Blessed Paradox: Hope and Encouragement for the Introvert with Extrovert Giftsj

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People who only “sort of” know me are actually quite surprised to find out that I am an introvert. They see me minister weekly on the platform with multiple instruments and singing, or see my blog and the book, or me breezing through the hallway shaking hands and hugging necks.  They think I am bold as a lion and to a certain extent, they are right.  I suppose it does take a lot of courage to grab a mic and play a song in front of a large group of people.  But still, there’s the safe, invisible “space” between me and those who might be sitting there listening. It’s the same with writing…a way to project thoughts and bring inspiration and glory to God from a comfortable distance.  I guess some gifts even develop or evolve from a necessity to make the best of the personalities we’re born with.  At any rate, here I am, a bit of a recluse, with gifts that make me look like the exact opposite.  A true paradox.

The reason I’m sharing this so transparently is that some of you have this same personality quirk; and you feel it renders you useless in the kingdom of God.  I wasn’t always sure myself that I’d be able to work through this nagging need for personal space; and some days I still have to hack through the cloud of self-doubt.  But I know that the Lord was not on autopilot the day He created me to be who I am!  And He wasn’t half-engaged the day He made you, either.

We aren’t social misfits, we introverts.  I heard it described perfectly not long ago:  introverts get energy from time spent alone, and they find being in the presence of others enjoyable but absolutely exhausting—physically and emotionally.

I married a man who understands this part of me, and he loves me anyway.  We have built a life together where we respect one another’s need for quiet and space, and times for social engagement, too.  He’s better with people one-on-one than I am, and that’s the place in ministry where he fits so perfectly; but at the same time, he actually gets me.  And though sometimes even he overrides my need for alone time, he actually works at protecting my boundaries, love his heart.

So where do you fit on the broad spectrum of the body of Christ? Don’t let anyone, especially the devil, convince you that you cannot be a fruitful yet quiet person who craves solitude. There are places where you can serve which require minimal interaction while still meeting vital needs in the church or community.

Volunteer to do the downtime, behind-the-scenes work.  You may not enjoy being the person performing in the Christmas drama on stage, but you can help build the set or run the spotlight. You can come in and tidy up the nursery after church if you want to help the kids’ ministry but aren’t great with kids. Bake the cookies for the funeral reception. Stock the food pantry shelf after hours.  Fold the bulletins or manage the website.   Agree to lead the devotions for the small group held in someone else’s house, if having people in your own home is too disconcerting. Send the care cards to shut-ins and write them personal notes of encouragement.  Be a youth leader’s assistant who handles the side stuff…it may give you just enough people time to feel bonded without getting pulled into relationships you’re not feeling comfortable enough to sustain.  Interestingly, introverts often become powerful intercessors because of their ease with praying for extended periods in solitude.

And yes, you can absolutely teach and preach with an introverted personality.  I’m constantly surprised to find that some of the best pastors and ministry leaders are a lot like me–hidden away enjoying time away from the crowd–when they’re not doing ministry!

I won’t tell you that as an introvert in ministry, you’ll never be misunderstood.  This is that “suck it up, Buttercup” moment.  Yeah, by people who don’t know how your unique personality nuances affect your responses to being thrust into scenarios that are awkward or downright terrifying, you may get judged unfairly.  You may be perceived to be stuck-up, snobbish, strange, stand-offish, eccentric, too private, too serious, or just…an odd fit.  You may, as I have multiple times, hear people say that if you don’t love being around people, you’re probably not really called into ministry; or that your love walk is jacked up on cinder blocks. That’s not quite true. There’s a huge difference between loving people and actually wanting them in your personal space! Wink!

But newsflash… Jesus got misunderstood and He ministered anyway.  He migrated toward the fringe people and in so doing, was called a drunkard, winebibber, and friend of sinners.  While being judged inaccurately or unfairly isn’t utterly avoidable, remember the law of sowing and reaping.  Be careful of how you judge other people. There are a lot of odd sorts in the body of Christ and elsewhere who merely have personalities different from yours.   Before you write others off, consider how you yourself struggle with where you fit. Sometimes someone who’s the exact opposite of you has the same difficulty finding his or her place in the kingdom, too.  Judge not; it may help you to be less-often on the hot seat of judgment yourself.  Moreover, it’ll make you less likely to try to pressure someone else into serving where and how you serve.

It’s ok to be an introvert…but the spiritual issues that you allow God to prune off you in prayer and the Word (like insecurity, fear, judgmental nature, selfishness, unbelief, lack of love, and suspicion) will be what make you an introvert who is fruitful.  Learn what spiritual traps are more common for those who have that tendency to be loners…and do the work to strengthen yourself from what could destroy the unique and beautiful you whom God created!

