I was newly married and new to the world of ladies' Bible studies, women's fellowship events, and the unspoken rules which govern them (of which I am still largely unaware). I was invited to a luncheon at a wonderful, older woman's house along with about eight other young ladies. And I went.
The luncheon was a lovely affair where we sat around a large dining room table and shared a meal while chatting amiably amongst ourselves. Even as a relative newcomer to the group, I felt at ease and had a good time. Until, that is, the hostess of the party announced the next item on our agenda.
"I thought we could do an encouragement circle next," she said. "Wouldn't that be nice?"
An encouragement WHAT? Sharp, heavy rocks of dread immediately filled my stomach. As the hostess explained how it was going to go, my trepidation grew exponentially.
"We'll go around the circle," she said. "Whoever's turn it is, the rest of the group will share encouraging words about that person. You can share what you like about them, or what you've learned from them, or what good things you see God doing in their life."
My heart raced. I'm the daughter of a Dutchman, I thought. A Dutch farmer, no less. I don't just (shudder, gulp) share feelings. Not to mention that, contrary to the parts of my personality that suggest otherwise, I'm actually an introvert at heart. And what did I expect anyone to say about me anyway? I was well aware the list of my positive qualities was not very long.
This was my worst nightmare.
There was no way out, however. I clutched the edge of the table and tried to ignore the churning in my stomach. Then, it happened.
"Katie," our hostess said, and the blood froze in my veins. "You can be first."
I'm sure my eyes were as big as balloons as the hostess invited everyone else at the table to turn their attention to me and share their encouraging words. I was greeted by silence. Silence, people. Complete and utter silence. I shifted in my seat. I forced myself to smile. What did I expect? I didn't have much to offer as a person and these people hadn't known me that long anyway. More silence.
"It's okay," I finally said, looking around the table, trying to put up a brave front. "You don't have to."
My words must've broken the spell because suddenly a couple people were willing to share.
"You're funny," one said.
"You always make me laugh," shared another.
Okay. Then the hostess called the name of the lady to my left and it became her turn. Relieved, I loosened my grip on the table. Beautiful and heartfelt words and stories were shared as the circle continued, but one thought nagged at my mind: Is that all I am? Funny? Is that all I have to offer?
It's difficult to explain what happened next. It still makes me cringe. I guess I thought one of the ways to prove I wasn't just funny, but also kind and considerate, was to get out of my comfort zone and offer encouragement to one of the other ladies. I guess I thought I knew how to do that. I was wrong.
The last woman's name was called and the encouragement began. This woman was someone I really looked up to and admired, so I didn't think I'd have any trouble sharing a few words of praise. So I opened my mouth. What I wanted to say was that this woman positively shined with natural beauty that didn't depend on what she was wearing or whether she had makeup on or anything like that. She just exuded beauty and grace in every circumstance. That's what I meant to say.
"You are beautiful even when your clothes aren't," is what came out.
Another awkward silence ensued as the implications of my words sank in. The woman looked down self-consciously at her outfit and I sat there with my mouth hanging open, trying to think of something else to say.
"I think it's time to wrap it up," our hostess said.
Eleven years have passed since that fateful day. I've replayed it in my mind over and over, wishing I could have a do-over. Wishing for a different outcome. But as painful as the whole thing was, part of me is glad it happened, because as a direct result of that encouragement circle I have striven to not only get better at praising and building others up, but also to become someone who has more than just humor to offer. I realized I LOVED making people laugh and I loved being funny, but I wanted more.
The circle of doom, as I now call it, forced me to take a good, hard look at my heart and decide what I wanted to be known for...what qualities I wanted the world to see in me. And then I had to go about developing them. I'm still working on that part.
Maybe you've had a "circle of doom" moment in your life that caused you to reevaluate your character or your trajectory. If so, I'd love to hear about it. If not, imagine me sitting there, with all eyes on me and waiting for someone to speak, and ask yourself, "What would the circle say about me?" Then try not to throw up.
And one last thing: if you ever invite me to participate in another encouragement circle, don't be surprised if I run away.