Monday, September 19, 2011

Being Introverted in an Extraverted World

I am an introvert. It is part of my nature that I have fought against and complained to God about incessantly over the years.  I have cried in frustration at this aspect of my personality that I am completely unable to change.  I have begged God to take it away.  I read recently that our basic personalities are set by the time we’re in first grade, so as disheartening as it is, it appears that I am stuck this way.

I have been accused of being stuck up and standoffish, and, in one of the most hurtful things ever said to me, accused of not caring about people. (All of these accusations, by the way, have been made by extroverts.)  

The truth is not that I am uncaring, stuck up, or standoffish.  The truth is that I hate small talk.  I’m horrible at it.  Big groups drain me.  I feel awkward in a roomful of people I don’t well.  When I was living in Atlanta, a friend of mine and I used to drink a beer or two just to gear ourselves up for parties.  Alcohol makes bearable otherwise supremely uncomfortable moments.  I would not recommend employing this strategy on a regular basis, but it has its uses.

These introverted tendencies make being new very difficult, even in a fairly welcoming and inviting environment.  Extraversion is rewarded and praised, even often mistaken for kindness and warmth.  These characteristics can and often do coexist, of course, but the lack of one is not proof of lack of the other.  I have been taken in by outgoing charm, attracted to that which I lack, only to find that charm is, in fact, deceptive. I could’ve learned the same lesson by taking Proverbs to heart, but I’m too stubborn for that.

Introversion has its many overlooked qualities.  We tend, on the whole, to be pretty good listeners.  I love lingering, meaningful conversations with one or two or three other people.  I could get to know you over lunch or coffee, and we would probably walk away friends.  I don’t want to just know what you do for a living, I want to know why you do it.  I want to know what you care about, what you’re passionate about, what you’re struggling with, how you’re hurting, and how I can help. 

The trouble is figuring out how to get from the big groups that I hate to the more intimate setting where I can have the kinds of conversations that I like.  I’m convinced that there is a place in God’s kingdom for all sorts of personalities and talents and gifts; I’m not convinced that the church does such a great job of celebrating all of these differences, especially in a culture that so prizes the more outgoing among us. 

I know that my Father knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I know (usually) that I am wonderfully and fearfully made.  I can’t help but wish at times that I was made differently, but who am I to question God?  Who am I to criticize His creation of my heart?  I want to quietly trust that He has a plan for ALL of me, a plan for me to glorify Him and to love others in His name.  He is the author of my story, and He can’t be the author without writing the characters too. 

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