Stewarding your introversion


You’ve seen these memes about being an introvert. They pop up on Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter and are often produced by Buzzfeed.

These little bites of introvert-themed wisdom pretty much run along the lines of how much we hate to do things with people, how exhausted we are by talking to other people, how we want to stay home instead of going out, etc. The language is usually geared towards the millennial, and you can picture that millennial scrolling through the Buzzfeed story, having gotten there by scrolling through their social media pages, feeling lonely but justified and laughing along to the bitter humor represented.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash

  • “I’m having an introvert party and you’re all not invited,” reads one tweet.
  • “*takes a deep breath, smiling* ‘What a beautiful morning to pretend to read tweets in order to avoid human interaction,’” reads another.
  • “Introversion is realizing that you savor vanilla pudding interaction more than basic human interaction,” reads another.
  • “#IntrovertProblems = Hating that you’ve become a regular anywhere, because you just want to procure your items & leave without conversation,” tweets someone else.

I get that there is a relief in describing these feelings. People love to diagnose themselves as introverts, extroverts, intro-extroverts, shy extroverts, outgoing introverts… the labels multiply. The fun of naming your personality bent is real, and sometimes carries value.

I am an introvert as well, and I have certainly enjoyed some of these descriptions of thoughts and feelings I’ve had regularly since I was a small girl. They feel so familiar! It IS hard to talk to new people. It IS hard to go out when you’d rather stay in. It IS hard to engage when you’d rather be alone or aloof. The differences between me and my older extroverted sister are real and have existed, as far as I know, from birth. It is easy for her to do things and interact in ways that for me have always been either difficult or impossible.  And some of the ways that I interact with people would probably be difficult for her to imitate.

 

If you’re a Christian, you’re not primarily an introvert

The problem with these descriptions of the introverted personality is that they begin in a worldly hypothesis and end with a worldly conclusion. The spirit of the age says, “This is the way you are—your job is to get comfortable in it! You make antisocial behavior look gooood.”

The spirit of God says, “This is who I made you to be, and you’re going to have to lay aside some things in order to become transformed into the image of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18, Heb. 2:1).”

These worldly messages about introversion tell us that because our personalities tend to require alone time, we have permission to spiral into ourselves. They tell us that because we don’t enjoy crowds, we can joke about preferring pudding to people. They tell us that because it’s hard for us to start up a conversation, we can get into our place of comfort and stay there.

Some of the habits of the introvert are healthy and perfectly legitimate. It’s healthy to spend time in quiet thought or on activities that don’t involve others. It’s healthy to be able to sit alone in a room without getting uncomfortable because you need social distraction.

But we—introverted Christians—must not take this personality bent and make it the platform on which we build the right to pursue a self-centered lifestyle. We are commanded to do certain things as church members and human beings in God’s world. Those things are sometimes things that will make us uncomfortable (introverts and extroverts alike). We simply aren’t allowed to adopt a lifestyle that refuses to pursue other people for relationship.

In Christ, God urges us to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31), which is difficult to do if we’re holed up in our rooms with earbuds. He urges us to “encourage one another and build each other up,” (1 Thess. 5:11),  and this is hard to do while snarking on Twitter about how obnoxious humans are. He urges us to “carry each other’s burdens,” because “in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” (Gal. 6:2), which is hard if we just want to ‘procure our items and leave without conversation’.

In fact, “Anyone who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty,” according to Job 6:14. And the career introvert, the introvert who wears introversion as a badge (that looks a lot bigger on their shirt than the badge of Jesus Christ), is eventually going to become guilty of withholding kindness. This is what happens when you are focused on self-preservation, even a self-preservation that avoids conflict. Our burden of responsibility is greater, you see, than simply avoiding hurting other people. We have a responsibility to seek people out for love and service, and to learn how our personality can be put to use in loving and serving.

We have a responsibility to steward our introversion.

 

What exactly is an introvert?

If you’re wondering exactly what I mean by this word introversion (I can’t speak to what Buzzfeed means), here’s a definition that I liked, from psychologist Marti Olsen Laney:

“Introverts draw energy from their internal world of ideas, emotions, and impressions. They are energy conservers. They can be easily overstimulated by the external world, experiencing the uncomfortable feeling of ‘too much.'”

Photo by jeshoots.com on Unsplash

There’s nothing wrong with this personality trait—it’s just a way of describing a person’s natural tendencies. In this case, we’re talking about the way you rebuild your emotional energy stores.

But the way the world handles this idea of personality types—declaring that your introverted desires should always be embraced, no matter what they are—that’s what I take issue with. We simply can’t think this way. Not when God has told us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2).

We can wisely take our personalities into account and try to go with the natural grain of how God made us. Through the lens of a quieter personality, and making sure to restore our energies with strategic alone time, we can still learn how to love others as ourselves, exhort and build others up, and tell other people the good news of Jesus Christ. The above activities (loving, building up, evangelism) are not optional. They are part of our new jobs as followers of Christ. The flesh may be weak, but the spirit must be willing.

We are simply not allowed to shut down this process because we took an online personality quiz and it told us we should be spending our evenings alone with Netflix.

Just as we steward everything else we’ve been given, we’ve got to steward our introversion. Stewarding it means we take it into account, we understand it—we look for ways that it tends to be a strength or a weakness—and then use it in service of the gospel. If possible, as we mature, we almost forget about it altogether (because we’re slowly becoming less self-absorbed and spending less time taking personality quizzes).

 

Conclusion

The ideal world would not contain an army of identical extroverts, talking each other to death. It would (it will) contain a pleasing and varied array of personality types, all giving each other preference and serving the heck out of each other. It will contain quiet and loud people, contemplative and boisterous types. But it will not contain quiet people spiraling in on themselves in self-absorbed, self-pitying quietude. Every personality type will be redeemed in the last day, and the strength contained in each will be on full display.

This is the wonderful thing about the kingdom God is building: he described it as a body that works in unison but contains many very different parts (eyes, knees, toes, etc). Every personality type, every spiritual gifting, each age, gender, and nature that gets plugged into this body of believers will find that he or she has a purpose (1 Cor. 12:12-27).

No reason why we can’t get started on this right now—while Buzzfeed is busy compiling “18 Jokes You’ll Only Get if You’re a Big ‘Ol Loner.’”

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