Thursday, July 14, 2011

Why We Need Introverts In Communities

"Often, in Christian circles, we idealize those people that have a "passion" for community. Those people who constantly want to be around other people and who love organizing and mobilizing social events are often considered those people who have the most "love"... And, let's be clear, those people are absolutely indispensable for the formation of relationships in a community."

- Adam S. McHugh, A Matter of Motivation

This subject is something I have been wrestling with a lot while living in community. Perhaps it's something I've wrestled with for a while, since I have, at times, felt inadequate being an introvert. I've felt like a fish out of water in most churches and Christian circles -- shying away from games, hospitality hour, and longing for moments of silence in services. Growing up in and around churches geared towards extroverted people, I've often wondered...

"God, why did you make me this way?"

This is a question I've posed in the last couple weeks. "God, why did you make me such an introvert, while at the same time calling me to live in intentional community?" As I hide away in my bedroom for the hundredth hour, I wonder why God thought I was cut-out for this lifestyle at all. Even more than that -- what about my housemates? Isn't it unfair to them that I prefer to be alone most of the time?

There are times I truly wish I were an extrovert. But the fact is that I'm not. And it's sort of unfair of me to question the way God "fearfully and wonderfully" made me (Psalm 139). Just as I would not tell a friend that she was inadequate for being an introvert, it's also not right for me to tell myself that I'm inadequate. And it's totally uncool for me to accuse the Lord of not making me correctly.

But it still doesn't answer the question:
How does a community benefit from an introvert?
and...
How does an introvert benefit from community?

I recently started browsing the websites of other intentional Christian communities. I really appreciated the thoroughness and articulate nature of the Church of the Sojourners' website. Here's what I found on the homepage:

"Here at Church of the Sojourners, we seek to respond to Christ's call by living together family-style, sharing our homes, resources, and friendship, our weaknesses as well as our strengths -- not because living together is a requirement of committed discipleships, but because it is one real way we have found to provide us with numerous daily opportunities for forgiveness, humility, service, gratitude, worship, prayer, and other practicalities of sainthood which help build us into 'the full measure of the stature of Christ.'"

Living together in such close community gives us more opportunities to grow into the likeness of Christ. We wouldn't be stretched if we all had the same personalities, expectations, and ideas. We are different and it is in these differences that we make up the full body of Christ (Romans 12).

As I've mentioned previously, living so closely with others calls me to action. It is impossible for me to let destructive behaviors take hold because how I live affects those around me. Although we shouldn't have to live in intentional community to confess our sins to one another and extol one another, our American lifestyles tend to lead to isolation. When you don't have an intentional community keeping you accountable, it's easier to let sinful things take hold -- both because you don't have to own up to anyone, and also because no one is bound to notice.

Living in intentional community helps me learn how to confess, have difficult conversations, love others better, and figure out what it means to care for others by caring for myself. And I pray that living with a severe introvert helps my housemates experience similar things. It is through our differences that we learn more about Christ and what it means to follow Him daily.

As Adam S. McHugh writes,
"Love for God's people does not have to look for everyone like an overt, uncontainable passion for being with others. Love, as we know from the scriptures, is self-sacrificial, in which we lay down our rights and place the good of others ahead of our own."

8 comments:

  1. You've always seemed to open up and be talkative and fine around me. Maybe I haven't been around you enough in large groups though. . .but you always seemed to be the one who would be the individual and leader. I think it is good though that you are how you are because you will speak up when there is something of importance worth sharing and not just blabbing on and on like I tend to do. haha.

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  2. One thought that I had about this subject recently has to do with how the body interacts within itself. There are just instances and people that introverts are just better designed to minister to -- like other introverts.

    For example, let's say I'm going through a rough time (I scored like a 98 out of 100 in being introvert on the Myers-Briggs test). While I appreciate the effort of the natural extroverts around me to comfort me in my time of need, it stresses me out to have people hovering over me, especially a lot of them at once. I don't always want to "talk about it", and I tend to get slightly irritated with unsought attention. Of course, this just makes me feel guilty on top of whatever else, because I know they mean well.

    Whereas another introvert probably wouldn't hover themselves, and they might also realize that just sitting quietly with someone else (or alone) in a place where there isn't much activity or anyone trying to get me to "talk about, it'll make me feel better" is much more comforting for someone like me.

