suuuuuuper obvious. The truth is, I’d always rather find a cozy spot with a coffee and my best friend than “work a room,” meeting strangers. I knew that’s what I was walking into that day, so as I dried my hair in the morning, I prayed, “God, would you send me someone who will make me feel at home today?”

I wanted to get over the awkwardness as quickly as possible, but on a deeper level, that prayer was also an ask of God to show me he listens to my daily issues. I want to be known.

After a couple of introductions, I was just about to pretend to get some coffee that I didn’t want, but then I met Ellie. She looked at me with interest and asked me my name. She talked to me all throughout the day and treated me like a friend she wanted to hang out with. It didn’t take me long to realize that God was answering my prayer from that morning, through her.

I think we all need different things from God based on how we’re wired and the unique relationship he wants with us. I don’t need miracles (though I’d love them!). I don’t need the detailed plan for my life. What I need to know is simple: there’s a real God, and he knows me.

Years ago, I memorized this passage from the Bible. It’s a favorite that I keep going back to because I think it’s the thing I most need to believe about God.

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
—Psalm 139:1-6

It’s not enough to have some past experiences with a now-distant God. I need a lot of reminding. I want to feel known today. When I feel known and wanted, my social anxiety drops away like it does when I see my best friend across a crowded room. I need to keep remembering that there’s a God knows exactly where I’m going and who’s going to be there. He got there ahead of me. The day I met Ellie, I remembered again that my little stuff matters to Him.

The icing on the cake that day was when, after meeting Ellie, I walked into the auditorium to attend the conference and found this: IMG 8504

God heard me when I was drying my hair. He already had a seat for me. There was no need to be anxious. He knows “when I sit and when I rise.” He knows everywhere I’ll be. I am planned for, and He knew I’d be there in that auditorium. The silly name tag touched something deep in me that needs to know that my presence—and my whole life, for that matter—is not random. I am not on my own. I think God knows I am anxious somewhere deeper inside—a place I cannot name. When I walk into a room and feel awkward, it’s because I feel alone, random, and unknown. But those feelings are never the truth.

The moment I saw my name on the seat, I felt the kindness of a God who knows exactly what it’s like to be human. When God sent his son Jesus to earth, he, too, struggled with being distant from a heavenly father he loved. He deeply understood loneliness and, I’m willing to bet, social awkwardness. The Bible tells us that Jesus was fully human and fully divine all at once. He was God, yet he was a God who subjected himself to the frail condition of real humanity. He gets it, so he’s gracious and generous with me. I don’t think He minds telling me over and over that he is still there. Those reassurances (like Ellie and my chair) are the only things that ever relax the awkward part of me that hates to walk in a room and realize no one knows me—because God knows me and cares for me better than anyone else could.

At the end of the conference, I went back to find Ellie to say goodbye. I couldn’t find her, so I sent her this text:

“Ellie, I came back to try and find you before I left. I wanted to tell you what I prayed this morning: I asked God to show me one of my people. Someone I belonged with. You were the answer to that prayer, and I wanted to tell you that and give you a hug. Thank you. I hope to see you again, and let’s keep in touch.”

And this was her reply:

“So glad we met! God told me this morning to make Alli know she belongs here today!”

There’s a real God, and he knows you, too. He knows everywhere you’ll be today. He’s going ahead of you, too. You are not random, alone, or unknown (or any other fear in your mind). You’re allowed to ask Him to show up for you, too.

Maybe your antidote to social anxiety is the same as mine—being perfectly known by a good God who loves you.

Written by Alli Patterson on Dec 5, 2019
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Discussion Questions

  1. What stood out to you most about Alli’s article? Why?

  2. What gives you social anxiety? When do you feel most out of place or like you don’t belong? Why?

  3. What would it take to be convinced that God knows you, sees you, and genuinely cares about the details of your life? Talk to Him about it for a few minutes. If you’re new to prayer, that just means, in writing, in your head, or out loud, talk to him like you’d talk to a friend. If you even think you hear something back (a new thought, an unexpected idea, an emotion, a song, a picture), write it down.

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