A few years ago, I had this new coworker who came off as weird — really weird, and within a couple of weeks of his arrival, a lot of people in the office were making comments about him behind his back.
I didn’t gossip about him, but when a coworker told me the guy was getting on everyone’s nerves, it gave me a sense of relief. He was just as annoying to everyone else as he was to me.
One day I had to work with him on a short assignment, and with every passing minute, I was increasingly eager to get away. He kept trying to engage me in scatterbrained chit chat, and even when I tried to keep things focused, he started making all of these awkward observations about his favorite movie. I just gave a tight-lipped smile and looked down, avoiding eye contact.
When I finally got away, my previous evaluation was confirmed: This guy truly was a weirdo.
The Other Weirdo
A couple of days later, I saw my new coworker walking down the hallway and noticed some things I hadn’t seen before.
He looked nervous as he briskly walked back to his office. And when he awkwardly tried to make conversation with other coworkers, he sounded like that kid at school who tries so hard to be cool but just ends up looking desperate. He kind of reminded me of another guy I know very well who sometimes struggles with awkwardness when he’s in threatening social situations: That person is me.
I hate my socially awkward side and I do everything I can to avoid it. And because I’m so sensitive to my own awkwardness, I’m just as sensitive to it in other people — if not more. So basically, looking down on my coworker was my way of making myself feel better by thinking, Thank goodness I’m not like that guy, when actually, under the right circumstances, I can be socially awkward as well.
How Jesus Does it
My attitude towards my coworker began to change as I recognized myself in him and realized he felt just as scared as I do in uncomfortable social situations. But the biggest change came when I began praying for him.
If I saw him in the hallway and felt tempted to evaluate him, I instead asked God to give him peace. When I overheard him nervously talking to another coworker, I prayed that he would be able to find confidence in God’s love for him.
I gradually started looking him in the eye when I saw him and could say hello to him with an effortless smile. Compassionate prayer had begun changing me, regardless of whether my coworker was changing yet.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to grasp how Jesus can love us right now, knowing what He knows about our deep insecurities and darkest thoughts, which are far worse than our occasional bouts with social awkwardness. I think this is one of His secrets: “He lives forever to intercede with God on [our] behalf” (Hebrews 7:25).
When we pray for someone, it changes the way we see them; it opens chambers of grace for them in our hearts. It makes us more like Jesus, who never stops praying for us and therefore never stops loving us.