It seems that it’s time for me to out myself and be transparent.
I’m reading two books at the moment that are causing quite a stir in me. The first is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The other, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who you Are by Dr. Brene Brown. I was afraid that reading these books at the same time might be counterproductive, yet it seems that they are a very good fit for me at this point in my life.
Quiet gives a great perspective on introversion and how, although not given a lot of credit in the world today, introverts should not be ashamed of their introversion. The other proclaims that it is ok to be yourself! Be authentic! Be Courageous in being yourself and connecting with people! I heartily agree thus far (I haven’t finished the book quite yet, but so far, YAY!), except when it comes to thinking of myself acting on these principles.
So here’s the thing. I, Whitney Lea Morse, am an introvert. Sometimes painfully so. Yet, I want to be what people need me to be. Some might say here, “we need you to be yourself!” That’s all well and good and mighty kind of you, but Lordy be! Could you pass that along to everyone else?
As you can imagine, I am learning a lot from these two books. I’ve been a bit emotional, teared up a few times, and gotten seriously pissed off (mostly as a defense mechanism) while reading and thinking of applying these two books to my life.
There are quite a few areas that I see I should work on, but right now, at the forefront of my mind, one area stands out to me. It is the section Susan Cain writes about called, “Does God Love Introverts? An Evangelical’s Dilemma.” TELL ME MORE!!!
My knee jerk response to this heading/question is, “DUH. Of course God loves introverts!” But do I really, truly think that?
Cain sets the stage: she is meeting a Protestant Evangelical pastor at one of the most extroverted church in the world, Saddleback Church, where Rick Warren, the author of the ever popular book “The Purpose Driven Life,” is pastor. This church concentrates on evangelizing, meeting people...and yes, even...talking to people.
The pastor that Cain is meeting is named Adam McHugh. McHugh realized while he was being educated to become a pastor, that in the Evangelical realm of the Christian church, followers are lead down the path of extroversion. Emphasis is put on talking to anyone and everyone about Jesus. In McHugh’s experience as an introvert, he’s felt shame, guilt and as though he disappointed God by sometimes missing the opportunity to talk to someone.
Oh dear! As a Christian, I’ve felt the same way! Judgement, worthlessness, shame and regret always follow. Then without realizing it, I find myself thinking, “God should just give up on me. I’m a failure and can’t do what He wants me to.”
This is where Dr. Brown’s book comes into the equation! Dr. Brene Brown studies shame and guilt in an effort to help people be themselves and live a “wholehearted life.” Dr. Brown wants people to be authentic to themselves! Well, to an introvert like McHugh, being authentic to himself would be to work on the sidelines, yet this doesn’t seem to be an option for Evangelical Christians.
Another area that is quite awe inspiring and amazing, is that everything about the Evangelical Church today is centered on socializing. Services begin with greeting one’s neighbor...let me stop here. This doesn’t seem like a big thing. Who can’t get through a minute or two of shaking people’s hands and saying, “Hi! I’m _____!” Well...I’m embarrassed to say, I can hardly get through it. I feel like burrowing down into a hole and hiding away until the preaching starts. I may have even “accidentally” been late to church in order to completely miss this part of the service.
Once the service starts, there’s usually a greeting by the pastor. This may or may not include a, “I’m sorry...I didn’t hear you! I said, GOOD MORNING EVERYONE!!” From the pastor if he doesn’t receive as exuberant a response to his first greeting as he’s looking for. Then, when the message is over, there is usually some sort of musical worship (this can happen before the service too, liturgy is all over the place and that’s ok ;) ).
I love singing, especially with a big group of people who are doing so to worship God, but really, that’s the whole service! There often isn’t time for people to sit and reflect on what they’ve just heard. If there is, it’s only for maybe a minute or so and people from the worship team are usually heading back up to the stage or even starting to play their instruments. That’s not quiiite enough time for us introverts before we’re flung into a group project again.
After the service, a lot of people want to chitchat about life and say hi and socialize. Please believe me when I say that there is nothing wrong with this. Yet, over the years, I’m always irritated with this part. When we’re greeting each other, I want to hide and cry, but after the service, I’m just sort of mad that everyone is trying to talk to me. I understand now (honestly, just as I’m typing this), that the reason this makes me so upset, is because all I want to do is reflect. I want to think. I want to talk with my husband, one on one, about what he thinks. He’s one of the few people I can share most things with and not feel stupid, and I really honor the time that we get to chat and share our views. Going directly to socializing after the service puts me on edge and in a bad mood.