    My point is that variety in the body/church is good. It takes a variety of people to minister to a variety of people. I think it's important to remember that quiet ministry is no less ministry than that which draws a lot of attention and large crowds. It's not about the numbers, especially not for us introverts.

    It's hard sometimes to remember that there is no one ideal Christian for us to model ourselves after, no one in our churches for us to look at and compare ourselves to. There's Christ, who is model enough, and even he sought out the quiet moments and quiet ministry often, if that can be a comfort to us introverts in our moments of inadequacy.

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  3. I agree with Anna's point that diversity in the body means that introverts can better minister to other introverts. Moreover, diversity in our everyday community interaction equips us better minister to those outside the community, even if they have different personalities. Ideally, extroverts should gain practical experience about introverts' needs, and vice-versa. The community needs to be the kind of place that is forgiving enough to let us make social mistakes, so that we can learn to be more compassionate to everyone around us.

    (Reading this over, it sounds like a page out of a self-help book, so sorry about that)

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  4. Great post, Rachel. I think you, Elliott, Zack, and I should all be praying for and living out the answers to these exact questions: How does a community benefit from [read: mature, better love others, and glorify God by living with] an introvert? and How does an introvert benefit from [read: mature, better love others, and glorify God by living in] community? I thoroughly agree with the following statement penned by Matt Smalley: "Ideally, extroverts should gain practical experience about introverts' needs, and vice-versa. The community needs to be the kind of place that is forgiving enough to let us make social mistakes, so that we can learn to be more compassionate to everyone around us." Rachel, please forgive me for the social mistakes I've made that have made you uncomfortable in our home, and have led you to be unsatisfied with who you are (an introvert). I will be seeking to "gain practical experience about your needs," as I learn to better serve you in our community. Love you :)

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  5. Hi friends. Thanks for all your thoughtful responses.

    @Victoria- I am talkative one-on-one, especially with people I've known for a long time (you, Kate, Nora, Tina..). In large groups, I'm pretty quiet unless my job calls for me to be the leader. I'm very good at leading small groups or reaching out to other introverts (esp. students on campus), which brings me to...

    @Anna- I've found that a lot of the students in my ministry tend to be more introverted. And one of my strengths is one-on-one discipleship. I tend to gravitate towards the more silent ones in the room, and draw out their own leadership capabilities. It's really cool how I've definitely seen God use my personality to encourage others with a similar personality, but now I'm also seeing how God wants to use me to encourage those with personalities different from my own. That's the trickier part. :)

    @Matt- I couldn't have said it better myself, even if it is reminiscent of a self-help book. Maybe it's a book you ought to write.

    @Jocelyn- I love you! I think we are both going to grow a lot this year. Thank you for being patient with me and being willing to work things out. I've found that the friendships I've learned the most from are from my friends who are very different from me. :)

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  6. Rachel, I am also an introvert living in a largely extrovert world. I have been thinking over the same issues lately. Especially now that I have what seems to be an extroverted child. How can I give her the kind of daily social interaction she craves when it exhausts me?

    I think this is another example of the hiddeness of serving Christ: when I act against my introvert nature to reach out or interact with an extrovert in their preferred way, they may never know the internal sacrifice. Only God knows what I lay down & how it fatigues me to give up my solitude! It's one of those daily living sacrifice things, I guess.

    Thanks for sharing your heart.
    ~JessG.

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  7. Hi Jess G - I know I already sent you this link, but I wanted to post it as a resource for others:

    http://www.introvertedchurch.com/2011/07/introverted-parenting.html

    It's a great read for those of us who are introverted parents.

    Oh, and here's a more recent post, also awesome:

    http://www.introvertedchurch.com/2011/07/mothering-as-introvert-guest-post.html

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  8. Great post, Rachel. I think you, Elliott, Zack, and I should all be praying for and living out the answers to these exact questions: How does a community benefit from [read: mature, better love others, and glorify God by living with] an introvert? and How does an introvert benefit from [read: mature, better love others, and glorify God by living in] community? I thoroughly agree with the following statement penned by Matt Smalley: "Ideally, extroverts should gain practical experience about introverts' needs, and vice-versa. The community needs to be the kind of place that is forgiving enough to let us make social mistakes, so that we can learn to be more compassionate to everyone around us." Rachel, please forgive me for the social mistakes I've made that have made you uncomfortable in our home, and have led you to be unsatisfied with who you are (an introvert). I will be seeking to "gain practical experience about your needs," as I learn to better serve you in our community. Love you :)

    ReplyDelete