Has someone ever described you as quiet? Boring. Maybe it was shy. Not much to say. Not very interesting. Or if you’ve never been labeled quiet, you at least know the type: the girl who kind of sits in the corner at youth group with her arms crossed awkwardly. The boy who never says much in class, but seems to read a lot.
As a kid, I was pretty crazy. I remember running around playgrounds and screaming. I was always making friends and introducing myself to people. I never felt shy or alone. During junior high, something shifted. I turned inward. Some of it had to do with moving from New Mexico to Texas, I’m sure. In the first town we moved to, I was usually quiet. I sat on the edge of things. I listened to what other louder kids said at Sunday School. I didn’t give my opinion much. And by quiet, I guess most people meant boring. Shy. Not fun. Just…bleh.
After we moved to a larger city in Texas, I was again quiet at our new church. I tried to fit in, but as I mentioned before—I failed. The kids at youth group rejected me. Not that I didn’t talk. I did. I was friendly. Most adults liked me, because I’d carry on a mature, decent conversation with anyone who wanted to. Teens at youth group laughed and joked. They did crazy things and participated in silly youth group games. I wished I was loud, I wished I could just laugh and go crazy. Still, there was always this inward awkwardness.
In high school, I joined a youth orchestra because I played the violin. Most of the kids knew each other. I didn’t. Although I did try to make friends there, I could never be loud enough for them. They just looked at me skeptically, ignored me, and carried on with their fun. During breaks, I would stand awkwardly near the snacks, trying hard not to look miserable.
In all these places, I was desperately lonely. There was this hole in me that seemed as big as the sky. No one could tell. No one tried to bring me out of my shell. They just saw a quiet girl who was not very much fun. And they ignored her.
* * *
As I mentioned in my post on popularity, I found good friends in mid-high school at our homeschool group. Our homeschool group loved sports and campouts. One of the first things my family did with this 200+ homeschool group was go camping with about 25 of the families. My parents introduced me to several of the girls who were my age. I felt awkward and shy, not confident in my friend-making abilities mostly because of the past rejections I’d experienced. Still, these girls continued to try to get to know me, asking me questions, inviting me to hang out with them.
I started going to a chemistry class with some of them. One day after chemistry class, some of the teens began mixing cornstarch and water. It sounds silly, but it’s so cool—because it’s hard when you smack it, but soft and gooey when you pull it through your fingers. Anyway, one of the girls was standing there playing with it. They had this big bucketful of the hard-but-gooey stuff. And all the sudden, I thought, Throw some at her. Just do it.
So I did. I threw some on her. She gasped, laughed, and threw some back. Everyone else started throwing the cornstarch/water mix at each other. A full-out war began for the next 20 minutes, leaving us covered in the mixture. Our hair, our clothes, our shoes. We all laughed, our faces kind of glowing with this bizarre experience we’d just had.
And I think that’s what did it. After that, I was louder. After that, I was truly safe. I needed friends who would try to be my friend. I needed people who looked past the shyness and awkwardness, and who would push through to the true me underneath the quietness.
When I got to Bible college, I was more able to handle myself. Yet I was still frustrated with myself. Some people just easily laughed and were fun. Some people could walk into a room and talk with anyone. I wasn’t like that. Yes, I was friendly—but I still felt reserved until I felt safe.
In college, I had a lot of loud friends. Most of the time, I just wished I was like that. I wasn’t content with being me. Sometimes I’d walk into a classroom or the cafeteria and feel this overwhelming anxiety because I wanted to perform, to be loud, to capture people’s attention. And I just couldn’t do that. My heart would pound, and I’d end up feeling self-conscious and silly.
I was in band for two years of college. At first, I was quiet. No one hardly knew I was there. But because many of the members were friendly and nice, I began to be pulled out of my shell. By the end, I was fairly loud. I felt like they were a family, and I shared really personal things with them I didn’t share many other places.
A good girl friend in band once told me: “You are like a bashful sunrise. You take a while to light up, but then you glow.”
I think that’s a fair description. It takes me about a year to fully open up. Sometimes there are exceptions. But most of the time, I must slowly gain trust in a person or a group before I fully invest.
It took me quite a while to begin accepting that God made me the way I am. That I don’t have to be a crazy-loud, extroverted person. God loves me. He accepts me for who I am. And as my identity becomes more grounded in God’s love, I actually can begin to embrace who I am. I can take the pressure off myself to be someone I’m not. And you know what’s funny? Then I actually can be more open to people without even trying. I become free to interact with people when I’m truly okay with who God has made me. My identity is in Him, not in who I wish I was.
* * *
For years, I had this heart for quiet people who seemed forgotten. I would try and reach out to the ones everyone else ignored. I couldn’t forget how lonely and awkward I’d felt, and how I had longed for people to just accept me and try and get to know me. To break through the shell. When I did, then I began to be comfortable to be me.
When I think about my quiet friends, there is one in particular who stands out. I will call her Karen. When I met Karen, it was the first night of freshman year at Bible college. She was in our RA’s room, and she was so quiet. Looking into her eyes, I could see a deep distrust and pain in her that I recognized. Her face was this pale mask. Her eyes were walls.
Remembering those junior high/early high school days, I set out to be her friend. I talked to her, and invited her to things, and walked places with her. We had our share of conflict, serious talks, and silly moments.
Over the four years at school, she began to open up. She was very wounded, but as she began to learn that God truly loved her, as she began to heal, as she began to find people she could trust to talk over things…her face began to glow. Her quiet beauty shone out from her eyes and smile. Sometimes I just loved looking at her because she was such a testimony that God can truly transform people with Love—from Himself, and from others.
Karen might never be extremely outgoing. But she truly is a beautiful person.
People are quiet for many reasons.
Some are quiet because they have been wounded and they don’t trust others.
Some are quiet because they are hiding. It might be deep pain they’re hiding. Or a deep sin.
Some are quiet because they really don’t believe they are very interesting. They don’t believe people will really listen or take the time to get to know them.
Some people are quiet because they are just much more introverted, they feel overwhelmed with too many people around, and they’d rather observe.
I’m not saying every quiet person is hiding something, or in deep pain, etc. I’m just saying—think about those people on the outskirts. Maybe they need a friend. Someone who will help them loosen up, who will help them build trust.
But every quiet person is worth something. God sees them and loves them even if they’re not extroverted and vying for attention through crazy stunts and goofy jokes. Take the time to get to know a quiet person.
It’s a beautiful thing to watch a bashful sunrise begin to emerge.