Sunday, January 28, 2007

Building a support network

Q: Why do I need to build a support network?
A: Are you looking for a better job? Are you alone? Are you living a full life? Do you feel like you are making a difference? Are you shy? Do you have a good circle of friends? Are you abused? Could you use a little feedback? Are you facing difficulty? Is your marriage in trouble? Are you trying to lose weight, kick a bad habit, overcome an addiction? Are you a parent? Okay, are you human? God made us for human connection. Deep down inside, we all know it and need it. If you've never had many friends or supportive fellowship, this feels uncomfortable. But it still is a human need.

Q: How do you build a support network?
A: The first thing to do is stick out your hand. You have to meet people.
This can be a very scary thing for shy folks, but it's a terrifying act for abused individuals. The third degree isn't a joke. (Where have you been? Who was he? Why were you talking to her?) Harsh questions cause so much stress that it's easier to shut down. Don't. Don't let the abuser take away the most natural and basic need you have-human connection. Aloneness equals vulnerability. Fear allowed to run rampant over your needs equals vulnerability. Choosing to be vulnerable or choosing to make a move toward victory-your choice.

Q: How do I meet people?
A: Everywhere you go and everything you do puts you around people. Begin to practice the simplest things. Smile. Say hello. Shake hands. Tell them your name and get theirs. Some people can't do this without tremendous fear. So every day, just try one thing. Then force yourself to go one step further. Do this every day. If you don't feel confident, act confident. If you don't feel comfortable, act comfortable.

Q: How do I "act" confident and comfortable?
A: This is really the "trick" that most people sluff off as impossible because they think acting is what Hollywood does . But it's the easiest. Watch other people. See how they act and act like that. Is there someone you think is confident? Analyze what they do and do it. Remember this old phrase, "Fake it until you make it." You think you can't? Then what are you doing right now when you pretend everything is okay and it's really not? Confidence isn't built in a day or a week. It's gaining trust in yourself. It's finding out that you are valuable and worthwhile. When you act like you are valuable suddenly other people begin to see you as valuable.

Q: How does it work?
A: Think about an Olympic athlete. The most critical thing for an Olympian to do is envision their success. They rehearse it mentally hundreds of times a day. This is what you need to do to succeed in gaining confidence. Envision yourself as confident. What will that look like? How will you speak and act? If you see someone who appears confident to you, then take that behavior and imagine doing it yourself.

Q: How do I tell the difference between confidence and cockiness?
A: Great question! A confident person is one who wants to share and help others. A peaceful and comfortable person wants to add value to other people. A cocky person is someone who wants to show off. A show off is really just selfish at heart. They spend a lot of time trying to impress you and talking about themself. You really can tell the difference. Start noticing both types. Which would you prefer to spend time with? Which would you rather be?

Q: How long does it take?
A: A day to start. It takes a lifetime to practice. Confident people aren't fear free. They just do it anyway. Barbara Streisand is one of the most beloved and well-known performers in the world. She once said she threw up before every performance from stage fright. Moses begged the Lord to take away the burden of speaking to the Pharoah out of his fear. Esther prayed and fasted before she went publicly to her husband in fear of her life. My knees shake like mad every time I sing as a liturgist. You're in good company:-)

Q: What's my next step?
A: Do it again. Every time you go back to the same store, the same library, the same restaurant smile and say hi to the clerk, bank teller, librarian. Begin to get to know the new people in your life little by little. Learn something new about the people in your world each time you meet them. Ask a simple or common question like, "How are you?" "You had a cold, are you better?" "What school do your kids go to?" Anything that comes to mind in the normal day-to-day passing. Practice some common questions as you think about the people you'll see each day. This helps the question come to mind naturally instead of the big blank. I learned to smile at myself in the mirror until smiles came all the time. Look for reasons to smile in your daily walk. Share those smiles with someone else. Did you see a child laugh? Why? Can you smile with her mother over that little laugh? Can you comment on how precious that moment was and then let the mommy expand on her feelings? What about any situation? If you see another person cares deeply about something, mention what you admire in it. Then simply listen to them expound on it.

Q: Then what?
A: As you find things in common, build on them. Someone's kids swim with yours, or play basketball, or you like the same author then draw them into a conversation at one of those events. If you can't think of something, use this time to grant a compliment. Make it sincere, but give one.

Q: Why a compliment?
A: Because everyone needs uplifting moments in their day. It shows you care, you noticed, and that you are aware of them as a person. This doesn't happen often enough. We're so worried about how we look, act, and dress that we forget the world isn't about us. Our job is to add value to those around us.

Q: What do you mean "add value to those around us?"
A: Model caring behavior toward others because we were put here to please God. When we care about other people, we become the hands of the Lord. When we speak kindness, joy, uplifting thoughts to the folks in our circle then we mirror the love of God. This is how we make a difference in the world and take the spotlight off our nervous little selves. Instead of feeling like the magnifying glass is on us and trying to hide, we open up to becoming the binoculars for Christ. He can zero in and help someone else because we allow Him to use us to be His mouth, eyes, and hands. Speak kindly, see other's needs, and offer a hand whenever possible.

Q: What difference will all this make? It seems like a lot of work.
A: When I started doing this twelve years ago, I found God blessed me with a whole new circle of friends. Friendship that isn't one-sided. People who cared about me because I cared about them first. Hmm, sound familiar? The Lord models this for us, "We loved because He first loved us." 1 John 4:19.

So, my question is...
Are you willing to try? What would your life look like if you added a little bit each day? What will it look like in a year? Would you like new friends? Are you willing to trust the Lord with it?

It's all about building the skills and stepping out in courage.

"Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:3-4
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