To my fellow Christian introverts: The struggle is real, I know
Illustration: Christina Wong, Thir.st
After reading this piece, an extrovert had something to add, as always. Read To my fellow Christian extroverts: The struggle is real, I know.
We’re made introverted for a reason. It’s not a liability – but it shouldn’t be an excuse, either.
I’m an introvert.
To be exact, I’m an INFJ. Out of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, the INFJ type is believed to be the rarest, forming less than 1 per cent of humanity. We are the most introverted of all introverts.
As an INFJ, I struggle in church. The need for me to even be physically present in church, amongst the people, can be daunting.
I’ve lived with the perception that the Church loves the extroverted Christian, and the extroverted Christian loves the Church.
The extroverted Christian is the person who might rally the people passionately, be the first to befriend any visitors and the last to leave because they are always busy chatting with others. They seem to radiate charm, passion and confidence.
But for us introverts, there seems to be just no room to breathe comfortably in church.
We face challenges that others might find baffling. There’s the inevitable round of greetings: “If you’re visiting for the first time today, stand up so we can welcome you!”
Then there are the painful icebreakers: “Get up, find someone you don’t know and tell them what you’re thankful for this week!” And there’s the much-dreaded public prayer: “Let’s have Introvert end the meeting by leading us in prayer!”
So it’s easy for introverts like me to feel discouraged and out of place in a church setting. Sometimes it just seems like we introverts just aren’t as good as “being Christian”.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been sat down and challenged by well-meaning church leaders, who tell me: “You’ve got to be more outspoken!”, “You need to be more assertive when leading the team!”, “Why do you stutter when you pray? Why are your prayers so short?” and even “Why are you so anti-social?”
Introverts are so misunderstood. So, to help you, and to help us, here’s…
THE EXTROVERTS’ GUIDE TO INTROVERTS
1. We’re not anti-social – we just prefer smaller groups
Introverts are not anti-social just because we don’t fancy social gatherings and we prefer to have one-on-one conversations. Introverts like to be alone more than we like to be with large groups of people. Introverts restore our energy by spending quality time with ourselves or an individual person instead. Spending time with large groups of people can be draining and frustrating to us.
In a church setting, introverts sometimes may choose to only speak to a single person at any one time instead of an entire group of people. Just because you don’t see us rallying a crowd of people or hosting a group of new visitors doesn’t mean that we’re spending our time in church hermitting and being anti-social.
2. We’re not sulking – we just want some space
Introverts are also largely misunderstood for being unhappy and upset all the time.
My life group once decided to go out to a restaurant with a live band playing. The lights were so dim, the music was so loud and there was so much chattering around me. It was overwhelming, and I kept quiet for most part of the night because I felt drained just being in that place.
Later that night, my leader asked me privately if I was unhappy about something because of what she saw as my “glum” demeanour. The truth was that I wasn’t unhappy about anything. I simply felt too overwhelmed by my noisy and crowded surroundings.
3. We’re not helplessly meek – we can be effective leaders, too
A huge misconception about introverts is that since we’re so introverted, we have no leadership skills.
When it comes to areas of serving in church, some of us may prefer more behind-the-scenes roles. People tend to expect us introverts to volunteer for the more “silent roles” by default. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t serve in the more “extroverted” roles, as an usher, worship leader, preacher or even the senior pastor.
The misconceptions about introverts could potentially result in the culture where unique individuals are brushed aside and dismissed. But we’re all made different and unique; we shouldn’t be expected to fit into cookie-cutter stereotypes. God uses all kinds of people for His purposes.
Many leaders in the Bible didn’t feel capable of doing what God asked, but He found use for their strengths and even their weaknesses. God saw potential and used them powerfully – regardless of personality type.
INTROVERTED, BUT NOT SELF-FOCUSED
Some of us are naturally louder and more outgoing, while others are just naturally inclined to be quiet. I believe that God made me introverted. I’m naturally quiet and this is part of God’s perfect design.
My inclination towards quietness and solitude helps me to know myself better. It helps me to understand things better. It helps me work better. It helps me to focus on God. Sometimes, in my quiet moments, I hear the most wonderful things from God.
I see why He made me an introvert. But that doesn’t mean that I allow myself to stay in my comfort zone all the time.
My natural inclination is to shun people and stay home alone, rather than to be with the crowds and serving people. I believe this inclination can become self-centred and selfish, if I’m not intentional in my actions and interactions.
God calls us to be willing to deny our desires (Luke 9:23). The Christian life is a life of self-denial. It is a life of saying: “Even though this — staying home alone, opting out of gatherings, choosing to remain silent – is what I want, my identity as a servant of God compels me to do something different instead.”
I’m slowly learning that at the end of the day, introvert or extrovert, these personality traits are merely what we are and not who we are. If we elevate these traits and choose to let them control our lives, we’re using them to justify selfishness instead of selflessness.
We’re all made different, for good reasons. But our strengths (introspection) cannot become our weaknesses (the refusal to connect with the people of God). So, to those who still think I’m an anti-social hermit – I’m working on it. Give me some space.