Through the back channels, I got a report of an elderly sister—new to the congregation, but certainly not new to the faith, who felt she had fallen through the cracks. She felt overlooked, as though the congregation was cliquish and she had not broken into the clique. It wasn’t so much her, actually—she just got depressed, asking herself whether she had done something wrong or whether Jehovah had forgotten her—but it was her non-Witness (though supportive) family who felt she was bypassed.
It is the oldest lament in the book, dating even back to Acts: “Now in those days when the disciples were increasing, the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution,” (Acts 6:1) a lament that even has a favoritism by national background theme to it—today it would be called racism.
Now, you don’t overreact to reports like this, but neither do you underreact. Is it true? It almost doesn’t matter. What matters is that someone thinks it is true. We are blind people ascertaining the nature of the elephant by feel, and someone has grabbed hold of a tusk. You go around looking for some butts to kick in case it is true and you seek to console and adjust the complaining one in case it is not true—probably it is some of both. And (gulp) you look at yourself—‘Am I one of the bad boys in the ‘in crowd’ that won’t give anyone else the time of day?’
I like the seven congregations getting their comeuppance in Revelation 2 and 3. The ‘seven’ apparently stands for all of the variety to be seen today in the worldwide congregation. One of those congregations was an out an out clunker—nothing but a cause of rebuke from the Lord. Another was an out and out winner, earning praise, with but one or two tweaks recommended, as though topping off the tank. But the others were mixed bags—each with some good and some bad. Yet they were all congregations. We’re stuck with them. It’s the curse of being human.
There’s a reason that Paul told the brothers to ‘widen out’—too many of them weren’t doing it. (2 Corinthians 6:12-14) There’s a reason that Solomon writes not to take too much to heart what others say or do—by doing so you’re fixating on something you can’t control to the possible neglect of something you can. “Do not take to heart every word that people say; otherwise, you may hear your servant calling down evil on you; for you well know in your heart that many times you yourself have called down evil on others.” (Eccles 7:21-22)
Sometimes people avoid you because you are prickly. Other times it is because you are not a ‘people person’ and they, not being naturally people persons themselves, simply find it easier to hang with those they know well. Sometimes they just have too much on their plate as it is and you are that ‘one more thing’ that they assure themselves someone else will get around to. ‘Going through the motions’ is a charge too easily made of others. I don’t like to go there. Even if one is going through the motions, it is generally a case of ‘fake it till you make it.’
“I’ve learned not to expect too much of other people,” is a tried and true formula long-time faithful ones will cite. Generally those others come through, but if you’re ever left holding the bag, you find that you can weather the storm with that attitude. It is the relationship with God that keeps you going. The people are just thrown in as a freebie. We are social beings—God made us that way—so the congregation is nothing but a boon, but if you come to over-rely on it and under-rely on its originator, you set yourself up for heartbreak should they ever drop the ball.
What I like is that in a godly organization every person looks to themselves for the remedy to any discord. It contrasts so well with the leaders during Covid 19 time, preoccupied with blaming each other. Not for one moment do they look inward. It’s one thing to delay boarding the lifeboat because you don’t think the ship is going down. It’s another to think that it probably is, but it is still more important to affix blame.
It’s like those congregation talks on marriage and family life. At first you use them to educate your mate on what he or she is doing wrong. But in time you use them to educate yourself. You pay attention to what your mama told you ages ago and you used to blow it off as nothing: “Point a finger at someone and there are three pointing at you.” Best to heed the three pointing at you. You can do something about that trinity.
“Why, then, do you look at the straw in your brother’s eye but do not notice the rafter in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Allow me to remove the straw from your eye,’ when look! a rafter is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the rafter from your own eye, and then you will see clearly how to remove the straw from your brother’s eye,” says Jesus. (Matthew 7:3-5) For want of applying this counsel, the deeds of ones greater than us unravel. He called them hypocrites—those who would not first look to themselves.
