No social awkwardness in Love
Shifting our focus from ourselves to loving others can take us far beyond just averting awkward situations.
I happened upon a podcast awhile ago that deeply inspired me. It was a conversation between widely acclaimed author and speaker Dr. Brene Brown and Dr. Vivek Murthy, recently reappointed as Surgeon General of the United States. During his first term as Surgeon General, Dr. Murthy traveled throughout the US and interviewed people about their health challenges. He discovered that the most prevalent issue among those he interviewed was a sense of disconnection and isolation. Dr. Murthy has recently published a book titled Together: The Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World.
In the podcast, Murthy mentioned approaching interactions with others with the intent to seek meaningful connection rather than validation for himself. He found those exchanges to be satisfying and to lead to healthy relationships.
This reminded me of a comment a friend shared several years ago that has really stayed with me. She had been preparing for some business meetings where she would be speaking about topics that were very close to her heart. But she felt others might have trouble understanding, and she was feeling anxious, concerned that these conversations might be uncomfortable and difficult. As she prayed to prepare for these meetings, she had the thought that there is no awkwardness in Love.
When I focus on Love, God, as the source of my identity, I am less nervous about social situations.
I understood her to be referring to Love as a synonym for God, which is based on a passage in the Bible: “God is love” (I John 4:8 ). It made sense that a loving Father-Mother God would not sanction uncomfortable exchanges between members of Her creation. Our motive can be to express loving qualities such as compassion, patience, and gentleness in our communications with others. This makes us a transparency for the Love that is God, and our thoughts will be lifted off ourselves. We will therefore not be as likely to experience awkward social interactions.
Interestingly, the word awkward comes from a word meaning “turned the wrong way.” I’ve found that when I am in situations or conversations that feel uncomfortable, it may be that my focus is “turned the wrong way” from what would be most loving and satisfying. I may be focused on myself—on a desire to feel validated or liked, understood or appreciated, rather than to connect meaningfully with people in the way that best supports them.
The writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, speak to me about this topic in a way that I find stirring. She writes, for instance: “In obedience to the divine nature, man’s individuality reflects the divine law and order of being. How shall we reach our true selves? Through Love. The Principle of Christian Science is Love, and its idea represents Love” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 104 ).
I’ve found that when I endeavor to focus on Love, God, as the source of my identity and the identity of all those around me, I am less inclined to be nervous about social situations. I stop dreading conversations that could be considered awkward. This approach has been freeing and strengthening in many contexts.
At one point, I felt my life had been a bit too secluded, and I wanted to challenge myself to have more natural social interactions. I realized I had become somewhat anxious about meeting people, and I wanted to interact more naturally with others. A series of events inspired me to explore the world of swing dancing. This is not something I would have expected to want to try. While I had
always loved to dance, I had little experience dancing with a partner and felt nervous about the prospect. Going into my first dance felt a bit scary, but I decided to enter with the simple motive of loving others.
While I didn’t become an expert at the dance steps overnight or get asked to dance for every song, I ended up thoroughly enjoying the evening, and the social experiences that resulted were satisfying and joyful beyond anything I had envisioned. I interacted with people with a large range of dance ability and styles as well as ages, backgrounds, and levels of social ease, but I rarely had a dance that wasn’t fun. It was exhilarating to take my focus off myself and seek to connect with others in ways that made them feel valued and cared for.
Christ Jesus was in some situations that we might today refer to as potentially “socially awkward”: a woman in a crowd urgently reaching out for healing; a father begging him to heal his son because his disciples had not been successful; a woman brought to him for punishment after being caught in the act of adultery; another woman of questionable morals who intruded on a high-class dinner party and started to wash his feet with her tears.
But Jesus was so clear about his mission to love and heal that we wouldn’t think to connect him or his experiences with awkwardness. It was the Christ—the power of God—that animated him, that enabled him to know how to respond lovingly in each case. This Christly power is with each of us, too, in all our social situations.
Jesus said that his purpose was to give people “a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10, New Living Translation). What if we approached every interaction with that goal, to support others in having a life that brings fulfillment? We can do that by following Jesus’ example of bringing healing to others in whatever way it is needed at any given moment.
At the end of the podcast with Drs. Brown and Murthy, Dr. Murthy shared that he’s never written a prescription for anything that equals what love can do. In closing, he said: “All of us have the power to be healers because all of us have the power to love. . . . As I imagine a world with healers, I see endless possibilities of what we can build, what we can fix, and ultimately what we can all be together.”
Shifting our focus from ourselves to love for others can take us far beyond just averting awkward situations. We may not be able to avoid interactions that feel uncomfortable or unwelcome, but we can aspire to be healers in every situation. This effort can bring deep connections that support a struggling world as we live in a way that shows that everyone has the right to feel fulfilled and connected, knowing they can’t be separated from divine Love. There’s nothing awkward about that.