Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Unlovely, The Uncool

A wonderful question was left as a comment on my last blog entry here. In it I created a teaching scenario where people attend a party and contrasted the behavior of someone who is depressed vs. someone who is wallowing in self-pity. It wasn't intended to cover all possible situations and it didn't Someone wrote in asking what to do when people reject you or refuse to let you be a part of the party.

Ahhhh... why are some people easily accepted into groups and conversations and others, despite their most earnest attempts, find themselves, at best, tolerated or, at worst, rudely rejected? Now you're talking about my life! I find myself at a stage of life where I am well liked, in demand as a speaker, and considered a fun -- if eccentric -- guy to be around. It wasn't always that way.

I was one of the unlovely, the uncool. Some of that was due to my parents who wouldn't let me go to parties, have a girlfriend, or have any say about each day's schedule, what I would study, when I would study, or even if I would have a job. This was part of the reason I was terribly socially awkward -- I was never given any chance to make friends or conversation. I could go on and on but the point is: my social life was nil and the harder I tried to find a way to work my way into any circle the worse it got.

Add to that -- I was never (and will never be) tall, muscular, or handsome. I was born with a slightly crooked back, poor lungs, and I walk like a duck. When I try to run it reminds onlookers of the time the mule got in the fermented apples. I was never allowed to play sports since I was expected to be at the beck and call of my dad, but had I tried for sports it would have been a bad day in Black Rock. A bad day, indeed.

Hang on... I have a point coming....

So, from one of the unlovely and uncool, here are some observations and ideas.

1. Being uncool is probably temporary. Unfortunately, it might not be. I believe Psalm 139 tells us that God built us on purpose, forming us in His mind before He forms us with His hands. That means you are not a mistake. God needed you, built just as you are. Remember: nobody gets all the gifts, but everybody gets at least one. Remember this, too: You get the gift God needs you to have, not the one you might have chosen for yourself. Remember the parable of the talents? What matters is that you play the hand you're dealt as fairly and righteously as you can.

2. Most people grow out of being uncool. They find people who will accept them and, in that environment, they lose the traits that made them socially awkward. What traits? The lack of social eptitude, the inability to read people, the low level panic that others may realize you're not one of them... you get the idea. Problem is, when you are fourteen or twenty three you can think "this is it, this is the way it will be the rest of my life." Usually, it isn't going to be like that.

3. What if it IS permanent? Then it's not time to shut things down, but to reboot and reframe. I'm not talking about a makeover, but a decision to listen to the question God asked Moses when Moses was convinced he could never do what God wanted him to do: "What is that in your hand?" Make a list of the things you "have," your qualities, talents, interests, and abilities. Be honest and do it right. Now you have something to work with. There are groups, activities, and clubs that would interest you (and you, them). The list is the set of muscles you have to work with. Get better at those things. You will also get more interesting and more powerful as you do so. Think about Bill Gates. Look at him. You think recess wasn't hell on earth for him? You think he got out of high school without being dumped by every girl in the tri-county area? But who's laughing now? Take the highest paid basketball star or hip-hop recording artist today and they're paupers compared to Gates. Hmmmm....

4. If you ARE at that party, here are a few tips. First off, don't try to be interesting. Find other people interesting instead. Ask them a few questions about themselves and react carefully, kindly. Don't keep asking questions, though. Just create a place where they are free to talk about themselves or free to walk away. If they are free to go they often choose to stay. If they feel trapped they WILL find a way to get away from you. Keep your distance, physically and emotionally, unless and until you are invited to step closer. Be the kindest, gentlest person in the room. It will pay dividends. Eventually.

5. Yes, the prettiest girls often go with the worst guys, but most girls don't stay dumb forever. Create a reputation -- you are the person who is steady, kind, and reliable. Boring? Sure! But after a few disasters, boring begins to look pretty good. (you think I'm Mister Exciting? Bah! My spiritual gifts are (1) sitting still and (2) losing my train of thought... but I still got the prettiest girl ever!). And ladies, it is true that men are so full of hormones and so full of themselves that they overlook your inner beauty and charm. I'm sorry, but the fact is that men are idiots. We all know it. Most will get tired of cotton candy and marshmallows eventually. Those who don't tire of fluff aren't the ones you want to be around anyway.

6. Those who accept who they are and then accept others for who they are usually find friends. Proverbs is full of advice on how to chose friends, form community, and keep from being foolish. Read it -- a few verses at a time. When you find yourself in there, make the necessary corrections.

You know what? Even though I am a popular speaker with some bookings as far away as 2009 (but not many), I still don't go to parties. I found out something: I'm not that kind of person. It took a few decades but I found out that I was really pretty happy being who I am. I don't "do" buddies and pals. I like walking with my son, my wife, and Jesus. I like talking on the phone with my daughter and I like to read. I like blowing raspberries on the belly of my parrot and listening to her laugh herself silly each time. I like people as long as they stay back a little bit. Odd, isn't it? For years I was upset that people wouldn't let me into their groups. Now I don't want in. Maybe God was trying to tell me something all those years ago: I'm not a group person.
What is God trying to tell you? Start with the way He made you, with the gifts He gave you, and with whatever is in your hand. Go from there with gentleness, humility and grace.


