As a teenager, I dreaded church.
I believed the gospel was true, and I knew that attending church was necessary for me to continue to grow spiritually. But I often felt inadequate.
In my mind, I thought I couldn’t live up to everyone’s expectations of what a good member of the Church should be like (or what I thought everyone’s expectations were). Everyone else seemed to be bubbly, outgoing, eloquent, and always willing to bear testimony or say a prayer. But me? I was quiet and I felt anxious in social situations. So I didn’t feel like I had a light to shine as a member of the Church.
The truth is, there are a lot of members of the Church who are outgoing and enthusiastic. And while that’s a good thing, for a long time, I felt like my more reserved and quiet personality didn’t fit the “mold.” But now I realize that this was so far from the truth.
During college I moved into a new apartment, and my roommate introduced me to her friends in the ward. I immediately felt like I belonged with them because of their love and acceptance they showed me. I felt like they genuinely wanted to get to know me. To my surprise, I felt a great deal of my social anxiety subside.
I realized this sense of belonging didn’t come from a change in scenery, but from a changed perspective. I learned that I don’t have to be outgoing to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is strength in quiet. There is strength in listening and pondering. By recognizing my strengths as a more introverted person and tackling my weaknesses related to social anxiety, I found a middle ground that helped me survive—and even thrive in the gospel.
God has given us different personalities, strengths, and weaknesses for a reason. Someone who is more outgoing might have an easier time participating in class and creating a sense of unity within a ward. And those who are more reserved bear strong testimonies through their actions and commitment to Jesus Christ. They also might be great at reaching out to other quiet individuals.
If you are introverted, know that there is an important place for you in the Church. Both introverted and extroverted personalities reflect qualities of the Savior that we can use to edify one another in the gospel.
One question I asked myself was why I even went to church in the first place. I went to take the sacrament, to learn more about Jesus Christ, and to be worthy of the temple. But the scriptures also tell us that “the body [of the Church] hath need of every member, that all may be edified together” (Doctrine and Covenants 84:110; see also Ephesians 4:12).
While church meetings nourish our own testimonies, I realized that church is not only about me. We individually remember the Savior as we take the sacrament, but we are edified together as we share this ordinance as a congregation.
I was too concerned about what others thought about me and not concerned enough with the principle that should guide us in all our thoughts and actions: love. The prophet Mormon wrote, “I fear not what man can do; for perfect love casteth out all fear” (Moroni 8:16).
That “perfect love” comes from God. If we open ourselves up to feeling that love, we will be less fearful about our own shortcomings about what other people think about us and will be less concerned with our own problems and more willing to extend kindness to others who feel like they don’t belong.
Our duties to love one another and to share the gospel means that we need to form good relationships with others.
We can avoid becoming overwhelmed by focusing on more meaningful interactions with one or two people at a time. Although Jesus Christ taught and healed and served thousands in His mortal ministry, He followed a pattern of ministering to people one by one (see 3 Nephi 11:15; 17:21).
I realized that I don’t have to be best friends with everyone or be the most popular person in the ward. What is most important is not the quantity of my social interaction but the quality of my relationships. Instead of worrying about everyone at once, I just focus on connecting with one person each week at church.
Church is still a challenge sometimes, but as I have gently pushed myself to step outside my comfort zone and overcome my social anxiety, I have felt the Savior’s love for me and for all of His children. I am beginning to find my place. I know I’ve received grace through the Atonement of Jesus Christ to work toward overcoming my weaknesses and to use my strengths to build up the kingdom of God.