I'm an introvert. Most people who don't know me well wouldn't guess this about me, but it's true. On a practical level, being an introvert means I'm generally more energized by time alone than by time with people, and I have a preference for a less externally stimulating environment. I feel very alive in a quiet, empty room. On the introversion/extroversion spectrum I fall closer to the middle, but still lean decidedly toward the introverted side.
The process of understanding introversion and the way it's expressed in my life has been both a tremendous relief and also an ongoing source of doubt and concern. My daily reality is people-intensive and externally stimulating. I'm married to an extrovert, we have four children, and we live in an urban setting. Our home and surroundings are fun and energetic—not exactly low-stimulus. My husband pastors a large church, and we're involved with many congregations and ministries throughout the world; consequently, our social circles are large and complex. To complicate things even further, my spiritual gifts are often expressed publicly as are the (non-innate!) social skills I've managed to learn and practice over time. These realities, combined with my definite need for quiet and solitude, have often left me and others confused about who I really am. The lie I'm most tempted to believe is that the way God has wired me is incompatible with the life he's called me to live. The logical conclusion of this lie is that joy and contentment aren't possible—and that constant frustration is inevitable. It took a while for me to unearth and articulate that lie under the layers of fear, doubt, and insecurity it was producing. I knew these beliefs didn't line up with God's character or promises, but it's taken extended immersion in the truth of God's Word to renew my mind and dismantle that deception. Along the way, I've discovered some subtle and not-so-subtle assumptions I'd unwittingly latched onto over time.
1. Extroversion is the biblical ideal
There's little question our culture leans toward idealizing extroverts. Those with intrinsically good social skills, who appear to thrive in party-type atmospheres and exude confidence when meeting new people, are often considered worthy of emulation. I spent many years wondering why small talk felt so awkward for me when it seemed so effortless for my friends. In some churches, an appropriate focus on community life can inadvertently favor those who are most comfortable socially, quickest to share their thoughts and feelings, and most likely to throw a party. But there's no biblical precedent for idealizing extroversion, just as there's none for idealizing introversion either. I know extroverts who feel condemned because a quiet environment and time alone are somewhat distracting. They find it difficult to avoid comparing themselves to more introverted, contemplative types and avoid attributing their struggle to a lack of self-discipline when, in fact, a preferred environment has little to do with self-discipline at all. The comparisons aren't helpful and neither is holding up an ideal the Bible does not. The body of Christ includes persons at all points on the introversion/extroversion continuum, and no one's contribution is more important than another's. We're all responsible to spend time both privately and corporately with God and others in worship, study, prayer, and service. Caving to a cultural standard that doesn't line up with scriptural truth is destructive to individuals and to the body of Christ.
2. Introverts don't like people
This has perhaps been the lie that's stung most for me. I care deeply about people, but I need time alone to recharge in order to be able to give them my best. It's taken me years to view this as good stewardship rather than some sort of flaw I need to overcome. Actually, and perhaps ironically, the chief thing that's kept me from loving people well has been my attempt to be someone I'm not. The more I've tried to be that “life of the party” girl, endlessly accommodating others without considering what I need to recover, the less capacity I've had to actually love people well. We're all responsible to obey biblical commands related to loving people sacrificially and living hospitably and generously. And it's a cop-out to use introversion as an excuse for self-protective isolation. But there's not just one or even ten “right” ways to love people well. I've learned to get better at small talk and interacting with strangers, because it's important and necessary, but it's never going to be my greatest strength. I've become much more comfortable in opening our home to small and large groups of people, both in planned and spontaneous ways, but going deep with one or two people over coffee is always going to be a place where I thrive. Accepting my God-given introversion, I still allow myself to be stretched or uncomfortable. But I passionately pursue opportunities where I can love people deeply with my gifts and life, and then humbly take responsibility for what it looks like for me to be refreshed.
3. Solitude is selfish and indulgent
Now there's a reality here that can be true. If my choice to be alone is primarily to serve myself and intensify a me-oriented focus, it is a problem. But for a long time I believed solitude for the purpose of prayer, Bible study, or worship is necessary, but anything beyond that is probably frivolous. However, I've come to experience great benefits from a variety of solitary activities. Solitude in itself isn't inherently helpful or harmful, but the underlying purpose is pivotal. I can go for a run by myself to clear my head and enjoy God's gift of nature—or to sinfully distract myself from something I need to confront. I can sit alone in a coffee shop in order to think deeply and process life events—or to worry about things beyond my control. When I cooperate with the way God has designed me, and surrender my solitude to him, he uses it to refresh my soul in often unexpected and powerful ways.
4. Introversion is incompatible with teaching and leadership gifts
Last year, after an acquaintance watched my husband and me team-teach in front of a few thousand people, he remarked in a good-natured way that I couldn't possibly be an introvert. I knew he meant this as a compliment, and I also understood his confusion. People who are confident and capable in front of large audiences don't exactly fit the introverted stereotype. And while it's true many introverts aren't comfortable in front of people, I am. How much of that is due to my natural personality, gifting, or years of training in music, theater, and teaching, I don't know, and it probably doesn't matter. What I do know is that once the adrenaline wears off after such an event, I need some silence and solitude in order to be replenished. I'm passionate about teaching God's Word, and I love to get to use my gifts in this area, but it's equally important for me to take necessary steps to make room for quiet rest. By God's grace I'm learning to see my more public and more private sides not as incompatible or inauthentic, but as balances to each other. Additionally, my leadership gifts aren't expressed in the same way as my extroverted husband. I tend to lead best from a more contemplative place. My creativity flourishes, and my best ideas rise to the surface when I have time to be alone more so than when I'm brainstorming with others in a highly dynamic environment. Since there is no one-size-fits-all model for leadership, our churches will be best served when there's room at the table for extroverted and introverted leaders alike. Accepting the realities of my God-given personality has been a process of sanctification. I've had to repent of people-pleasing and trying to be someone I'm not. I've had to humbly acknowledge my limits and weaknesses and to live in God's strength rather than my own. Ultimately, this process has been about God and his kingdom, not me. The more I rest in his gracious acceptance of me in Jesus, the more free I become to be myself for his glory. And that's a place where joy and contentment abound.