Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Introverts in Church

Can I just admit it? I love church. But I'm not all that energized by it. Quite often, I'm discouraged. And here's what I mean: when I walk out of church, more frequently than not, I have the nagging feeling that something holy just happened, and I missed it.

For years, I tried to trace this back to my own psychological state, to my level of engagement, to my distraction, to my neglect. I've tried and tried to do "better" at church, to be more fully there, to seek out the God in the worship and to worship Him. Occasionally, I can do that but on the cusp of true worship and that strangely warm feeling that God is near, I inevitably remember where I am and what's going on and I'm pulled back out of it.

For years, I thought there was something wrong with me. Something terminally, spiritually wrong with me.

And then I discovered...I'm an introvert.

There's a lot of misconception out there about what it means to be an introvert or an extrovert, namely that the latter enjoys the company of people and the former despises it. There's a mischaracterization that the introvert prefers to be alone, would like things quiet, and doesn't care much for the social interaction of a place like church. (The extrovert, of course, would thrive there.) But none of that is true. The introvert/extrovert distinction simply identifies where you draw your energy from - from within or from without (to put it simply).

As an introvert, I draw my energy from within. From being alone. From having down time. From having a place where I can connect to the deepest things within me and refuel. On the spiritual level, this is true down to the deepest sense. My spiritual well is deeper than my social well, and so to connect with God on a meaningful, energizing level, I draw way in.

Which is totally fine except that church, the place where we go to connect with God as community, is way out.

Now, I'm not saying the church needs to change. In fact, it doesn't. The community aspect of church is central to my Christian faith, and the fact that I can walk into that building on a Sunday morning and find a whole group of people turned toward God is a blessing. It strengthens me to know this community is around me. But when the doors close and the music starts, I find myself torn between the Christ and the congregation. It's just the way it is.

If I throw myself into the worship, I can find God, but I forget where I'm at. The closer I commune with my Christ, the more disconnected I seem to the church around me. In one of these moments, I've had a sister jokingly wave her hand in front of my face and ask if I was there or if I'd "zoned out," which of course brought me right back into the church to see the people all around me singing their praises, though I suddenly felt strangely disconnected from mine.

It's one reason I haven't been to our Christmas Eve service in a few years. Truth? I love our Christmas Eve service. The dark sanctuary, the stillness, the's exactly the thing that fuels my soul. It's that infinite smallness amidst immeasurable holiness that fills me up. And yet, with the community around, with the people to greet, with the hands to shake, with the requests to sit next to this or that family, with the smiles and stories and shoulder-hugs to share, come Christmas Eve, when I'm aching for a silent night with Jesus, the Christmas Eve service feels like one. more. thing. to DO. So I stay away, aching for the holy and longing to be a part of what's happening in my church without actually, you know, being a part of it. Because all you other people around makes me feel obligated to be social, and when I have to be social, I'm not in that place where I'm energized.

It's also why I love our Stations of the Cross Easter experience. It's private, self-guided, open for a time of reflection but as we all go through it according to our own hearts, we build a communal story of the journey. Which means I have both my Christ and my community, equally in ways that feed me.

And I am fed by this community, this church. I find that I am strengthened. I love watching people worship. I love singing as one voice among many. I love standing together as a body when we pray in His name. I love the hugs and the handshakes and the homeyness of it all. I choose, when I enter that building, to engage myself with the community. It's a conscious choice that I know is the cause of so much ache some days when I leave having missed the deep connection with my God, but God is always with me. And when I choose to engage with the people around me, I find that God is with me there, too. I see Him in the congregation. I see Him in their faces, in the way they walk, in their very presence and that's undeniably encouraging.

I'm sure there's a better balance in there somewhere. I'm sure there's a way for my introverted side to find God amidst the noise and for the community to enhance my experience of God. I know there are introverts all over the world who have probably figured this out, but I haven't yet. And I'm learning to be okay with that.

I'm learning to embrace my community for what it is and to not feel guilty for saying no to some things, if my no is in favor of a yes to my deepest spirit. I'm learning that it's okay to engage with my community and be confident that God is there, even if I don't feel Him as deeply as I would in a quiet moment. He's still there. I know it; I can see Him. I'm learning that it's okay for the best of both worlds to come together in a single world, in the integrity of my heart, that I can have a community and a Christ. Even if I haven't figured out exactly how I want to balance those. (And it still kind of swings. Maybe it always will. Some days, I lean in favor of the community. Many days, in favor of the Christ.)

What's primarily important is that I am connected to both, that I have a community that strengthens me and a faith that inspires me. I don't worry so much about what that looks like any more, or even what it feels like. I worry only about what it loves like, and if my love is compromised, I'll look again and try to figure out where to tweak the balance.

This goes back to something I said a few months ago to ministers (For Ministers and Ministry and Worship) and something I want to say tomorrow about introverts in ministry. So stay tuned for that. In the meantime, introverts of the world  - someone tell me I'm not the only one!

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