Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Introvert Peg in an Extrovert Hole

Recently, I had a revelation about why being the new kid on the block has been so very tiring for me over the past three years.

I'm an introvert.....and I've been putting too much pressure on myself to be an extrovert.

It shouldn't have been that much of a revelation since I've known I'm an introvert for years, but when I read Ali's post and the article she linked to 10 Myths About Introverts, I felt the burden on my back finally begin to lift.

I realised that I don't actually want lots of friends.  I'm the kind of person who prefers to have quality rather than quantity when it comes to friendships.  I prefer to care for people and know them well rather than have lots of shallow, acquaitance-level relationships.

I hate small talk.  That doesn't mean I want to talk about deep and meaningful things all the time.  Sometimes I prefer banter.  But I get frustrated when it feels like some conversations are ALWAYS about nothing.  Last year, Jenny asked the question Is Church For Introverts? and I have to say no.  Church is for extroverts who like buzz and conversations and people.  I feel so weary after church and often need a nap.  I don't like starting a conversation with one person only to have someone else rock up and change the topic, or steal the person you're talking to away.  I can't get my head around how we've all just heard God's Word being preached and yet people want to spend their time talking about the weather.

While I was still in Perth, I noticed a friend of mine sitting alone during supper after church.  I went up to him and asked if he was ok and he replied that he was fine, he just hated supper conversations so he preferred to sit alone and say nothing.  He said he couldn't see the point of meaningless chit-chat and that he found Bible study more encouraging.  I'm inclined to agree.  I much prefer Bible study to big church.  I prefer conversations to have a point otherwise making the effort is just too tiring.

One of the biggest myths about introverts is that they are shy (and extroverts are loud).  This is simply not true.  I'm an introvert, but I can be very loud (just ask my husband). I get daunted meeting new people (especially when they all know each other), but if I really want to go to a particular event, this won't put me off. It's all about how you recharge from stress or busyness.  Duncan is part introvert, part extrovert.  Sometimes he'll come home from work and be pumped about going out to Bible study and catching up with everyone.  Other nights he'll be on the couch with the laptop and barely say a word.  I'm usually secretly quite happy if night events get cancelled.

So what does this all mean for me as I seek to adapt to life in another small town?  Well, for the past three years I've been putting WAY too much pressure on myself to go out and meet everybody.  My logic has been that there are a lot of people out there who don't know Jesus and I need to go and befriend them.  What foolish arrogance!  God doesn't need me.  He graciously choose to use us all in His purposes, but He doesn't NEED us.  He has plenty of faithful servants at His disposal so I'm certainly not the only one.

I still want to love people - that hasn't changed - but with having arthritis and being sick three times in two months, I've realised I am a finite human being.  I get to know people better 1-1 rather than in big groups.  So I need to work out how I use how God made me for His glory rather than thinking that true Christians are extroverts.

Duncan reckons there is the potential for introverts to use it as an excuse for being lazy.  He definitely has a point there.  I'm very tempted to sit at home all day and never go out sometimes.  It takes a huge effort to go out sometimes where I know I'm going to have to make small-talk.  But sometimes introverts just need to push past this and go.  Likewise some extroverts need to know how to spend time alone and stop bothering other people.

We're all part of the body of Christ and God made us all different for His glory.


Iris Flavia said...

This so speaks for me, too! Though, I guess... I am shy, too. A bit.
The myths also explain why I didn´t have it on the last event Spouse took me to. 12 000 people was just too much for me, thanks, Sarah, for sharing!

Jenny said...

I'm glad you've written this Sarah because it is helpful to articulate how hard it is for introverts in contexts where extrovert-type behaviour is required. No one would EVER pick me for an introvert in a public context but I do need lots of time without people to enable me to be like that. I've learnt to pace myself so that I have enough energy to engage well with others when I need to. However, it is does mean that my week isn't filled with people, people, people - I'd burn out super fast.

Sarah said...

I've learnt to pace myself so that I have enough energy to engage well with others when I need to.

That's exactly it, Jenny! It's what I'm learning at the moment. Sometimes I really get excited about conferences with stacks of people and some people would not guess I'm shy or find it difficult. But I need alone time before and after events so I can psych myself up for the next one.

I plan to post about how extrovert-type behaviour is expected in churches (especially in younger people) sometime in the future.

Gombojav Tribe said...

Good post!

I think I am part extrovert and part introvert. I really dislike crowds. I don't want to go to amusement parks or big concerts, anywhere I have to shout to have conversation. And I love good conversation. I love a good evening at home with a good book and a bottle of wine. Just me. Or me and my husband. So, in a way I'm an introvert.

BUT, as some of my friends have teased me, when I throw a party I invite my 100 closest friends. (Not really, but they do have a point.) I think one of my spiritual gifts is hospitality. I love to be the hostess and to have the shindig at my house. I love to cook, plan the music and visit with my guests. My husband has had to ask me in the past to invite less people over, because practically every night of the week we've been with others. And I was oblivious--just lovin' it! (And he is REALLY, REALLY an introvert.)

In a marriage class Gana and I took when he was in seminary addressed the introvert/extrovert marriage. And one thing they brougt up is how church is really geared towards extroverts. All that hugging and greeting the person next to you and mingling with strangers after the service having coffee. Stressful!!!!

Thanks for drawing attention to it. Churches really strive to build into their culture something for everyone--including the introvert who wants a small authentic gathering and relationship building--without the pressure of those awkward ice breaker games!

Sarah said...

Yeah I don't like the 'turn to the person next to you and say hello' type icebreaker things that churches do during the service. It feels really fake and awkward.

Despite being an introvert, I actually love serving people in hospitality. I just can't have too many people to my house. But I love cooking for new mums so they don't have to worry about it for a while.