I was introduced to someone over dinner at a friend’s house the other week. As the conversation turned to our respective life situations, it turned out this guy was walking a similar path to me, albeit a few years behind. Call me arrogant, but I was keen to offer him the sagacity of experience.
But as we discussed the various decisions that lay before him, it became obvious we had fairly differing priorities. And so we were faced with a dilemma: do we carry on this line of conversation, aware of our differences, each trying to persuade the other of the validity of our particular choices, or do we abort and move on, very aware that it’s become ‘a little bit awkward’.
We went for the latter.
As I debriefed with my friend afterwards, one of the first phrases that came up was: “Well, that was awkward”. If I’d been on Twitter it would have probably been #awks.
And that’s the way us millennials roll, apparently. ‘That awkward moment’ has become part and parcel of our cultural vocabulary. Zac Efron even managed to get himself in a film with that title back in January – although it pretty much bombed. Awkward.
Everything is awkward.
But what if behind the frequency with which we use the term, there’s also a cultural change going on, in how we live, relate and interact?
That’s what Jeff Bethke, author of Jesus > Religion, puts his finger on with his latest video, below. He reckons we need to stop avoiding supposedly ‘awkward’ situations, just because they’re a tad uncomfortable, and instead risk a little and learn a bit more about ourselves and relationships in the process. Have a watch:
Now, as I thought about this, I reckon there’s a bit of variation in how the term is deployed. For example, sometimes it’s straight-up fear of what other people will think of us. The classic Buzzfeed example is that you accidentally press the Stop button on the bus, and you’re so concerned with it being awkward that you actually get off then, even though it’s not your stop.
Then there’s the situations where we’re just a bystander, but for some reason we still feel the need to label the situation as awkward. Perhaps we overhear someone complaining about their food at a restaurant. Really it should hardly should concern us., yet we still label it awkward. Maybe there’s something about seeing other people go through discomfort that makes us fear for ourselves – it shatters our illusion of a world of acceptance.
And then there’s situations where we’re more directly on the receiving end. Perhaps someone’s confronted us on something, or we’re in a conversation and we become aware there’s a fairly surmountable difference of outlook going on. And so we classify the situation as awkward.
OK, there’s going to be situations where we’re uneasy or self-conscious. But the question is: what do we do next? And all too often it seems that our strategy is to withdraw as quickly as possible and later defend ourselves, shifting the blame with the rationale: “Well, that was awkward”. We disengage from moments, simply because they’ve become uncomfortable.
Surely one of the consequences of all this is we’ll end up with conversations and relationships where nothing of significance is ever allowed to be put on the table. Discomfort is a feeling, and one that we should expect to feel a fair bit in life. But awkward? Well that’s a get-out clause.
My take is that at the heart of ‘awkward’ is the issue of acceptance. We’re a generation that wants to be accepting, but the flip-side of that is that we’re pretty hooked on being accepted. We hyper-analyse anyone who shows any sign of intolerance, but we also hyper-manage our own image through social media.
And in all of this, it’s worth asking where God is. Ed Welch defines the “fear of man” as being much more than being afraid of people. It’s holding someone in awe, being controlled or mastered by someone and needing/over-trusting people. In essence, it’s to “replace God with people”. We’ve lost sight of the vertical and become consumed by the horizontal.
But it’s only through Jesus we find the acceptance we’re all desperately looking for. We’re laid bare, but we’re simultaneously clothed through the assurance of grace. And as we’re rooted in that identity, I reckon we can go on to embrace the “awkward”. The apostle Paul speaks of Christian relationships being marked by “truthing in love” in Ephesians 4:15 – 25. Truth and love go hand-in-hand, rather than being seen as incompatible.
And sometimes that will mean we run into disapproval and conflict for how we live and speak. But, hey, that’s OK. Eolene Boyd-Macmillan and Sara Savage speak of “bringing the C-word in from the cold” and so “challenging, exposing and discarding the normal of niceness that rejects conflict as ‘non-Christian'”. Living for the kingdom of Jesus is different to living for my kingdom of comfort.
We can resist the easy ride, and as one of my friends likes to say, “grasp the nettle”. In other words, sometimes – read: often – the loving thing to do is often what at first seems the uncomfortable thing to do. All of life is an arena for discipleship, and in those ‘awkward moments’, God wants to do a work in us, as well as through us. Isn’t this the more courageous way? Isn’t this to live with integrity?
(Image: micadew via Flickr)