A plus to being an introvert in ministry is the comfort level of the briar patch of aloneness. Ministry and leadership can be lonely to someone who’s always got to have a cheering section, always needing a Facebook “like.”  So the place which is difficult for the extrovert is actually where you thrive. There’s a need for all kinds of personality types!

To share with you my strengths and weaknesses as an introvert is a little awkward; but I think it’s necessary because people like me (maybe you’re one of them) feel the need to be understood. For me, I can only handle being around people for a limited amount of time before I retreat to my home.   It’s fun to fellowship, and I love people. I love to laugh and make others laugh with my quick wit and silliness, and I like to engage in deep conversation and to listen genuinely when others are talking. I especially love to be an encourager who speaks positive things into someone’s life.

But all of this interaction, even the fun kind, can exhaust me quickly.  People I would expect to bond with, I don’t always…and I haven’t learned how to make myself enjoy those connections; and yet I’m sometimes surprised at who turns out to be an easy fit. So knowing how I am, I tend to try to compartmentalize my social time and my alone time; and I keep as much as is practical of that time to myself.

I am also not a person well-suited to be the “face” of the ministry—haha!  Working as a church administrative staff person, I learned quickly that I’m terrible at being the receptionist. I don’t have the sparkle, the gregariousness, the gift of gab, the sheer patience; and people who talk a lot, are negative, manipulative, or overbearing make me very nervous.  I try to hide that, but unfortunately, don’t pull it off very well.  I can be social or I can be productive, but I’m a train wreck if I have to combine the two.  Nope, put me in a room off to myself with a stack of work, and I’ll work till the crickets stop chirping.  Yet I’m effective in my element.

At home, I’m pretty low-key.  I generally don’t host overnight houseguests; and I prefer a little notice when someone decides to drop by, just because I don’t fancy myself a great housekeeper.  I’m not so great with kids and babies because I never had any, even though I love them.  I also find myself backing away when someone tries to bring unwanted drama into my sphere, or who “hems me up” in a corner.

I have a gift of hospitality that clashes with the introvert in me. For that reason, I usually prefer to be a contributor to someone else’s get-together, where I cook and send/bring the food (Dana and I share a love of cooking for other people, so this way I can do it without feeling the pressure of being the hostess).  We love to make food sometimes and just drop it off to people.  That blesses them, and it blesses us without stressing me out over the pressure to entertain!

The biggest shock of all to me was when the Lord spoke to me three years ago and impressed upon me to get credentialed in ministry.  As you know, I’m a writer, and I’m very content to make books and the internet my pulpit.  I don’t relish the thought of standing behind a podium and doing public speaking. Nevertheless, I said yes to God and completed a two-year process that earned me an Exhorter’s and then an Ordained Minister’s license in the Church of God denomination.  All the while, as I went though the process, I wondered why the Lord would pick a virtual hermit to be one of His messengers.  I had to arrive at peace with the fact that, while He will stretch this wineskin a little out of her comfort zone, He won’t rupture me and waste His investment!  I did a lot of soul searching, and it was healing to discover that I’m not less holy than an extrovert who by nature loves being in the company of others constantly.

Introvertedness is not a measure of one’s heart or holiness.  I like to think of us as the edge pieces of the puzzle.  We are connected to the body, too, but we have a specific place to fit in the overall synergy of the picture that perhaps makes us connected on fewer sides.  But, even corner pieces are necessary!

I’ve seen so many bold preachers and teachers and lay people who are incredible with people; and thought that there must be something wrong with me for not handling the close proximity thing with their kind of ease. At times I have felt as if perhaps I weren’t as good a person as those who are comfortable with people in their face constantly. I know people who make great foster parents, or who host a lot of company and love having people in their houses—even strangers.  Their driveways are always abuzz with cars coming and going.  Some of them even raise their grandkids and love it.

They’re also the sort who love to take a dozen people with them on vacation and always have a posse running around with them, hanging on their every word. Conversely, people who are extroverts don’t do alone very well; and they thrive on that constant interaction.  They have a wonderful work to do, God bless them every one.  I admire them, I cheer them on, but I am not them.  Other people’s drama can quickly spiral me into exhaustion and then depression.  But there is still a place for me in the body of Christ, and there’s a place for you if these scenarios aren’t your cup of tea, either.

Yes, it took a while for me to realize that not everyone in ministry is or has to be an extrovert!  Some of the people I thought were the most grand social butterflies are in fact, very much like me–the square peg introvert. They have just learned the fine art of emotional management, time management, and adhering to a schedule where there’s promised alone time.  I’m better than I used to be, but I’m still after all these years trying to find that happy medium.

I remind myself often that Jesus craved alone time and that He would routinely spend time away from His disciples to pray and recharge.  Sometimes His compassion would override His need for separation (as in the time He pitied the multitude following Him and ministered to them even while tired…seeing them as sheep with no shepherd).  But the Word does not tell us that He did that every single time.  No doubt He was always in demand; but He still got alone with the Father; and the Word even tells us His custom was to do it early in the mornings.  Perhaps that was the only time He could guarantee that other people weren’t stirring around looking for Him.

