A Note from Mary Margaret West: We all long to belong somewhere. As students move, go off to college, and make other life transitions, we have to be leaders who make an effort. Abby’s story today resonates with most of us to some level. We all have to choose whether or not we’re going to stick it out past the awkward parts and engage. I hope you’ll take some time to think how to make girls feel welcome as transitions happen.
At eighteen, my family and I moved to a small town due to a job transfer for my dad. The town had a church, that on paper, checked everything off our list of hopes for our new church. One of the most important things was that our church must have a small group program. This church actually had a young adults small group. The first Sunday we visited, my very bold mother hunted down the leader of the group and told her I would be at the next group meeting. My mom knew I would be even lonelier in this new town and thought there was no better way for me to make friends.
Out of respect for my mom, I went to the new group. I was at least four years younger than everyone else. I was at the same stage of life, but I was younger. Again, I was different. I did not want to be treated like a baby, but, this was my only small group option. The first night of group I left my house exceptionally early. I did not want to bring more attention to myself by being late. It turned out that I needed the extra time, because my GPS took me to the wrong apartment. I knocked on the door and some lady answered. She was not the group leader and she was not expecting company. That was the first moment of mortification of the evening.
I called my parents in a panic, trying to figure out what to do. They knew I was nervous, to say the least. I found out later they had been following me the whole time and knew I was lost. My mom took it upon herself to call the leader and explain that I was lost and that I might be late. Suddenly my phone rang; it was the husband of the couple that lead the group. I had never spoken to him. I am an introverted millennial. It was my worst nightmare: Talking on the phone and to a complete stranger. Did I mention it was raining? The only umbrella I had in my car was a pink polka-dot child size umbrella.
Still on the phone with the leader’s husband, I could not find where he was telling me to go. He ultimately came to find me in the parking lot. Finally, after what seemed like forty days and forty nights, we get into the apartment. I was still ten minutes early and the only one there for another thirty minutes. Young adults must be inherently late. To top it off, my mom had asked the leader to would walk me to my car every time after group. Like I said, I didn’t want to be perceived as a baby. A TIP FOR SMALL GROUP LEADERS: PLEASE HAVE VERY CLEAR DIRECTIONS FOR THE NEUROTICS AND DIRECTIONALLY CHALLENGED.
When others arrived, I didn’t say a word, but I analyzed them all. For some reason as humans we assume different is bad, so I decided I didn’t really like the way they did group. I just spent my time profiling everyone. I studied them and knew exactly who they were based on my first couple of impressions. I could figure out their whole backstory without them saying a word. I assumed they were doing the same thing to me. I knew I was being judged, because I was judging everyone else. I kept thinking of what my dad told me when I was in kindergarten, “It’s better to be kind than to be smart.” I have to consciously practice kindness most of the time.
The crazy thing about judgement is that you can judge how another person is judging you. I am sure the group’s first take on me was that I was too quiet. As I became more comfortable, I was too talkative. When I really delved into the study we were doing, I was a “know-it-all.” Not all of my judgements of other people were negative. In fact, there were some people that I admired, they made me feel inferior.
1 Samuel 16:7 says “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” We usually only quote the last part of that verse. Implying that as humans we only wrongly judge people who we think are less than us. This verse is really speaking about people we think are better than us. I was doing that. These people were better at making friends. They were confident. It made me feel insecure. I became resentful. I felt like I was forced to be there. Yet, no one really wanted me there either. I was stuck.
Ultimately I had to fully realize my value in Christ, and overcome the challenges of loneliness and stress that had dominated my relationships. I could choose to come small group. I could choose. My feelings and first impressions did not have to determine my actions.
Abby Underwood As a self-described introvert, Abby Underwood has struggled with social anxieties her whole life. Once she fully realized her value in Christ, she overcame the challenges of loneliness and stress that had dominated her relationships. With her unique perspective of life and being pastored by some of the leading pastors in small group development and church planting, Abby determined to use her life experience to make a difference. Her new found joy and freedom fueled Abby’s passion to help girls find their identity in Christ. To encourage high school and college aged girls to step out of their self-limiting boxes and become world changers, she created the service group, Girls Leading and Simply Serving (GLASS). Abby works as a member of the social media team and student ministry at Life.Church Hendersonville.