In a recent comment on Lyn's blog, I wrote:
Per people who can’t stand silence or being alone, I think that’s the classic extrovert/introvert difference, as described in an excellent Atlantic article some years back. FWIW, I am an introvert, which as the article points out, does not mean “shy” or “reticent”. Instead, the article defines extroverts as people who get energy from being with other people and introverts as those who expend energy in the same situation.[Go read the above-linked Atlantic article now. It's worth it. I'll wait.]
[You've read it? Good. Let's continue.]
"Hello, I'm Jim, and I'm an introvert."
That leads to an interesting dynamic in regards to my faith. I am called upon to be part of a community. To be in fellowship. To engage, befriend and love all I meet. And yet, at the end of the day, I am not "a people person". I am a natural friend, and have more friends I count as "true" (as in "tried and true", as in "tried" and found "true") than I deserve. But I am much more comfortable in one-on-one situations than in group gatherings. I tend to be the kind that doesn't like parties, and when I go to one I try to find a small group somewhere in a corner and hang there. Or else I busy myself with helping with the infrastructure of the party - cooking, serving, cleaning up. Gee, I seem to do a lot of the same things at church and in volunteering.
I am terrible at small talk. I don't like nor follow organized sports, so right there I can't talk to 93.756% of all men, American or otherwise. My political, social, religious and even musical likes and dislikes range between esoteric and scandalous, so most of those are out as topics of conversation, too. Especially in a church setting. Plus, through genetics, upbringing and disposition, I am, er, um, "blunt". Sarcastic (although I'm fighting that). Cynical (fighting that, too). Direct. But since I know (usually...sometimes) when to keep my mouth shut, I spend a lot of my time in gatherings keeping my mouth shut. Which doesn't help much with that fellowship thing.
Even when I am with my best friends on the planet, I tend to need "time outs". Some examples:
- Our family occupies a "two office, three bedroom" house. What that means is that my wife and I have offices that are at opposite ends and different floors of our suburban split-level. We talk every night; however, since both of us are introverts we each can hole up in our offices for long periods of time, emailing each other to communicate (beats shouting upstairs and down the hall :-). That may sound pathetic to an extrovert, but to two introverts it means we are still engaged in communicating while we are "recharging", each in our own cave.
- I used to live in Colorado (three different times actually). Now I live in Missouri (for a third time as well). When I lived in Colorado the last time, between 1995 and 2000, a friend of mine and I got together to play chess and discuss philosophy, politics and other puffery once a month. Since I moved back here that tradition has gotten harder to keep. So we meet about three to four times a year in Ellsworth, Kansas (geographically equidistant between the two of us - and if you're ever going to be near Ellsworth, drop me a line, and I will tell you about what we've found to see and do there). Anyway, when I meet one of my best friends on the planet after long periods apart, we spend two days talking, playing chess and driving all over central Kansas looking for new things to see and do (and there are some pretty cool things, actually - if your definition of "cool" is relaxed and in a "Well, I'm here anyway - so that is cool" vein). Yet by the time Sunday comes, I am ready for a break, to drive the six hours back home alone listening to music, thinking and being in blessed solitude.
- My longest running friendship is with Mike. I have known him since we were both eight. When I still lived in Colorado (the last time) we did a lot of hiking, backpacking, snow shoeing and climbing together. We would spend upwards of a week at a time alone together in the wilderness. And after a day or two, we would enter into a routine where we might only say 20 or 30 sentences to each other - just enough for the functioning of the camp. And that was enough. Not because we were sick of each other, but simply because we were talked out. It was time to let God's creation talk to us. To recharge. To be alone, together - weird as that may sound.
"Sincerity is key - once you can fake that, you have it made!"
But...I am commanded to love all people - whether I feel that connection and spark or not. That is the hard part.
So, here I am, commanded to commune, when all such interactions suck energy from me (that sounds so new-agey, doesn't it?) and leave me wanting to hole up alone to recover. But perhaps that's the wisdom of the Bible, because it also talks about the importance of time alone, praying in our inner room, fasting in the desert. Perhaps God's challenge here is for both introverts and extroverts. We introverts are commanded to get out there and mingle - actively care for, love and interact with others - whether it's natural for us or not. Just do it. And you extroverts are told there are times when you must go be by yourself, stop talking and sit still to know God. Maybe that's even harder for some. It's a stretch for all of us, no matter how we're made. Which always seem to be Christ's way, doesn't it? :-) Isn't that how we really know our Master's voice, when He is commanding us to step out of the boat of our comfort and onto the water of the world around us?
"Lord, if it's you," Peter replied, "tell me to come to you on the water."
"Come," he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, "Lord, save me!"
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. "You of little faith," he said, "why did you doubt?"