I am an introvert and for most of my life I have seen that part of me as a problem that needs to be fixed! It has felt like there is something wrong with me, something that is missing from me that others have. It has often made me feel like a failure – like being rained on all the time whilst others have the sunshine!
When I was a child, I was a very shy introvert who hated having the attention of others focussed on me. I remember in junior school when each member of the class had to give a 5 minute talk to the rest of the class and I was dreading it for weeks. On the day, I just read facts from the Observers Book of Cars whilst hiding as best I could behind the book, shaking in my shoes, and going bright red! Afterwards, I was picked on mercilessly by numerous classmates. Of course, that just made it worse and for a lot of my school life, I would colour up whenever the teacher asked me a question in front of the class, and everyone around me would be whispering, ‘You’re going red’!
Fortunately, there were some saving graces in that I was often top of the class in maths, and I was good at sport. I think it was these areas and having a growing respect among my peers in teenage years that probably saved me.
The situation didn’t change much when I started work. Oh, the childish ‘bullying’ wasn’t there but I still felt like a second rate citizen and was regularly told, “You need to put yourself out there more, put the ‘goods in the shop window’, break out of yourself, if you want to climb the career ladder”. It seemed like doing a really good job, being totally committed and hard working, was never enough – I was an introvert and to get on in life you have to be an extrovert and network with lots of people. The subliminal message was that it’s not what you know, but who you know, and even more, what people think you know. It seemed to be all about being outgoing, putting on a front and blagging it!
Sadly, I’m not sure that it changed much in church. The message I heard, albeit it wasn’t overtly taught, was that a Christian should be extrovert – they should mix with others, be gregarious, talk to everyone about Jesus, mix easily with friends and neighbours, take part in all of the church activities and meetings, even the social activities. In short, to be ‘out there’ all the time. I used to cringe when the minister would say in the middle of a service, “Turn round and say hello to someone you don’t know”. For years I couldn’t understand why I felt free and joyful when the service was OVER and I was on my way home. I felt positively guilty – surely I should feel that way when I’m IN church, when I’m worshiping with others the God I love!
One day when I was out walking some time after I had dropped out of established church, I decided I would Google ‘introverts and the church’. I had been quietly praying on my own in the middle of the woods and it just came to me that there might be something that might help me. Imagine my surprise when I came across numerous articles online that indicated that lots of people felt the same way I did, that lots of introverts have exactly the same issues with church, feelings of being outsiders who really struggle to fit in, who just find it tiring when in community! It was unbelievably freeing, and the message that had a real impact on me was……..
‘AS AN INTROVERT, YOU ARE NOT A PROBLEM TO BE FIXED!’
We are all made in God’s image and He made some extroverts and some introverts. Neither is better than the other and all have their place in society and even in church – maybe the subliminal message goes out the wrong way, or maybe I heard it or felt it the wrong way. Maybe past events jaded my experience. Or maybe as an introvert, doing something in community is always going to be a strain. Maybe if there were just opportunities to talk about these things……..!
Over the many years that I have been on this earth, I have been able to overcome my shyness – getting involved in leadership at, of all things, my local camera club helped enormously because I became much more used to talking to others and giving talks at the club on a subject I knew well. Preaching in church and joining church leadership followed from this for some years. These experiences helped but I am still, and always will be, an introvert who will never find it easy to spend lots of time in ‘community’.
I am still not back in an established church, partly because of the pandemic, but partly because I still struggle with the formality and ‘expectations’. However, I do feel the need and the desire for Christian community, especially now that I have retired and that I have lost the friendship of my Christian work colleagues. Because of this, I have been thinking a lot about doing what I call, ‘alternative Christian community’. I am an outdoors person and love walking and cycling and being amongst nature and it seems that the ideal for me would be something like an informal Christian walking group, a sort of ‘church in the outdoors’, away from formality and perceived expectations. Such a thing may not exist locally to me but I am still intending to pursue this when the pandemic allows.
What is the purpose of my writing this? I wonder if anything I have said resonates with you? If so, just remember that as an introvert, or maybe also as an extrovert, YOU ARE NOT A PROBLEM TO FIX! God made you that way so embrace it, love who you are because you have valuable strengths that God can use. The world might love extroverts, but, thank the Lord, He loves all of us equally!
Be blessed and thanks for reflecting with me.
(All pictures and words on this site are copyright of Terry Yarrow unless otherwise stated)