I was “the new girl” at my church in Longwood, Florida. I wanted to get to know people and make friends, but felt my usual anxiety about introducing myself and striking up conversations. Our Women’s Ministry advertised their annual “Movies and Munchies” event and I thought it might be a good opportunity to meet new people. So on a hot, drizzly Sunday afternoon, I went to the event. My heart was racing as I got out of the car. Once inside, I felt shy and embarrassed being there by myself and quickly found a seat, feeling rather invisible. I thought to myself that even if no one talks to me, at least we would be watching a movie.

A few minutes later, my pastor’s wife Connie walked up to me. Lots of women had been vying for her attention and excitedly greeting her. “Is this seat taken? I would love to sit next to you,” she said cheerfully. I said I would love that as she sat down. She stayed with me for the whole event and we had wonderful conversations, even throughout the movie! She was the hands and feet of Jesus that day and made me feel like a VIP through that simple act of kindness. I went home smiling. She and my pastor were pivotal in introducing my son and me to others and made us feel so welcome as part of our church family when we were new.

I’ve always been an introverted person, shy even. It was really hard on me as a child and teen because I had a lot I wanted to share with friends and didn’t have a way to express it. Even as an adult, it can still be a challenge to find ways to reach others. But when I became a mom, I knew I needed people more than ever and that I wanted my son to grow up with a loving, supportive community of friends, too. I’ve come a long way in my journey of overcoming shyness and forging meaningful connections, and want to help others do the same.

Whether you are an introvert or an extrovert, we all have a God-given need to connect with others and feel loved. Since we are all created uniquely, we also have different styles of connecting and relating to others — and that’s okay! The key difference between introverts and extroverts is that socializing tends to decrease the introverts’ energy while extroverts gain their energy from it. That doesn’t mean introverts don’t like socializing; it just takes more out of them and they need to recharge after social events. Shyness is different and is more related to self-esteem. It means that the person is self-conscious, anxious and/or fearful of social situations. It is possible to be both shy and introverted, but you can also be one and not the other. Whatever your social style, remember that we are all longing for meaningful relationships. If you are struggling to reach out, it’s likely that the person next to you might be feeling the same way. Here are some tried and true tips for making and keeping meaningful connections:

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

When I attended my church event as the new girl, it would have been easier to stay home and not make the effort. By going, I left my comfort zone and felt the expected discomfort, but it was worth it in the end. By regularly stretching our comfort zones, even by doing small things that are out of the ordinary for us, socializing gets easier. Pretty soon, your comfort zone will be bigger and so will your social connections.

Remember Your Value

God created us to be happy, healthy and whole. Having meaningful connections with others is part of living a CREATION Life of wholeness. If you ever start to feel that you’re not good enough to talk to or be friends with someone, remember that you too are a valuable person with so much to add. If you can see value in others by the fact that you want to be friends with them, then remember that you are valuable too, that others see your value, and that God gave it to you. By keeping this truth in mind, it will be easier to speak up and reach out. You matter!

Draw Upon Your Strengths

Not everyone is a born conversationalist. It’s a skill that can be learned and practiced. If you prefer to communicate in other ways, tap into your natural strengths and abilities. Then, even if you are on the shy side, people will see and appreciate you for who you are. If you are a good listener, focus on listening and encouraging friends. Jump into the conversation when you can. If you express yourself better in writing, music or artwork, connect with others by writing a letter or creating something special just for them. The idea is to remember that we all have different strengths, gifts and communication styles, so use them well!

Express Gratitude

Letting others know you appreciate them is a sure way to build connections. If someone makes a point to welcome you, include you, spend time with you or do something special for you, make sure they know you are grateful for their efforts and who they are. It’s always the right time to let someone know how much you appreciate them whether it’s through a phone call, email or text. You can even get creative and do something for them in return.

Be Vulnerable

It’s okay to let those around you know if you’re feeling nervous or shy. Something as simple as, “This is such a great group. I can’t help but feel a little nervous,” will do. Others will respect your discomfort and honesty, and will most likely want to make you feel more comfortable and welcome. By showing your vulnerability, you are connecting and being human.

Give to Others

Whenever I start to feel like I’m sinking too far into my comfort zone, I make a point to find out who around me is in need. If a friend is not feeling well or going through a hard time, I make them homemade bread with a meal and deliver it to them. By reaching in to the life of another and their needs, we are better able to “get out of ourselves” and any isolation we may feel. Whenever I give of myself, I instantly feel more connected to others and the world around me. Some ideas are making meals, crafting something with your hands, babysitting for a neighbor, calling a friend or volunteering. Even sitting next to someone who is sitting alone and talking to them, like Connie did for me, can move mountains for someone else.

We can all play a role in not only building our own connections, but in helping others build theirs too, by building them up. In all of your interactions, be the hands and feet of Jesus.

Written by Jaclyn King