**I feel I should put a disclaimer here. As much as it doesn’t sound like it, I really like people. I do! I’m not mad when people want to talk to me. Usually, I have a mixture of delight and unease during these times. Delight because I want people to like me and to put their confidence in me (I really really really enjoy listening to people talk), and unease because I’m afraid that I won’t act correctly, say the right things, be what they want me to be, or that they might ask me about myself. Nevertheless, I really do like people, but they exhaust me.**
Not only are church services full of socializing, but a huge wave in the Christian community now is COMMUNITY. A lot of churches see this as the most important part of being a Christian. There are small groups for everything, and Christians “should” be spending a lot of time together throughout the week.
Any Christian extroverts who are reading this, please pay attention here. I cannot express how crucially important this is: not attending a small group (community group, whatever name you want to use) does NOT mean that someone is hiding a sin. Let’s just let that sink in for a second.
You got it?
Ok, on we go!
The areas that I’m introverted mean that small groups are a frightening place for me. Groups of people in general are frightening, but especially those where one or more people believe and then act as though someone is hiding a sin or doing something wrong because they don’t attend enough or any group meetings, is dangerous. Being told, no matter what way, that you are sinning, hiding from God, running from God, or going against God’s wishes in general, because you are absent from a group that the church tells you to attend is one of the most hurtful, crushing things that can be uttered. This has happened to me, and I’m still almost incapacitated by it.
When I am in a group of people, especially in church groups, I am terrified. My heart is racing, I feel cold, alone, like I’m about to be attacked, and like there is something...no, everything wrong with me. Some of this comes from the talks that people have had with me about my attendance, but part of it is the simple fact that I am an introvert. No matter how much I like people, there are maybe two in the world that I can be around without feeling on guard and exhausted. Even if we’re doing my favorite activity with my favorite people, it doesn’t matter. That’s just how I am and I haven’t been able to figure out how to change it.
Equating how often one attends a small group to salvation and one’s relationship with Christ is complete bullshit. I have seen this too much to be nice about it. Even in some of these small groups, people have proclaimed that one-on-one time with God is the cornerstone of faith, which is an introvert’s paradise, yet the most emphasis is put on getting together in a group of people and asking each if they’re getting that one-on-one time in. Yes, I agree that people are to hold each other accountable, but doesn’t this pattern seem a bit skewed? If someone would rather spend time one-on-one with God than go to a small group, let them!
I am by no means saying that people shouldn’t meet in small groups, or that there are some people who don’t go due to hiding some sins. This is true! But good grief! That doesn’t mean that you can discount the fact that there are different kinds of people out there!
Here’s, I guess, what all this comes down to for me. I am a Christian. I believe in Christ. I think that meeting together for corporate worship is necessary. I think that small groups are cool. I believe God is fully aware of all the differences that people have. I am an introvert. I believe that God loves me and that He understands introversion. Part of this include the fact that I am almost delirious with frustration, over stimulation and shame when I leave church and when I even think of small groups. I believe that the shame comes from the constant slap in the face of my “loving church community” when I disappoint them and they believe I disappoint God by how I feel about these things. I do not believe that this shame is from God. Yet this doesn’t keep me from thinking sometimes that everyone else is right, and God hates me for not attending small groups. I do believe that this is absolutely wrong, and I don’t want anyone else to feel this way.
I am left pondering: How is it possible to be authentic when places where it really counts see your personality trait as something bad, shameful and sinful? How can I see myself as anything but worthless when people who are supposed to love me no matter what, turn on me and accuse me of things that aren’t true? How can I love myself when all signs point to the fact that I am wrong and bad, in and of myself?
The Adam McHugh that Susan Cain met at Saddleback Church realized a while ago that he wasn’t the only Christian introvert. As introverts tend to do, he thought, prayed, talked to other introverts and ruminated over how God really feels about His introverts. McHugh has written a book called, Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. Realizing the hurt, worthlessness and shame that came up while writing this post, I think I’ll be picking this book up right away. I’ll let you all know how it goes! ;)