What You See Is What You’re Looking At

Recently, I attended a ladies’ fellowship evening at church. It was hosted by a gracious woman with a beautiful home and there was intentional conversation and teaching about hospitality, which explains/justifies the two different cocktails I learned how to make (note to self: any webinar is a good webinar if you have stirred in sufficient bourbon and an Apple Cider Old Fashioned is a wise investment of bourbon). It takes a certain amount of psychological umph for me to stay decently clothed on a Sunday evening and to lure myself out into the dark and cold that is required for me to attend such an event, and honestly, I had little to no desire to do it on the evening in question. But you cannot claim to not feel connected at church if you aren’t making the effort to be there for all the things, right? Thus was my logic as I shivered in the Earl of Towcester, waiting for his old bones to warm up my own.

I want to enjoy these things. I do. I want to be the sort of person who shows up with a smile and a warm heart, who absorbs the information without a critical spirit, someone who leaves an hour and a half later having learned so much about whoever I sat next to that when we next meet, it will be as friends, at least passably so, and this because I took genuine interest in them and asked heartfelt questions with such kindness that they felt safe opening up.

At the risk of being Captian Obvious, I am not this person. At least not yet.

Instead, I am the person who accidentally and routinely shows up 15 minutes early, partially because I am a dunce about traffic patterns and always overestimate how long it will take me to get everywhere (did you know there isn’t really rush hour traffic on a Sunday night? True story) and partially because I have spent most of my life living far away from basically everything, and that teaches you not to cut it too close. But I hate being the first person in the door. For one, what if I am in the wrong place? It has happened. The awkwardness haunts me. For two, suppose the hostess is having one of those days where she actually could use those last 15 minutes and does not need a socially awkward, largely useless woman hanging about her kitchen?

The uselessness burns. I did finally see other people go to the door, so I followed after sitting like a creeper in my car for nearly 15 minutes, and then I tried to be smiling and attentive and admire the gorgeous decorations (she truly is an elegant homemaker). But I watched other women come in, know where to set their purses, and immediately set to work helping. Helping! Why didn’t I think of that?? I try to offer every time, yet I suspect that ineptitude is written across my face and each and every hostess is aware that if they do give me a job, they will probably also have to stand there and walk me through how to do it, and it would be easier if they just did it themselves. That’s right — I am the fully grown equivalent of a toddler, insisting that Mommy can’t make dinner unless I “help”.

I have learned to accept my limitations. Still uncomfortable.

While there was surely plenty to glean from the evening, my takeaway was not from the talk, or even from the most excellent cocktail-making demonstration (though I doff my cap. She did great, and the drinks were both tasty and cute. Martha Stewart wishes she had that sort of endearing panache). No, instead the evening was like a giant magnifying glass exposing a sin that lurks not-so-quietly in my own heart and likes to come out and play at social events of all shapes and sizes.

I am self-centered.

I hate writing that, I hate even more that it is true. Often, the reason for my self-consciousness at these sorts of gatherings comes down to a game of comparison and assumption, a quick and inaccurate assessment of the people around me, the sort of sliding scale that wastes time marveling at how they have 7 children and a flat stomach (I actually have a theory about that one… it seems that the more children they have, the more petite they become. I must have just stopped too soon. Either that or… genetics…), how it is 8 at night and their mascara is not smeared, how they are wearing my dream jeans and look so comfortable in their own skin. I think (like a dope) that their marriages must be easy, that it must be fun to have such a normal life and bodies that behave so well.

Maybe it is. But the Holy Spirit caught me by the throat at this event, because I realized that while I was busy comparing myself and my life to people I don’t really know, I was not seeing the whole picture. I looked. I saw women who have been courageously caring for severely disabled children for decades, I saw women who aren’t even wearing makeup and who have different levels of comfort with that. I saw tummies that weren’t flat, I saw tummies that were flat because God has given them the trial of infertility. I saw that the whole reason I feel awkward and disconnected at these things, like my body isn’t right and my life is unrelatable, is that I am looking at myself.

It was still a late night, I still had the usual discomforts and yes, I made an inappropriate comment about the bourbon and learned that I have been incorrectly using a Scrub Daddy that I only bought for its color, when actually it is apparently the best thing to happen to dishes since pie. But God is kind. So I also came away repentant. I may not be done struggling with insecurity about my body, about my role in the church or with other Christian women, and I may still have a weird and unrelatable life. But by the grace of God, I will also have eyes to see beyond myself.

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