A little while ago, I wrote a blog about what it has looked like to grow up as “the quiet girl.” I left the piece somewhat inconclusive. Here’s some light and truth for us quiet folk.
For most of my life, I have used “shyness” and “quietness” interchangeably. The words seemed married, in my mind—bark of the same tree, blossoming the same fruit. Yet I undoubtedly use them differently. When I feel favorably disposed to think myself reticent, I call it quietness. When I feel ashamed, I name it shyness.
I was at a friend’s party recently, and my shyness commanded my actions like clockwork. Friends huddled in groups to talk; I awkwardly hovered alone. Even now I feel uncomfortable thinking about it: the way shyness dictates my actions and feeling, and the growing, incessant desire to root my identity in something else.
When the high school “shy girl” identity threatens to color my adult self, I start to feel panicky. I start to scheme ways I can be more outgoing, or present myself in a more adventurous, daring light. It’s amazing the things we think will set us free.
As the root of shyness has worked itself out in my life, I have come to see the difference between it and quietness. Shyness roots itself in fear. Deep down, through various layers of soil—of insecurities, of doubts, of lies—it finds bedrock by cracking into our identity. Though shyness might seem a harmless, weak word, the root works at the rock over time and gently taps through. And we find that we believe (deep, deep down) that we are—at the soul of us—shy. We believe there’s no hope for it. That, standing in a room full of people, various groups laughing and sectioned off with their backs turned away from us, we must stand alone. We cannot break in—why? Because we are shy.
It may be the most debilitating word I know.
Quietness, I am realizing, is so different. And so sweetly freeing. And, what is more, it is confidant.
True and unwavering confidence comes from faith in God. This faith works itself out in our lives in myriad ways, and not least on the list is confidence. Finding (and believing) approval from God creates a dynamic shift in our perspectives. When we constantly work for others’ approval, we have to constantly be looking inward, at ourselves. We’re judging every word and movement we make under the law of people’s approval. When this is traded for confidence in God’s approval, we have capacity to look to others’ needs.
This roots a quiet person in peace. It speaks the healing truth that words do not fix all problems, not all moments need speeches and—most importantly—if I have nothing to say, the void does not need to be anxiously filled with something, anything, but can be waited out with patience.
It reminds me, in the midst of a party, that there are other people in this room. There are people who need a listening ear. There are people who have joys and struggles to share. And if, past all that, I still end up standing alone, that’s okay, too. I have peace in His presence.
We know God highly values a “gentle and quiet spirit,” (1 Peter 3:4). We’re told to temper the number of our words in His presence (Ecclesiastes 5:2). We’re reminded to “be quick to listen, slow to speak,” (James 1:19). So we know that quietness can be a wonderful gift. Not a burden, not an identity, but a sweet and unassuming gift to those around us.
If, like me, you find yourself much more rooted in shyness than quietness, I pray you won’t feel defeated. That kind of thing only leads to fear and more of what we most don’t want. Instead, seek God. Look up, when shyness most prods at your identity, and know that He is there. He is what we need. He is who approves us.