I don’t know about you, but whenever I have a social thing coming up in the week or two ahead, it weighs on me.
And it doesn’t even have to be a big thing! Just attending a conference or having a Zoom call with someone is enough to put something at the back of my mind – let’s call him Mr Downer – all week reminding me constantly that something ahead in my calendar is coming up.
This may also be strange to hear from a Thir.st writer, but even though I like doing interviews and meeting new people, the initial thought makes me want to disengage and decompress on a mountain for two weeks.
Obviously, it goes without saying that the big things would be tough, too.
It is genuinely a privilege to expound on and deliver the Word of God, but when I’m called upon to preach… Honestly, it can weigh on me for months leading up to the message itself.
Maybe it’s half social anxiety, and half the gravity and severity of the task.
Even just talking about this, I’m tempted to feel guilty. There’s an unsaid expectation that as someone serving in church, you can’t be feeling this way about events or service opportunities, otherwise you’re not a good Christian.
I could probably be in a better headspace about this, and I hope I will increasingly be as my introverted mind is being renewed.
But as that process happens, what are some practical things we can do about Mr Downer?
First, having an aim triumphs over anxiety.
Whenever I feel myself turning into a Desert Father, I try and remember what my aim is. Some days it’s to listen to a story that can change lives and amplify that story on our site. Other times, it’s making new friends at a conference to connect with the wider Church.
Thing is, I always end up finding that the aim is larger than me. So having a kingdom perspective in mind frequently helps me get over myself.
I also do this thing with my wife, Cheryl, where if and when I feel Mr Downer starting to lean on me, I ask her to just tell me something encouraging about the social thing that’s coming up.
And honestly, her simple words really help.
- “What you’re doing will make a difference.”
- “When you meet him, God will use you to touch his life.”
- “You might learn something new and become more excited!”
In doing so, Cheryl reminds and exhorts me towards good works. She helps to put me in mission mode and keep my eye on the prize.
Find someone who will encourage and exhort you to pursue Christ, whether it’s your spouse, accountability group or your pastor. Do the same for them.
It’s vital in a world of comfort and distraction.
Talking about comfort and distraction, I have a few more words about Mr Downer. You see, having spent much time with him, I’m something of an expert in that realm.
The more I scrutinise my inertia for good works and my social anxiety, the more clearly I see that this problem is actually a two-fold one. It boils down to sin, and Mr Downer.
As I poke around the scum of sin at the top of this placid mixture, I see more clearly that is the fallenness of my human mind that causes me to think about things in a carnal way.
Lying at the dregs then is Mr Downer – that big blob who keeps trying to bog me down and get me back to my comfortable zone.
Now I see that Mr Downer is essentially the worries of this life and the desires for other things apart from Christ.
Oh, and here are some of his favourite lines:
- “You should see if there’s a way to get out of that meet-up you agreed to.”
- “Just say no. You’ve already been working so hard this week. Come on, chill out.”
- “Hey, we can do that later. Relax.”
When I really think about it, Mr Downer’s voice sounds opposite to Cheryl’s. One tells me to choose purpose and joy, the other mostly says “no” and “it can wait”.
Certainly some of us need to learn to be kinder to ourselves, and saying no is part of that process. But there must definitely come a time when we set forth once again, heavenward.
So my question for us is, whose voices are we listening to? Who are the people we surround ourselves with? And what do they speak into our lives?
We need all the help we can get in this climb up the mountain, and we need to make sure our porter isn’t Mr Downer – find yourself a Samwise Gamgee instead!
Late last night I was on a pretty long phone call, after a long day of work. It wasn’t part of the plan; it was a spontaneous addition to the schedule some time towards dinner (these little changes always stress me out).
But the person on the other end of the line was someone I have been reaching out to and who’s been going through some tough things. So I knew I couldn’t turn the opportunity down when he reached out.
In the lead-up to the phone call, I held on to the hope that he would be blessed by our time together – and he was. I distinctly felt the pleasure of God resting on the both of us when we prayed at the end of the call.
Looking back, I see that I was doing what I should have been doing in that exact moment, and my brother was coming back to God. And there was this inexplicable warmth on a chilly night.
We were fulfilling God’s will, and in those seconds nothing else mattered. Not my tiredness or his pain. There was just something far greater for us to hold on to.
So I got up this morning, reminded of the truth that when I successfully wrestle to get over myself and realign myself to God’s will, it’s all worth it – always.
Whose voices are we listening to?
If you’ve got a Mr Downer just like me, I urge you to keep your eye on what the aim is. Find yourself an encourager who will exhort you to do the right things. Get right with God every hour.
Be honest with what is preoccupying yourself, deny yourself of it and be repositioned in God’s purposes. And as you empty that placid mixture out, throwing the scum of sin and Mr Downer out of your life, ask God to fill you up with living water.
As you strive to rest in God, He will top you up with His life-giving water so that you overflow with all you need in your own life – and you will even pour out into the lives of others!
- What situations or circumstances give you social anxiety?
- Looking back, what positive outcomes or unexpected blessings were there after you decided to honour your commitment and show up anyway?
- Are you wrestling with any desires that are drawing you away from God? How can you better realign your desires to His??