Monday, July 13, 2009

An introvert at church

I don't see intro/extroversion as an astrology-type analysis that is supposed to dictate your actions and foretell your future.

But the first time I read testimonies of other introverts, it was like reading about myself. It's the little mini-panic attacks when you have to sit in a circle and introduce yourself, and waiting for your turn is just agony....

When I was a child, I used to whine, "Don't look at me!" at the dinner table. I would like to say that it is about not liking to be the center of attention. But we all seek attention, in our own way.

full post/-

Who came up with the idea of "ice-breakers?" For some of us they can be traumatizing and send us further into our shells. In my teacher training (TESOL), we learned many "ice-breaker" type games to use when getting to know a new group of students, or as a warm-up. I have a whole booklet of them.

The ironic thing is that when I had to participate in these mixers myself at a conference a few months ago, it was agony...and I thought...why did I think it was a good idea to make students do this?

There are the name games. There are the "people hunt" type of games where you search for people who fit certain characteristics (these are good for vocabulary building later on, but when you are first meeting someone, do you really want to know these random facts?). There are also games done in pairs. My partner and I had to ask each other a few questions and then report back. It was more of an "exercise" than a game. At first I was can I possibly collaborate with this person on something when we don't even know each other? I didn't understand this idea of instant teamwork. There was no time for chit-chat. Just as we were getting warmed up, we had to stop talking and go to the front of the room one by one to report on our partner. Can you say stage-fright?

Now, God does have the power to transform a person. A lot can happen when we are able to take our eyes off ourselves. But God does not want us to pretend we are someone we're not. He made us different so that we could complement each other.

My response is usually one of confusion, that I try to mask. How can that (extroverted) person have so much energy? When someone is telling me about his/her news, I listen carefully. I nod and wait for my turn. An extrovert may interrupt with gasps of ecstasy or dismay, depending on the situation. This is bewildering to me. But it's not necessarily bad.

I remember being at a church retreat in college with a bunch of fellow students. We had a pretty packed schedule. After leaving our rooms at about 7 am, we had a full day of worship and seminars, going to and from meals without going back to our rooms until evening. That was okay; I paced myself. Evening came, and I happily flopped down on my bed in the hotel room. My friend came into the room and exclaimed, "What are you doing? Why don't you ever want to hang out with us?" I was shocked. "I just spent the entire day with you!" I can laugh at it now, but it was an eye-opener to how different people's social needs can be.

It affects the emotions as well, and I can remember various worship experiences where I was surrounded by people being openly emotional. Why was that lady up there waving her arms around, making it so I couldn't see the song lyrics? Why was that person next to me sobbing? I was choked up, too, but not that much. Why didn't God touch my heart like He touched theirs? I once forced myself to cry so hard that I hyperventilated. Eventually, I realized that God touches hearts differently, and gives us different ways of expressing how we feel.

At church today we were instructed to "Greet one another in love." I like seeing people in the hallway as I enter the sanctuary, but that very phrase struck fear in my heart. Concepts like "mingling" and "small talk" are frightening to an introvert. I wonder why? I think that part of it is a sense of privacy. If I am going to give anything deeper than a standard answer, I would prefer not to have 20 people standing around in close proximity. It also takes me awhile to warm up, and just as I am beginning to open up a tiny bit, it's time to sit down again. I would not be good at speed-dating. But I can use the time (at church) to make plans for a one-on-one visit. That's usually a good solution.

Having a formula, while impersonal, also helps to allay panic. But as the worship team jumped in, people were still chatting away. I didn't want to turn my back on the people still talking, but I was ready to follow along with the service. Where to focus my attention? I needed instructions.

As the sermon was drawing to a close, we were reading in Genesis about God's day of rest. The pastor started to encourage us about having a day of rest, but I had reviewed this theme recently, and floated off into thoughts about my own Sunday plans. Curling up with a book...catching up on some letter-writing. Going for a walk (alone) in the sunshine? Suddenly the pastor made a suggestion for getting some rest in the afternoon. "If you see some singles, why not invite them out? If you're a family, why not spend time with your family members or invite someone else to join you?" MAYDAY! I suddenly panicked, imagining someone I didn't know very well inviting me to go out. I retreated to the library to recharge, and then joined a few nice people in the nursery and caught up on their news.

Another day in the life of an introvert...