“When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, to think as a child, to reason as a child; but now that I have become a man, I have done away with the traits of a child,” says Paul at 1 Corinthians 13:11. Same here. When I was new in the faith, I would gravitate to my buddies after each closing prayer. Now I ignore them and look for ones who seem unengaged. There will be time enough for the good ‘ol boys later.
(Someone commented on how she felt just so left out, She was not a people person, she said, moreover she knew that her place was with the friends and she was determined to stay, but she does wish that people would not just walk by her with a quick ‘Hi. How are you?’)
Sometimes it is better to reject a certain interpretation of things even if that interpretation seems the most reasonable.
On the troubles of shy people, I learned more from Garrison Keillor than I ever did from the Bible. Even at the height of his show’s popularity, he was, according to Chet Atkins, painfully shy. ‘You just cannot compliment him,’ Atkins would say. ‘He gets all awkward and walks away.’ He poked fun at his own condition. Made up sponsor for his show, ‘A Prairie Home Companion,’ was Powder Milk Biscuits, the biscuits “that give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Each ‘ad’ for the ‘product’ he would begin with some narration about shy people, invariably coming to the punch line that Powder Milk Biscuits was just what they needed, before singing the Powder Milk song. He once said that a great aid to shyness was to take pleasure in the company of other people, simply as a spectator. It was almost better that way, for it relieved you of the pressure to think of something to say. Just learn to enjoy being in their midst and watching them.
Get to the meetings ahead of time and don’t leave immediately afterwards. Sometimes just take your seat, and sometimes just stand watching the others. Try to have some tidbit in mind from the current Bible reading or the program that has nothing to do with yourself so that should you be called upon for conversation, you will have something to say. No need to leave should you get teary, I would not think, unless you are outright bawling, and maybe even then it is best to tough it out. It is very important not to blame anyone. Don’t blame yourself and don’t blame others. It is what it is. Maybe it will change. Maybe it will not. Try to learn to be comfortable in their midst, whether people speak with you or not. Years later you may come to have insight or reflections on the social environment. Don’t push those reflections to come just now.
“Well, has your family tried them, Powder Milk?
Yes, has your family tried them, Powder Milk?
Well, if your family’s tried them, you know you’ve satisfied them.
There’s a real hot item, Powder Milk”
...I just threw in the ditty at the end because I remember Keillor singing it in every show. It is hardly necessary, but maybe in some way that I cannot define myself, it brings something to the table.
To counsel that the above person should “step outside her comfort zone”:
When they push me to step outside of my comfort zone I reply that I am not even completely comfortable IN my comfort zone, so I’m in no hurry to step outside it. No, I would not in any way increase the onus on yourself. It is likely to result in feelings of guilt and failure.
For whatever it is worth, I don’t think people are very good at being ‘people persons’ today, and that is true of Americans in particular. I don’t know why that is. I suspect vast media consumption has something to do with it. Conversation is an art and if you binge-watch a season of Monk or Bull or whatever at a time—well, that is time that you do not have to improve your conversation skills—and perhaps more importantly, your desire to communicate. Probably materialism plays a part. If you have stuff, it is just too easy to fall back on it for comfort, and thereby fail to advance in conversation ability.
This is among the reasons, hardly the sole ones, that the organization says keep entertainment and material things in their place. Frankly, you would think that the friends as a whole would be making better progress in being ‘people persons’ than they are. Quite a few people are rather hard to converse with. I am easily able to hold back and listen, even draw out people, but with some you end up doing all the talking—they simply hold back, for whatever reason, and let you carry the ball. I confess these ones tend to wear me out, but I recharge elsewhere and give them another shot.
Don’t try to figure it out. Put yourself where you need to be and do not judge yourself harshly. Keep that same attitude with regard to others in the congregation—don’t judge them harshly. Satan is pouring sand in the gearbox and it slows down the works. Do the things that you can, and be patient with what you cannot. Do the serenity prayer if you like. Ask to make changes with what you can, endure what you cannot, and recognize what components predominate in each..