One of my coworkers is back from his tour as a Marine in Afghanistan. It's pretty exciting to having him back, especially now that we're on our small group of summer staff and spend most of our time selling computers, as opposed to fixing them. When the phones aren't ringing we have a fair amount of downtime, which is occasionally spent standing around chit-chatting, as opposed to being productive. And so I am explaining why I didn't make it out to the store's most recent bowling night: "I know you guys think I'm a loser, but I usually have plans Friday nights."
The Marine chimes in from over at the desk, "Hey! I don't think that, don't lump me in with these [other people]." And then the purchasing manager pauses. "Just so you know, I hold you in high regard."
This surprises me, because this is the guy who sat radiating discomfort as I shared the gospel with him. This is the guy who has a Darwin fish on the back of his car and who is anxious to change the subject whenever religion comes up. Even though we get along great, I had assumed our differences were a wee bit insurmountable. Still, before I can even process the compliment, the Marine pipes up with an effective piece of interpersonal communication, "So do I, but when you don't do stuff with us, it makes me feel like you don't like us."
And this hits my ears with a crack, like a ball colliding with a baseball bat, distilling each moment I've ever felt like an outsider at my job, every time I've wondered why I am not quite as present at work like I think I ought to be. Here it is, why they don't confide in me, why they're super polite around me and why they coddle me. Every party and bowling night and Dunkin run and pool day that I've blown off stands in evidence of my guilt. I don't do stuff with these people. I act like I don't like them.
But, I do like these people.
How do I show it to them?
On the one hand, I don't think I've done wrong by not putting myself in situations where people are getting high and sloppy drunk. I don't feel any shame in passing on las pachangas where it's hard to guarantee any quality interactions anyway. On the other hand, when they invite me time after time after time to this or that and I never make an appearance, what does that say? That I don't like them. That I'm not interested in hanging out with that. That I don't care.
And that's not what I want my actions to be saying.
The trouble is that fatal flaw of mine. I have this problem not just at work, but with most of my human interactions. The inward focus. The self-absorption. The indulgent insecurity. My standoffishness is with me like my shadow is. It takes effort, so much effort to reach outside myself, that in my laziness I resort to passive interaction. I react instead of initiate. I make them cookies once a week and hope that's enough. I don't know how to get close to people, especially people who I see as so different from me.
I hate that these words from a coworker that struck me over the head won't magically change the way I act. It's not going to instantly melt my icy exterior and make me a bubbly and affirming coworker. I hate that sanctification take more than just conviction and revelation. But I have to believe that there is grace for this. That I can prioritize making it to bowling night. That I can be involved in their lives. We don't have to be BFFs. But I need to keep finding ways to show them that I care. And maybe they'll see Jesus in m.