  1. I think this is one of the greatest posts you've ever written! It really helps me understand you better, and gives me some insights.

    USUALLY, I am extroverted. Usually, I'm ready to jump into any ice breaker. I love them! (Now, as a teacher, I want people to warm up, but I don't want any subset of my class to feel fearful or unhappy...what activities or approach do you suggest to make everyone comfortable?)

    I absolutely HATE, however, what seems to me to be a forced and artificial greeting at the beginning of a church service. This is not done commonly in Catholic churches, but as luck would have it, it IS done regularly at the church we are merging with (a habit I HOPE the pastor will not bring to our site. And, if he does, I'm forwarding this post!) Even I, the extrovert, feel very uncomfotable with this greeting - almost resentful - and I try to figure out why. Because I am most reflective and "private" in my thoughts at the beginning of a church service? It really does feel almost like a physical assault, which sound dramatic, but I'm surprised at the unpleasant sensation of being pulled out of a state of peace, that comes over me. (That begs the question....what attitude SHOULD we have at that point of Mass?) Because we are ORDERED to do something which ought only to be done via inner prompting, thus forcing us to be insincere, and to respond in a friendly manner to those we believe are being insincere to us? (BTW, this is one of the uncomfortable aspects of the pastor's suggestion that singles be invited out! You cannot even feel that they are doing it because they want to! Who wants an invitation because it is someone's "Chrisitan duty"?) Whatever it is, the "greet someone" order is one of the few that I regularly flout if I can do it without hurting someone's feelings. Even my children turn to me and one another rather than comply by giving a falsely happy greeting to a stranger.

  2. you know as a "people hating extrovert" who spends most of his time alone. I under stand where you are coming from. there is a reason that I sit by the door at church. it is because I find sitting in the rows so rattling that my heart pounds in panic every time. And the whole fellowship in the middle of the service it just makes me want to walk out (and I do, frequently make this a time when I go monitor the growth of the tree in front of the glass house).
    But there is more to it. the Myers-Brigs has four personality traits to consider for a reason (I/E) only being one of them.
    For me the big divide at church is thinking/feeling. I am so far to the thinking side of things that I have not understood the crying/falling/dancing side of things. During my DTS in YWAM there was this prayer night that I called charismanic night. People would flap their arms and jump up and down and get all into it. I would take off my shoes wrap my hoodie around it and use that as a pillow and sleep through it almost every time. (except when once they woke me up so that I could walk through crowd of leaders while they prayed and laid hands on me, kind of a spiritual spanking machine.)
    Yes God has made is diverse so that he can have many types of fellowship. We have taken or knowledge of good and evil to an extreme and use it to cut our selves apart.

  3. Shameless promotion alert: I wrote a book on introverts in the church called, conveniently, "Introverts in the Church." InterVarsity Press is releasing it in October/November. You can find out more about it here:

  4. Well Annie, I really felt like I was venting, but now I'm glad I posted it anyway.

    A lot of activities can be changed to seem less threatening. For example, with pairs activities, you could make it optional to share results in front of the class, or switch partners to compare notes. With name games, just make sure that everyone helps out the person whose turn it is, so he's not put on the spot.

    I don't really mind "greeting" people, but like I said, it feels stiff because first of all there is no privacy and second of all you know you're about to be interrupted by the service continuing, so you know you can't get into a real conversation.

  5. Josh, thanks for weighing in! Now I know why we haven't seen each other at church...we've both been hiding in the corners! I agree that the thinking/feeling is part of it, and I've been through those prayer experiences, including falling asleep.

    I stall sometimes too by folding chairs or something.

    Thankfully, church life isn't only about Sunday mornings, and there are opportunities to orchestrate other forms of fellowship in the way we like.

  6. Adam, thanks for the info. It looks like your blog has some good resources.

  7. Liz, you have not seen me lately because Laurel and I are talking a bit of a break from CC for the summer and visiting other churchs in the area. that way we get a Sabbath and don't just do more 'work' while we are at the service.

  8. I am an introvert, ridden with ADD, angry, unsatisfied, challenging, uncompromised. Selfish. I am agnry even when I pray. My prayers are not gracious. They are challenging and angry.

    If you can beat that I can tell that you know what it is like to be growing up in a VERY dysfunctional home (my parents were alcoholics).

    Anniessa, my name is not Vasily!


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