i belong {social anxiety}

I have one very wise, sincere, and strong friend who often says just the right thing to get my perspective back on Jesus. One thing she said to me some time ago was “you might not fit in everywhere you are, but you belong, wherever you are, because God has placed you there.” That’s stuck with me over time as I’ve transitioned through so many different social circles. I’m always flitting and floating around…one day I’m at college, engaging with unbelievers on a regular basis, the next minute I’m worshipping with Awakening. I have interactions at home, interactions at my job, interactions with acquaintances I’ve met through social media with photography. I see strangers every day, and sometimes the only connection we have is eye contact and a small smile. By all accounts, I love social settings and real relationships with people. However, it’s not all sunshine and “social butterfly” feelings in my world. Behind the smiles and the happy social settings, there is always this fear of what people think of me holding me hostage.

With so much chaos, so much changing in my life, it is far too easy to believe the lie that I’ll never be settled, I’ll never feel secure with my identity, or that I’ll never belong. If I let myself be controlled by the opinions of the thousands of people I’ve had interactions with in my life, I will very quickly realize that I do not fit in.

My Meyers-Briggs personality type is ESTP-T. To break it down, I’m 90% extraverted; my mind goes more towards sensing what’s around me instead of imagining what could be; I tend to make decisions based on some logic (thinking) and some feeling (my thinking-feeling relation is 50/50); I’m more of a spontaneous (perceiving) person and tend to live more reactively than intentionally; and I’m 80% turbulent (versus assertive), which means I may have a strong awareness of who I am, but I am not secure in that. I tend to doubt my worth and I always need to know what people expect of me in order to feel like I am loved and accepted. Of all the elements in the personality puzzle, I think that the extraverted-turbulence relationship is what causes me the most problems in social settings. In some ways, I think it is a form of social anxiety; in social settings, I can often feel as happy and upbeat and bubbly as someone who truly is 90% extraverted. The next minute, I’m overwhelmed with a sense of dread at meeting new people, crippled with fear about how I am interacting with friends, and I literally panic…my muscles clench up, my heart races, and I want to crawl into a hole and die. Essentially, I experience what both extraverts and introverts experience on an everyday basis.

One night, driving home from a social gathering, I was thinking out loud, trying to figure this all out in my mind and gain some perspective on the whole scenario. I realized that, in social settings, I am in a constant battle of being myself versus being someone else in order to feel more confident. I am attacked at all moments with a thousand tiny little lies about who I am and what I’m worth. I believe the enemy takes advantage of the situations when we have the most potential to bring more glory to Jesus and attacks us with lies in those moments. When I am directed by these lies, I am pulled in a thousand directions other than the one path of truth that God has called me to.

Paul shares that he only wanted to be identified with one thing: “…in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:8b-11

If my identity is only found in Jesus, the opinions of others and the criticism in my own mind immediately lose meaning. There is a time and place for accountability and guidance from other Christians, and it’s important to be aware of the effect you have on other people. However, this obsession that comes with needing to please people, to fit in— that is the opposite of being found in Jesus.

I don’t want to be this angsty, emotionally directed individual who worries about how others perceive me. It’s time for me to let go of this need to fit in, and instead, cling to the truth that no matter where I am, no matter what my circumstances or what I’m going through, Jesus has won my soul and declared victory over me. He has spoken over me the truth that says I BELONG, I belong to a loving, merciful, just, strong, unrelenting God. It’s not about what I can or can’t do. It’s never about what others think. It’s about an audience of one God, and the surrender of one heart.

To finish, I must confess that I’m a sap and I love everything sentimental and sweet. Rachel Platten, a pop artist, recently released a song called “You Belong” about her unborn child. The lyrics of the song were so simple and true they made me tear up. I don’t know if Rachel is a Christian/identifies with any type of faith or belief, but the unconditional love that she sings over her baby in this song made me think of the way God loves us and speaks truth over us so beautifully. A few of my favorite lines:

I’ll wipe off your tears, but I’ll let them fall first
And I will be brave when you fall and get hurt
You can be you, you don’t have to be strong
‘Cause you belong, you belong

It might not be the best analogy, but that little line of “you can be you, you don’t have to be strong, ‘cause you belong, you belong” gets me. God isn’t standing high above me in social gatherings, waiting for me to live up to a standard I’ve only set for myself. He’s near, He’s present, and He’s loving me in my screw-ups and in the successes that He is the reason for. I’m remembering today how close at hand our Savior is, and the truth amidst anxiety, social or otherwise: because I am His, I belong anywhere I am.

faithAliyah Burton