When you’re an introvert who prefers quiet corner and God asks you to step out of your comfort zone, into an extroverted world, sometimes you wonder?
I mentioned it the other day to a friend who understands, Adam McHugh, pastor, chaplain, and author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture— that when I focus on just this one wondrous person in front of me, then the world gets beautifully small and quiet again, regardless of wherever we are.
When my wife was young she and her mom, they’d sing.
Sing this “Fruit of the Spirit” song at bedtime:
“Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Self-controoOool!”
I know this because every now and then, when she’s really sleepy, my wife will break out the song when we’re going to bed.
I have even heard myself singing along with her on a couple of occasions. Unfortunately, we usually laugh so hard in those moments that it’s counterproductive to sleeping.
I didn’t grow up singing this song – though for some reason, as a four-year-old I fancied the chorus of “It’s Raining Men” – but I am grateful that my wife did because it has drawn my attention to that scripture in recent weeks.
It was a child’s song that renewed me in my assurance of God’s love and in the hope that He is working through me when I am myself.
Over the holidays I saw an old college friend at a party.
We were at one of those co-ed baby showers that have come into vogue, and that men are eagerly awaiting for people to get over.
This friend and I had ample time to catch up while others were rubbing the mom-to-be’s belly and taking baby quizzes and putting chocolate pudding in diapers.
In some ways he and I have a lot in common. We attended the same college, are both pastors in southern California, both care deeply about the mission of the Church.
But our personalities are polar opposite. He is incredibly extroverted and charismatic and magnetic; he is one of those people that changes the energy of a room when he walks into it. People are immediately drawn to him and he can turn a stranger into a friend faster than I can drive away from a co-ed baby shower. He can have a conversation about anything with anyone. He is the guy who knows ALL his neighbors, to the point that one passerby once speculated that he was a mafia kingpin.
I, on the other hand, am the classic introvert, the one who starts out quiet in new settings and gets quieter. I like people, but conversation, it can wear me out. I have several close friends but I am not terribly motivated to make conversation with people I don’t know well. I have a good sense of humor, but mostly because I sit around by myself a lot thinking of funny things to say. I will often choose reading a book over a group activity.
I have mostly come to terms with my personality, and I have even written a whole book to help introverts navigate the life of the church. But that encounter with my old friend resurfaced some of the feelings I had in my younger days: wondering whether something was wrong with me or whether introverts are spiritually inadequate?
Is God not as pleased with me when I choose solitude over conversation? Am I a bad witness to the gospel?
That last question has been particularly painful for me in the past, when nonbelievers would praise my extrovert-dynamo friend as “someone who really lives out what he believes,” by which they often meant that he was friendly and warm and outgoing.
It’s hard not to hear a subtle jab thrown my way in those conversations, with the subtext “You’re quiet and guarded and you are not a good example of your faith.”
I was left to wonder, in the privacy of my room on those nights, if my introversion contradicted the welcome that God extends to all people.
It’s hard enough when people in the church criticize introverts as unfaithful or closed, but it is extra painful when nonbelievers consider believing introverts to be bad models of faith, even to be turned off to the gospel because of our temperaments.
In the days following my reunion with my friend, I again agonized over these questions.
But my wife’s fruit of the Spirit song spoke truth. It played through my head one afternoon, perhaps was put in my head, and I remembered that “extrovertedness” is not a fruit of the Spirit.
Paul doesn’t say that the internal work of God will produce love, joy, peace, patience, and gregariousness.
People are born with different temperaments, which is all part of God’s rich and beautiful design for His body, but kindness is what we’re all called to.
Kindness is what God is working in us through the implanted seed of the gospel.
Of course, extroversion is a wonderful quality, but some people have it and some people don’t. No matter what our temperaments, however, kindness is to be our stance before people.
The apostle Paul uses the word kindness a few times to describe God’s action in sending a Savior and showing mercy to humankind.
To be kind then, is to show people mercy. Kindness will extend itself beyond our tribes to help and support and listen to people in need.
And for introverts, this will happen one person at a time, one step at a time, one small risk at a time.
Paul also says that God’s kindness is what leads people to repentance.
Being outgoing, in some cases, may get people to the door — but kindness is what draws people in to eat with the Savior.
To gather round a table and eat with the Body, stay up late, singing songs and laughing, those fruits of the Spirit hanging low and close….