Many people don’t understand how introverts fit into an active Church. I’m beginning to understand that you can’t have the Church without them (us).
In 2013, I learned more about my personality and how I relate to people than I ever wanted to know. In case you’re curious, here’s the technical breakdown:
On the DISC profile, I’m a CS (Conscientious, Steady).
On the Myers-Briggs, I’m an INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging).
On the Strengths Finder, my top five are Intellection, Connectedness, Input, Developer, and Belief.
From this, you could pinpoint a lot of characteristics about me that are fairly accurate: introvert; predictable; perfectionist; outwardly reserved in most situations, but inwardly very emotive; loyal; detail-oriented; some freaky balance of critic and optimist; planner and organizer; not likely to take risks. You could also figure out that I’ve got a pretty rare personality type. Finally, there is research behind my weirdness.
There are exceptions to all these characteristics and the many more that describe who I am. In fact, understanding my personality better has lent itself to focusing on areas where I can improve and honing the areas toward which I’m inclined. Compared to January 2013, I’m a much more flexible person. My perfectionism continues to dwindle in the time since I graduated college. And I’m getting better (I think) at expressing how I feel to the people in my life, though I have a long way to go.
But I’ll be honest. Introversion is probably my biggest sticking point. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with it. When it comes to being an introvert, especially in the Church, there are multiple voices that tell me how I should deal with my personality. These are the three main ones:
Voice One: “Introvert bad. Extrovert good.” This is what I’ve been taught. This is often what the world says, what the Church says. People who are introverted are selfish, calloused, and passive. Maybe they’re theologians and philosophers, but they don’t do anything with their thoughts. They leave all the work and action to the extroverts. They’re too withdrawn and unfriendly– they set a bad tone for bringing in new people. They don’t participate.
Voice One has me believing that I must fight all natural instincts and be as extroverted as possible, even when it kills me. I should be as friendly as possible, attend every social function, and interrupt people to offer my input. Eventually, I’ll be an extrovert just like everyone else– on the outside, at least.
Voice Two: “Search your feelings, you know it to be true.” This voice would have me give in to the Dark Side of the Force (not that introversion is the Dark Side– that’s what Voice Two makes it). This means I let my natural instincts completely control me until I sink into the life of a hermit. If anyone tries to get me to be social or participate, they’re stepping on my cool vibe and forcing me to be someone I’m not. Therefore, I resent them. And everyone.
Voice Three: “It’s who you are, but it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. You can be an introvert and follow Christ.” This is the wise voice, the one I desperately want to hear. You see, I believe in the Church– philosophically, practically, passionately. I believe in laying myself down for my brothers and sisters. I believe in stepping out to tell and show the world the love of Christ. And while I fail at these goals often, I still endeavor to go after them. Not out of obligation, but because I want to. I believe deeply in their purpose.
That doesn’t mean it’s always easy. Most of the time, it’s not. I envy those extroverts with the gift of evangelism who can talk to anyone about Christ; those encouragers who can light up a friend’s life with just a few words.
I struggle with that stuff. I don’t always want to be friendly or take risks or share personal parts of my life or be social for multiple days in a row. But I do want to love people and let them see that love. In this struggle, the Holy Spirit fights for me. And the more battles we face together, the quicker I am to bust out of my shell and prove that love is a verb. It takes sacrifice, but it’s worth it. It reminds me of a quote I found on a plaque in the woods on my college campus:
“I gladly give up my natural preferences and every day inquire with a willing heart, ‘Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?” —Bishop William Taylor
On the other hand, God gave me this personality and these preferences– I expect He wants me to use them and not ignore them or employ them solely for my personal enjoyment.
There are actually plenty of pros to being an introvert in the Church: I know my limits and how to rest and relax. I am inclined toward times of personal spiritual reflection, and am content being alone with just me and God. I don’t mind spending time reading and studying. I’m a good listener, and I tend to think and process before I speak. I’m observant and insightful; I read people well and can often infer situations before they’re made known. I can deepen friendships and learn ways in which I can grow best through one-on-one conversations or small groups. And in one of the greatest pros of all, I enjoy and excel at written communication.
There are plenty of lies and stereotypes people believe about introverts, and sometimes they’re true. But everyone is different. God has given me the personality He has for a reason. That doesn’t alleviate me of the responsibility to obey Him, even when it’s uncomfortable. Sacrifice is part of the Christian life, no matter where you draw your energy from.
Honestly, I like being an introvert. I like my personality. I feel the most stressed when I feel I can’t be myself. So, below are some confessions about my preferences and tendencies that might help you understand us introverts better. And if you’re an introvert, maybe these will help you remember you’re not alone.
- Small talk is painful.
- In groups, it’s easier to make people laugh than to say something serious.
- “I’m rarely bored alone; I am often bored in groups and crowds.” — Laurie Helgoe
- Being an introvert helps me understand my faith better. I understand a longing for home and the triumph of intimacy.
- My favorite social situation is a long car ride with one person I care about.
- If I share something with you that is important to me, I’m sharing myself. Don’t disregard it.
- I hate it when I just want to talk and people try to fix me.
- I will always be uncomfortable unless I feel like I have the freedom to be myself. If you do nothing to show that you like me, I’ll never feel that freedom.
- I probably care about you more than I’ll ever express.
To learn more about introversion in the Church, read this excellent article from Leadership Journal.
JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Are you an extrovert or an introvert? What is one thing you wish “the other side” knew about you?