Two weeks ago, my company had its annual awards reception. This is the time of year when people get recognized for their years of service on behalf of the company.
I knew everyone at the reception and consider myself on good terms with a number of people there. With free food and drink the reception is one of those things everyone looks forward to attending . . .Everyone except for me.
Social gatherings generally make me feel uncomfortable. I don’t know what to say to people. I feel awkward. Small talk never really seems small to me. That’s me. So, I usually look for the first possible chance to leave. It’s not because I don’t like people. It’s not because I don’t like free food.
You see, I’m an introvert.
When I attended a Southern Baptist Church, being a good Christian and church member meant making every person coming to church feel welcome. How do you make people feel welcome? When you see a newcomer at Bible Study, you introduce yourself, you talk to them and you show an interest in their life. You talk to people and you’re social. You had to be an extrovert. In fact, it often seemed to me that churches have a special kind of love for extroverts. These are the people who love to share their faith, and who make everyone feel welcome and who participate in every event.
If you’re an introvert, how does this make you feel? How does it feel knowing that your closeness to God is measured in part by your ability to engage in conversation and be “social?”
As an introvert, if I wasn’t engaging in conversation with total strangers I felt guilty, inadequate and unspiritual.
Thankfully, this perception has changed. I distinctly remember a turning point for me. I was at a church event several years ago, and I felt the freedom to simply be present. I didn’t have say anything. I didn’t have to engage in conversation. I didn’t have to feel insecure or judged for remaining silent. I didn’t have to worry or be afraid someone might call me anti-social or worse. God still loved me.
There is a place for me in the church as an introvert. I am a quiet, contemplative person, who is socially awkward, who often does not know what to say, and lacking anything to say, will sometimes remain quiet. When I do talk and say something, I don’t say it because of a desperate need to fill the silence (on those occasions you might have a hard time getting me to shut up). In those moments when I speak, it’s because I want to say something, and this makes it more meaningful.
In fact, contemplatives such as the Jesuits and Benedictines have historically played an important part in the church. These were the people who prayed and meditated on the word of God. They were sometimes reclusive and I suppose today some would call them “anti-social.” Nevertheless, in a world of increasingly busy-ness, they were able to experience closeness to God through retreat, solitude, quiet thought and prayer. Perhaps they were not unlike Jesus himself who often liked to go away by himself. Go figure.
More recently, it seems many books being written on introverts. Susan Cain recently wrote a book on introverts aptly named Quiet (and did a wonderful Ted Talk which I link to below). Adam McHugh even wrote a book on Introverts in the Church. It seems like being an introvert is “in.” The cool person is no longer the extrovert who is able to quickly make friends and attract people with his easy demeanor and clever wit, instead the person you want to be and know is the quiet and thoughtful introvert who brings his own gifts to the table. It seems to me this a necessary corrective which has been a long time coming.
Being an introvert is not less than being an extrovert, it’s just different. Accepting myself and even accepting my limitations, I’m able to recognize those areas where God has in fact gifted me. Maybe I don’t have the same gifts as an extrovert, but it’s okay. I am different from you, just as you are different from me, and this is the way God made us both.