I cried myself to sleep over friendship drama for most of my 4th-6th grade years. It was a perfect storm of being in a tiny school with few friendship options, mean girls, and being a tween(although that term didn’t exist at the time). Every day I would show up at the bus stop and hope the girls there were in friendly, generous moods. More often than not, they would give me the silent treatment. 30 years later, I still have not solved the mystery of what it is I did that offended them so greatly.
Mom was the lucky recipient of my drama. She would listen and then she would assure me that it would all get better eventually. She promised when I became an adult that all of these troubles would be resolved. I would have good friends and I wouldn’t feel lonely.
I’m a 40-something now and my mom is no longer here for me to go to with friendship challenges, but if she were, I would have a few things to say:
–”Um, Mom, remember when you said I wouldn’t feel awkward and lonely as an adult?”
Turns out, Mom wasn’t completely right.
Not long ago, I found myself in a situation where I felt like I was 10 years old asking if anyone wanted to be my friend. I arrived at a gathering place and had my kids with me. I knew some other moms and kids would be coming to soon. Sure enough, about 5 other moms arrived with their kids. And then something awkward happened.
They sat down and situated themselves a few short feet away from me and entered into deep conversation with each other and never once acknowledged that I was there.
I couldn’t ignore the lump in my throat. There is no situation that feels as lonely as being on the outside of a group that seems to know each other well, but doesn’t seem to notice or understand how to include someone who is new or unconnected. I felt completely invisible. After about 10 minutes, I gladly agreed to my youngest’s request to go to another location.
This is where I clarify something.
These were not “mean girls”. They simply didn’t see me.
More specifically, they “saw” me, but they didn’t really see me as a person who was lonely. They aren’t the exception. I’m just like them too much of the time. In a situation where I’m with close friends, I’m not in a position where I’m looking for people that look like they need someone.
This is why being new can be so difficult. This is why, even when you’re not a “new” person in a situation, it can be lonely. If our world were full of noticers who paid attention to others, it wouldn’t feel as awkward. But we’re not. Our default will always be self-focus.
I recently finished Uninvited by Lysa Terkeurst. She mentions a healthy response to situations where we feel hurt or overlooked. She suggested that we ask “What” questions rather than “Why”. It makes sense because the the “Why?” puts our focus on the past and often on things we can’t control. The “What?” puts in in a position of positive action.
What can I learn from this?
What could I do to frame this experience in a way that is healthy?
What can I do to be a noticer?
It was two days after that experience of feeling like an invisible outsider that I found myself getting ready to head to a women’s event at our new church. I felt uncertain. I was sure of one thing: I was going to show up and sit in a corner all alone and feel stupid. I went anyway.
I walked into the room and someone invited me to their table. She wasn’t the only one who greeted me warmly. It was a tangible expression of God’s love to me when I needed it most. I’m never unnoticed by Him.
I don’t know why we’re insensitive sometimes. I don’t know why people are blind to the needs right in front of them. I do know what we’re instructed to do:
“. . .Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. . . and love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:36-39
May our times of loneliness make us noticers. May they make us more kind. May we always have a reminder that the pretty facades we see in front of us may be hiding a lonely heart. Lord, give us eyes to see and courage to do the right things. May we truly see others as You see us.