Jaren was a good kid. That he almost never got into trouble was proof. The problem was, he never did anything else to attract attention to himself, either. In fact, he hated being the center of attention, so while he was growing up, he didn’t mind that people treated him like he was invisible. Jaren pretty much stayed to himself. It seemed the only time others would notice him was when they had something cruel to say. The one friend he had in school was just as introverted as Jaren was.
There were a few bright spots, though. Jaren was intelligent and a superior student. He was sensitive and always willing to help others. He was athletic, too, a fact that escaped his peers until he tried out for the baseball team. On one occasion, he amazed his classmates with an outstanding performance during an English drama project. Playing a role allowed him temporarily to let go of his inhibitions. Although unrecognized both by himself and the world around him, Jaren was full of hidden treasures. Nevertheless, the majority of the time, he remained quiet and unnoticed.
High school wasn’t much better. The difference was that now, his invisibility started to bother him. He knew some of it was his fault because he was afraid, but he desperately wanted someone, somewhere, to care.
One day, someone did.
While attending a program for the gifted, he was placed in a group with three other students. Never having been around Jaren before, they didn’t have any preconceived notions about him. Perhaps it was the right chemistry of personalities coming together, or maybe it was just getting away from school where he felt he could be different. Whatever the reason, the four of them formed a bond, and for the first time that he could remember, he felt like somebody other than his parents cared about him. That was just enough to help him come out of his shell. What most of us don’t realize is that the expectations we have of others, for better or for worse, can shape how they see themselves and how they behave around others. Someone had finally given Jaren a chance to change. And that’s when he met Jesus.
He always knew about God, although Jaren mostly thought of God as distant and uninterested in him. But one day, the Gospel stories helped him realize that Jesus cared about people in a way he wished someone would care about him. He started to pray, and he came to know that Jesus loved him in a special way, and nothing could come between him and that love. Just like the friendships he had recently formed, except now magnified by a hundred times, he was free to be different, and that’s what he set out to do.
Jaren had always been too scared to ever ask someone out on a date. He was even too afraid to talk to girls. There was somebody he liked, but he had been much too afraid to talk to her. Forcing himself to do what surely could only end in devastating rejection, he tried to start up some conversations. And as he had come to expect, he was completely ignored.
Deeply embarrassed, he was tempted to give up. But God had given him an inner strength and motivation that he had never known before. So he set out to be friends with someone else. It felt like he just jumped off a cliff and he was expecting to land untouched. Yeah, right! But this time, he met someone who felt a lot like he did—like nobody cared, and she said “yes.”
He used to stay to himself a lot. When he sat with other people, they usually treated him like he didn’t exist, anyway. But now he sought out people who he sensed cared about something deeper in life. He would listen carefully and would make himself speak up when opportunities came. He started to make a few more friends.
He was asked to be on stage as part of a school-wide program. Scared to death, he told himself that the worst he could do would be to flub up and look stupid. So what? If Jesus put himself out there to be beat up and crucified, Jaren could put up with making a fool of himself. He spoke slowly and carefully, and his part in the event was a success.
Jaren even got to the point of walking up to people, introducing himself, and starting conversations. Of course, what he really wanted was to just stay to himself. But he forced himself to act in spite of how he felt. Lots of times people were only interested in themselves and ignored him, but Jaren now knew that he wasn’t invisible, so he didn’t quit. It was hard at first, but over time it got easier.
Today, if you met Jaren, you would never suspect any of this. Reaching out to people and forming meaningful relationships have become second nature. Thousands of encounters engaged through sheer determination and love have helped to overcome the old conditioning, all impelled by the love of Christ. It’s not to say that sometimes he still doesn’t feel anxious or like he doesn’t belong, but he has learned to put these aside so he can show others he cares. Then, maybe for someone else, he can make a difference, too.