If we had to make our relationship with awkwardness Facebook official, we would probably have to choose the “It’s complicated” option. On the one hand, we’re drawn to awkwardness. It’s in the shows we love: The Office, Arrested Development, Parks and Rec, Modern Family, and New Girl. We can’t seem to get enough of awkwardness.
And yet we’re terrified of it, especially of being marked with what my friend Les Newsom calls the new scarlet letter: “A” for awkwardness. One of our greatest fears is leaving a party only to have friends lock eyes with each other and complain about how awkward we were.
Maybe we haven’t yet realized we’re both drawn to awkwardness and afraid of it because deep down we’re all awkward people. Just think about the last time you were in an elevator. Everyone’s awkwardness shines a little brighter in an elevator.
Revealing Our Cracks
I probably should define awkwardness. What I mean is there’s a gap between what you are and what you should be, a disconnect between the real you and the ideal you. What awkward moments (and people) do is simply to shine the spotlight on that gap, revealing the cracks in our humanity, no matter how shiny and cool we may seem on the outside.
A few years ago I met with a student who had lived most of his life with a porn addiction. Over coffee he told me that sex, much less pornography, was simply not something that ever got talked about in church. The sad thing is he grew up in one of those gospel-centered, published-author, preachers-whose-podcasts-you-download kind of churches. His family felt the same way.
What he said nearly broke my heart: “Because no one ever talked about porn I felt like it must be the worst sin in the world, and so I was so scared and ashamed to tell anyone about it.” What my student was describing was shame.
One of the saddest realities of life is the things we need to talk about the most we tend to talk about the least. Shame is often the culprit. Author and speaker Brené Brown likes to say that shame only needs three things to survive: silence, secrecy, and judgment. If you look behind your awkward moments, you will almost always find shame. And instead of uncovering the sources of our shame to each other, we hide.
Longing to Be Found
When my youngest daughter was three, she was the worst hide-and-seek player of all time. She would find her hiding spot, typically a closet upstairs, close herself in with the doors not quite shut, and then loudly begin to say “In here! I’m in here!” until someone found her. She loved to hide, but she wanted to be found.
So do we. We love to hide from each other. We hide our flaws, our defects, and anything we feel will make us look like we don’t have it all together. We hide how we’re really doing, even from our closest friends and family. We’re afraid the person who finds us will meet us with condemnation and judgment. So we lock ourselves away, resolving to never share the things in our lives that are killing us: broken relationships with parents, lust that’s blossoming into addiction, depression that’s overwhelming us to the point of wanting to end it all, a relationship with food that makes us hate and do harmful things to our bodies.
But we still long to be found. It’s why websites like PostSecret and Tumblr exist. They’re places where we can talk freely about our struggles without running the risk of being judged by our family, friends, or potential employers. The problem with doing vulnerability online with people who barely know us versus doing vulnerability in real life with friends and family is it never quenches the thirst we have to be both known and loved. Being found involves both: being really known and truly loved. As Tim Keller has observed:
To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.
Awkwardness is an invitation to be found. It’s an invitation to vulnerability, and vulnerability is where intimacy and connection are born. It’s also an invitation to throw yourself on the grace that makes vulnerability possible at all. At the end of the day, awkward people are the only kind of people God loves; because awkward people are the only kind of people there are.
Resign Yourself to the Awkwardness of Life
One of my favorite lines in movie history comes from a fortune teller in Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise. Jesse (played by Ethan Hawke) and Celine (played by Julie Delpy) have met by chance on a train, and after an incredibly engaging conversation, spend the night walking the streets of Vienna, where they run into a fortune teller. They jokingly decide it would be fun to have her tell their fortune. What she says is this: “Resign yourself to the awkwardness of life.”
Resign yourself to the awkwardness of talking about where you are, not where you’ve been pretending to be. Resign yourself to the awkwardness of being vulnerable about your struggles with close friends and family. Resign yourself to the awkwardness of God’s work of grace in you to begin to close that gap while simultaneously making you able to talk about it. Resign yourself to the awkwardness of life.
Don’t waste your awkwardness. It may be the very place you learn to be vulnerable and thus experience the grace of God.
Editors’ note: This is an except from Sammy Rhodes’s new book This Is Awkward: How Life's Uncomfortable Moments Open the Door to Intimacy and Connection (Thomas Nelson, 2016).