I took a deep breath and pushed open the glass door to the church lobby. It had been a discouraging week: My dating relationship had ended, and my roommate had moved out. And since I was new to town, I was attending yet another new church where I didn’t know anyone.
I felt extremely alone and very single.
Stopping at the coffee station, I picked up a paper cup and began to fill it. I said a silent prayer: God, can you help me find a familiar person?
A little game to help
Finding a “familiar person” is a strategy I’ve used for years. When I’m going into a new situation where I don’t know anyone, I pray and ask God to help me find someone familiar.
What constitutes “familiar” varies greatly. Sometimes it’s a small thing. Once, while nervously attending a small group for the first time, I noticed that the girl next to me wore a pair of very unique earrings that my high school best friend would have loved.
At other times, the connection is uncanny. On the first day of an important internship, I walked into a meeting with my supervisor, palms sweating. But as he began to speak, I relaxed as I realized he had the same thin-rimmed glasses, haircut, and kind personality as my college violin professor.
This game I play in new environments may sound odd, but I’ve found it accomplishes several things. First, it keeps my mind off myself. Instead of worrying about how I look or act, I focus on observing others. Second, it gives me confidence; after all, if someone is familiar, they aren’t a stranger anymore.
Finally and most importantly, this strategy lessens my “fear of man” as referenced in Proverbs 29:25. Think about it this way: Why can you talk confidently to your best friend but struggle to introduce yourself to the stranger at church? Usually, it’s because you “know” how to talk to your best friend, while the stranger seems intimidating. But since Genesis 1:27 says that all humans are made in the image of God, there’s really not that much difference between your best friend and a stranger.
We’re all just humans
Finding familiar attributes between people reminds me that every person I meet is simply another human filled with joy, anger, sadness, and every other emotion common to man. Many verses in the Bible illustrate this. Proverbs 22:2 says, “Rich and poor meet together; the Lord is the maker of them all.” Galatians 3:28-29 says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you all are one in Christ Jesus.” And of course, Romans 3:23 reminds us that, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
As I walked into the church service alone that day, I chose a seat near the back. I took a sip of coffee and noticed a girl sitting a few seats down from me. She was tying her hair up into a ponytail.
I glanced over and smiled at her; she smiled back. I introduced myself, and we talked for a few minutes. That’s when it hit me: Her mannerisms, brown hair and confident personality reminded me of a girl named Lauren, who I grew up going to church with.
The realization immediately filled me with comfort. And when that new friend, Kelsey, invited me to go to lunch, I accepted with confidence. After all, it was kind of like going to lunch with my old friend.
Moving to a new place
A couple years after I met Kelsey, I got married. I figured once I had a husband, I could put my “familiar person game” to rest. After all, I’d never have to go places alone again, right?
Not really. While I enjoy having a default “date” to events, due to busy schedules and my husband’s shift work, I often still find myself alone in unfamiliar places. Last year, after we moved, my husband was at work and I was unpacking boxes. I thought about how overwhelmed I was with the prospect of meeting our new neighbors when our black Labrador bounded across the yard onto our neighbor’s property. Groaning, I ran after him, lamenting that I was dealing with this on my own. Our neighbor, whom I hadn’t met, was in her yard tending to some flowers.
“Hey there,” I said, breathing hard from running. “So sorry about the dog.” I rolled my eyes and grabbed him by his collar.
“Oh, it’s totally fine, sweetheart,” she smiled, wiping her hands on her pants. “We’re used to dogs around here.” As she looked at me with kind eyes, I realized she was another familiar person: Her distinct speaking style and gentle smile reminded me so much of my Aunt Tonia, someone I love and adore. I smiled back and led our dog to our house.
When God shows me a familiar person, I’m so grateful. But the truth is, sometimes He doesn’t. Sometimes, as I’m walking into a new small group or a new situation, I don’t see anyone remotely familiar.
In those moments, I close my eyes and remember this unchanging truth: Jesus — my friend, my Lord, my Savior, my ultimate comfort — is always with me. He says, “Fear not, for I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10). And His peace is all the familiarity I really need.
Copyright 2023 Kathryn Andersen. All rights reserved.