At 7/14/2006 12:28:00 AM , Anonymous maragen said...

For the biggest part of my younger adult life I felt like I was on the outside looking in. Then I was diagnosed with depression. I no longer take antidepressants. I have learned that I am only on the outside if I think I am AND I have learned that I like it on the outside some of the time.

At 7/14/2006 04:36:00 PM , Anonymous Laymond said...

Dear brother, you wrote, I believe Psalm 139 tells us that God built us on purpose, forming us in His mind before He forms us with His hands. That means you are not a mistake. God needed you, built just as you are.
You and Rick Warren-- what is so strange to me is this is the attitude of those who have made a success of a life that started out not so well. Your story of your childhood only strengthens my belief that our life is formed by our surroundings and enviroment. if you can please tell me why god picks some over others. I know a young couple who were happy they were members of the Baptist church and believed strongly in what they were doing.Their first child was born with an incomplete heart, died soon after birth. They consulted their pastor he explained God had nothing against them (rightly so) they had a second beautiful baby girl. Had a hole in heart, after many operations and unbearable pain and cost the child survived. they once again consulted their pastor this time he said it must be God's will.
They have gotten a divorce and both left the church. can you tell me just what God's purpose in this was? did he just have to many trusting children?

At 7/14/2006 11:54:00 PM , Blogger Barry "iPod" Johnson said...

Following my divorce I retreated to my "Fortress of Solitute" and became closer to God. But I've had my share of struggles in the past.

For much of my life I've struggled to meet the expectations of crowds, and have been disppointed and depressed. Profoundly Depressed about Loss in my life. Depressed with a capital "D" with medications and suicidal tendencies. But those days are long gone - praise God.

Now my aim is to please God and seek the company of a small circle of friends.

And - I delight in the time I spend in my "Fortress of Solitute."

Through living in Christ, I've been true to myself, and how God made me.

At 7/15/2006 10:34:00 AM , Anonymous TinaMarie said...

What you have shared is so true. There are those of us who are square and will never fit into the round hole. That I have learned to accept and know that I am one of those individuals. When I have many people around me, wanting a part of me, I come apart. However, I have a questions for you? When you look at your talents, skills etc and find groups the groups where you belong, what happens when most of those groups are outside of the church body? I have tried and tried to use the skills I have used successfully with Girl Scouts and The Red Cross in the church but they don't seem to be accepted. In the body I feel more critizied then I do in the other groups. What is the missing key? Could I be more sensitive to tone and words in one group than in the other? When I look at the situation I don't see the same things happening.

At 7/15/2006 10:56:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


I've known pastors like that. I think the problem is that "it must be God's will" is just a cop-out answer for "I don't know." The pastor had no idea why, but didn't want them to think him stupid, so he blamed it on God. Pastors need to be able to say "I don't know" more often, I think. Maybe even "I don't know, ask him yourself."

I'm not entirely convinced that God needs us "just as we are." I think God uses us just as we are, but asks that we grow. Children with defects is such a tragedy, but life is full of pain, and the church has deadened us to it with promises of a happy life. If our faith can't direct us to be closer to God through our pain, then maybe we need to think about why we've bothered ...

... God loves us, of course, but he never said it would be easy ...

At 7/16/2006 09:35:00 PM , Blogger Niki said...

May I please address Tinamarie?

My dear stranger friend...YOU are a part of the body and you take "the body" with you when you are with the groups you are working with. We were never meant to only function in the church setting. If we were, we wouldn't be sharing the gifts God gave us with some of the people who need our gifts the most. It is unfortunate that sometimes we feel unappreciated in the church setting and that our talents and gifts go unnoticed and unused. It sounds like your heart is in the right place by wanting to use your gifts in the church. Might I suggest though that maybe your gifts were meant to be used outside of that setting? (I can relate to this myself!) You're still being part of the body (see the first sentence). I'm not so sure there IS a missing key. BE YOU wherever God puts you - you're the only one that can do that.

At 7/16/2006 09:46:00 PM , Blogger Niki said...

It takes all kinds Patrick. I love a crowd, and even if they are strangers when I get there, most of them aren't when I leave. God made me a people person. I have been uncool and unlovely at different times in my life, but I always found acceptance, attention, and appreciation somewhere. I LOVED #3 the most. What great advice! Accepting who we are is hard sometimes, but noone else can play our part for us, and you're right, God made us and giftd us and we ARE all needed.

At 7/17/2006 09:40:00 AM , Blogger Connie Lard said...

Wonderful piece! Good reminder to look to God for our identity. And to go forth with "gentleness, humility and grace." As someone who prefers solitude and has always felt a little odd about that, I really enjoyed reading this!

At 7/29/2006 02:03:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is so true for me. I appreciate your words of wisdom, Patrick! It's so easy to forget God made us unique for a reason. And that there is more to life than fitting into a particular group.


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