I used to feel trapped inside myself. I felt like if anyone knew the real me, they’d run the other direction. So I laughed at people’s jokes even though I didn’t understand them, I wore stylish – but not too stylish – outfits so I could blend in, I kept my haircut the exact same for several years so as not to draw too much unnecessary attention to myself, and I tried to make sure I never said anything out of the norm.
The problem? I was hiding behind a mask – a facade I’d created for myself. And even though I had a few friends, I still felt incredibly lonely. When I think back to that time, my heart aches for the hurt I used to harbor inside, the walls that I’d built around myself, and the people I’d hurt by refusing to let them in.
Now, though, I am happy and free. The walls have come down and I’ve removed my mask. I have several close friends and we’re real with each-other.
We know the good, the bad, and the ugly, and we’re better friends and stronger people because of it.
So, what changed?
- I started praying for a good friend.
Nine years ago, I was still trying to get the hang of being a wife when I discovered that I was expecting my first child. I was also living in a different state than I’d been in my entire life and my parents were in the process of divorcing. Even though I was happy to be married to my husband, I longed for a girl friend who I could share things with, and who could encourage me as a new wife and a soon-to-be mother. So I prayed, and I prayed hard. God heard my pleas.
“Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart.” Psalm 37:4 (NKJV)
- I made an effort to talk to other women around me.
This meant arriving a few minutes early when possible and leaving a few minutes late. It meant staying off electronics, keeping my nose out of a book, and remembering what people told me. It also meant walking up to those people later and asking open-ended questions like, “Hey, how did your exam go on Friday?” or “How was your trip to the lake last weekend?” Making an effort meant honestly sharing how things went for me as well.
- I stopped pretending that I had it all together.
I couldn’t expect people to share their hearts with me when I was afraid to let them see anything about myself that was less than perfect. This was difficult to learn to balance. I didn’t want to come off as a complainer or succumb to gossip, but I also wanted to drop my act of perfection. I didn’t always get it right (I still don’t), but as I slowly started confiding little things about myself to other people, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, not only were most responses encouraging, but others started sharing things with me as well.
- I started reaching out more.
This was very, very difficult for me. I’m an introvert by nature, and in the new area I was living, I had become convinced that nobody really wanted to be around me. I was afraid that if I invited someone to hang out, that person would feel obligated to say yes only because she felt sorry for me since I was new. I had to repeatedly remind myself this was a misperceived lie and start reaching out.
Inviting someone to join me in something I was already doing felt easier than extending a vague offer or planning a new activity, so I started out by asking someone to join me for Starbucks one evening. Then I began asking people to go running with me. Then I started inviting moms over to my house with their kids. The more I practiced this, the easier it got, and now I can invite nearly anyone along anywhere without worrying about the response!
- I started meeting people where they are.
I have a bad tendency to be a little judgmental, but I realized that if I wanted people to be real with me, I had to stop judging them for what their real is. That doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t encourage people to grow or that I should ignore sin. It just means that when someone comes to me with a struggle or to share something she’s excited about, I need to listen without passing judgment.
- I thank God for the friendships that He’s put into my life and the progress He’s helped me to make.
Nine years ago, I was incredibly lonely. Now? I’m surrounded by amazing people! So I pray and thank God for hearing my cries and answering my pleas. As I think about it, however; I also realize that amazing people have always been in my life – I just haven’t known how to seek out solid relationships with them.
I know that it’s difficult to break free from the facade and to let people see who we are on the inside when we’re not used to it. When our feelings are rejected, we hurt. So we hide. But you know what? Hiding hurts too.
If you need a friend, I want to encourage you to pray and to seek out friendship opportunities. Start small. Invite someone to meet at the park or to come over for a cup of tea. Leave your phone in the car during your kids’ next event so you’ll be more likely to talk to other people. Stay after church and chat with someone you don’t usually spend a lot of time talking to. Do something small, but do something to reach out.
None of the changes I made happened overnight – it took some time to for me to form close bonds with my friends and to overcome my insecurities. And now, it’s a continual challenge to find a healthy balance between nurturing friendships, nurturing relationships with my family members, and serving others, but I consider that a good problem to have!
I know that God used my difficult season to refine my heart, and to chisel away the hard and hurting pieces so I could be renewed. Please, if your own heart needs renewed, let God chisel as you patiently wait on Him.
“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (NKJV)
“For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined.” Psalm 66:10 (NKJV)