Turning my gaze outward
By Jessica Brodie
My shyness was almost painful and certainly debilitating. I’d hide behind my mom, the couch, a tree, whatever was handy, willing myself to disappear into the very earth if it would let me. Don’t look at me, I’d plead inwardly. Don’t make me speak.
Over the years it grew worse, not better. I’d settle into a new class, then the very next year I’d have to change schools and start all over again. Eventually I learned to hide in a book and create my own safe zones.
Yet today people laugh when I say I used to be shy. “You?” they ask, giving me that surely-she’s-joking look. “I don’t think you’ve ever met a stranger.”
It’s true—somehow over the years I’ve transformed from an excruciatingly shy girl into a confident, friendly, and outgoing woman. The sort of woman who sees another shy woman, grabs her by the hand, and tugs her along for the ride. The sort of woman who used to help me.
It wasn’t a sudden transformation but rather a gradual thing, a combination of theater classes and career training and leadership transitions, of becoming a mom and getting so busy I didn’t have time to think about doing my hair, let alone worry about other people.
But recently, a friend asked me to explain to her exactly how I did it. Her questions stumped me, and I needed some time to really think them through.
My answer, when it finally came, hit me hard: I got over my shyness by getting over me.
See, I’m sure we all have different reasons for being shy, but mine were rooted in issues of self, from fear to self-consciousness to, later, self-worth. Because all of my attention and energy were focused inward, I agonized whenever attention turned my way. It was like a giant searchlight was pointed directly at me, and I couldn’t escape.
But when life naturally brought responsibilities my way—at first a sister to tend, then friends, then small jobs, then big jobs, then children of my own—I wasn’t the center of my world anymore. Others were. And I certainly didn’t have time to worry about little-old-me when I needed to be focusing on them!
And when my faith in Christ grew to the point where I realized I needed to put God at the center, not myself or others—well, forget shy! Who has time for that when you’re living for the One, the Lord, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End?
Today, my soul is thriving because my energy is focused on God and loving others instead of being all wrapped up in myself. That was my ticket out of shyness.
Of course, not everyone is shy because they are self-focused. That was just my experience. But looking around me, I’ve noticed a theme. Focusing outward, not inward, is often the key to success—or at least perseverance. Churches that are focused inward crumble… until they begin to focus outward, live and reach beyond their own walls, and start to soar and grow for God. People who are ill but rally the strength to care for others end up achieving an ability to do and be beyond their pain or infirmity.
The Apostle Paul writes a bit about this in 2 Corinthians: “So we are always confident, because we know that while we are living in the body, we are away from our home with the Lord. We live by faith and not by sight. We are confident, and we would prefer to leave the body and to be at home with the Lord. So our goal is to be acceptable to him, whether we are at home or away from home” (2 Corinthians 5:6-9 CEB).
When our goal is to be acceptable to God, to please God, that’s our focus. Our focus isn’t worrying about ourselves or our shortcomings. It’s about God.
For me, that has made all the difference.