Anxious Introverts Can Cherish Community Too

Each day this month I will be answering one question from these December Journal Prompts.

Day 10: In what area of your life would you like to see more dedication next year?

Discovering the value and importance of community has been an ongoing process throughout my adult life.

Growing up, I was always the type of person who preferred having one or two very close confidantes that I could truly be myself with, rather than being a part of a larger network of friends or acquaintances. During my teen years, as mental illness began to take hold of my life, I started to struggle with feelings of social anxiety, and what had previously been a preference, rapidly became more of a perceived necessity.

I was living in a body that I hated and constantly laboring to keep my eating disorder a secret. Under these conditions, socializing became a horrible burden. Crowds and parties were painstakingly uncomfortable. Always keeping secrets, always telling lies, always pretending to be something else, always fearing that I would be exposed. It was exhausting.

As a young adult living on my own, I affectionately deemed myself a hermit. I just preferred being alone. It was easier. It was safer. My mom often joked that if I ever got married, my husband and I would have to live in separate houses because of how much I needed my own space! That’s just how I lived. It’s what I felt I needed to do to protect myself.

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you may have already read A Story and an Invitation, which summarizes the miraculous transformation that began in my life around 11 years ago. I started to experience true healing and freedom from my eating disorder. But that’s not all. As my life began to change, so did my worldview. I acquired a whole new set of values that was defined by God’s word, rather than my mental illness.

I began to develop a new perspective on relationships and community. Instead of something to be feared, I started to see them as a blessing and gift from God. I got the sense that, for the first time in my adult life, God wanted to establish me in a community of my own where I could feel like I belonged—where I was a part of a family.

Fast forward several years, and you will find me thriving as an active member of First Baptist Church in Lloydminster, Canada. I have never felt more connected to a large collection of people in my whole life. Opening myself up to become invested in this community has been a challenge in many ways, but I am so thankful for how far I’ve come on this journey.

That being said, I realize that I have spent less time investing relationally this year. I have my ups and downs with this, and there are different factors that contribute to this ebb and flow. This year, I naturally spent the majority of my time investing into my relationship with Avra, and I don’t think anyone (including myself) would consider that negative. All the same, I feel that now is a good time to branch out again. In 2019, I would like to see myself become more dedicated to investing relationally with people outside my family or my very closest friends.

I still find relationships exhausting—or at least, I think of them that way. But perhaps that is just a flawed mentality that is still ingrained in my mind from years of self-preservation. Because the truth is that when I do it—when I prioritize relationships and I take time to invest in others—I experience a sense of fulfillment that I don’t find anywhere else. I’m not talking about going to parties or being surrounded by tons of people all the time. I’m an introvert and I think I will always find that type of thing exhausting! But I’m talking about intentionally investing in individual relationships. Serving people. Talking to them. Getting to know them. Allowing their lives to impact mine. Being encouraged by them. It’s how we were created to live!

Hebrews 10:24-25 instructs us to “think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works” (NLT). It goes on to implore us not to stop meeting together, but to be intentional in encouraging one another instead. God’s desire for our lives is that we would experience an increase of love and goodness through the gift of relationships. But we will never experience the fullness of God’s design for us if we hold ourselves back from investing relationally.

For some of us, this is a bigger challenge than it is for others. But that doesn’t make it any less important. I still struggle with some social anxiety. I know that it takes a special degree of effort on my part to prioritize relationships. But I also know that when I do, it changes me for the better.

Is community important to you? I’d love to hear why.

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