I do know that the more time I’m in the company of others, the less time I have for collecting my thoughts and pouring them onto paper.  I need that aloneness in order to release the essence of my gift. So the introvert nature is a bit of a blessing for the writer/artist part of me.

I just don’t get lonely very often. I was never the girl who could never go to the restroom without asking one of the other girls to come along.   I love to go on long drives by myself, and some of my happiest prayer times have been on long, lone commutes. Much as I love my husband and other members of my family, I still need that space.  It energizes me.  It heals me.  It’s the “beside still waters” place where my Shepherd restores my soul and my sanity.

I’ve rambled a bit, so thanks for your patience.  I guess this is all gushing out because I need to say it as much as someone possibly needs to hear it.  Maybe I just need to get it off my chest. If you’re a friend or family member who wishes I would give more of myself, thank you for enduring the fact that I’m only good for a short stint before I retreat back into my cave.  I’m just like a cordless phone that can’t be off the charging cradle too long!

But seriously, back to the subject of ministry and the introvert, I encourage you not to perceive yourself as unfit!  Find a place where you can serve, that stretches you just enough to keep you growing, but that doesn’t let you make life all about you, either.  There is a way to connect with other people even if you don’t want to have an entourage following you and calling you constantly!  I think Jesus May have deliberately chose 12 disciples with enormous differences in personalities and gift mixes.  It teaches us that it takes all kinds to make up His church.  Some of His disciples we know about practically in name-only.  They didn’t write canonized epistles or have particularly daring historical accounts, but their presence was significant just the same.  Jesus even chose the one who would ultimately choose whether or not to betray Him…and did. Interesting, isn’t it?

Hey, I’m in my 50’s and I’m still trying to overcome the desire to pull the covers back over my head a lot of mornings.  I could choose to let this introverted nature completely rule me.  At times, perhaps I have.  Becoming bold to be a writer and musician and to wear other hats has surely been a long process.  But I do want to be fruitful and to let Jesus conform me to His nature; so I keep trying, and I keep putting myself back up on the Potter’s wheel to work out the marred parts of my clay jar.

If you’re wrestling with your place in the kingdom and in ministry, pray with me:

Father, I identify with Paul when he wrote about wanting to be one way but found himself being another way.  He was referring to his sin nature which constantly needed put in check; but sometimes I find my personality just as frustrating as a sin nature. I need your help.  I present my body to You as a living sacrifice. Make it holy and acceptable. Take the parts of me that need perfecting, and work them over (and over again if necessary).

Paul said that he became all things to all men so that he might win some to You.  Help me to identify with others on a more Christlike level.  Help me to have the wisdom to make room for sharing Your Good News while navigating this life as someone whose personality prefers aloneness.  Show me ways to make a difference in the world in spite of my need for an arms-length relationship with most people.  Help me not to be blind to elements of my nature that warrant change; but also help me not to judge myself unfairly based on the accuser of the brethren’s voice, who tells me that I’m unworthy, not holy enough, or not fit to serve in the role of ministering to others.  

I want to be involved, truly—but I want to be involved in a way that is energizing to me and not just draining.  I need Your wisdom to pair me with what fits the person You created me to be. Give me opportunities to sow into the ministries of those who can handle the more dramatic one-on-one encounters!  There are people who are perfectly crafted to minister in some very difficult social settings which I cannot deal with effectively.  If You lead me to support those ministries, I will back them however You tell me—financially, behind-the-scenes, or just merely in prayer. Give me a servant’s heart that overrides my will, when my need for aloneness crosses the threshold from healthy to just plain selfish.  Even though I need down-time, help me to always be generous and compassionate. Give me balance.

And Lord, help me to be less judgmental of others.  I’ve often mistaken other people’s personalities for being something they weren’t.  Just as I don’t want to be misunderstood, help me not to misunderstand.  Help me to be more tolerant of those I perceive to be overbearing people, because in some cases, it’s just their extroverted personality showing through.  Help me work through my desire to retreat from and avoid the hard, necessary business of loving and tolerating people who aren’t just like me. Some of their strengths can compensate for my weaknesses, and vice versa.  We need one another.  

In whatever areas You have gifted me, I’ll serve to the best of my ability.  Yes, I can have a bold message of faith to share and still be someone who has a quiet nature.  I’ll draw strength from my time alone with You and will carry it out to a lost, hurting world who needs to know that You love them.  I’ll fight the doubt that tries to make me feel disqualified from ministry.  You made me; You can use me in any way that You choose…and not even my weaknesses can change that.  They are only crippling weaknesses if I were to refuse to let You work on me.  I surrender to You what I have.  I am the loaves and the fishes.  Bless me, break me, and feed the hungry.  

In Jesus’ name…

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