This is the first post in my “God Says Yes” series.
I’m not just alluding again to Kaylin Haught’s poem here. I’ve actually asked God if it’s okay to be introverted.
Why would we think it’s not okay to be introverted?
- Introverts look around us and extroverts seem to be most visible. At work and school, we see extroverts speaking more frequently and forcefully than others. At social events, we see party hosts and extroverted guests mingling comfortably. At church, we see the greeters, musicians, and preachers — seemingly everyone who’s anyone — engaging gregariously with crowds of congregants. Extroverts can just be so visible, so we might assume they’re right.
- Introverts look inside ourselves and feel afraid. Before or during socializing, we can feel real physiological and mental stress. For example, when I was first getting involved in a new church, I went to a party being held by the young adult ministry — but only after calling a friend to tell her about the knot in my stomach and the fear in my mind of not knowing what to do or say. (Fun fact: I didn’t know what to do or say, but party-goers didn’t even notice or at least didn’t mind. We’re friends now.) Introversion can just be so uncomfortable, so we might assume it’s wrong.
There are things I simultaneously strongly want to do and strongly fear doing. I want to have friends, go to social events, make business contacts, be involved in ministry. Yet, I look at others’ extroversion, look at my own introversion, and wonder if I’m really able to do those things.
Yes yes yes.
Why, from a Christian perspective, is it okay to be introverted?
- Scripture. There are countless positive examples of introversion throughout Scripture. In the gospels, Jesus often “went away to a quiet place to pray” (Matt. 14:13, 23; Mark 1:35; Luke 4:42, 5:16). To Elijah, God spoke through a “still small voice” rather than winds and fires (1 Kings 19:11-13). And to Isaiah, God said: “In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15). The apostle James instructs that everyone should “be quick to listen; slow to speak; slow to anger” (James 1:19).
- Tradition. For the majority of Christian history, from the early desert fathers to the 16th-century founding of the Jesuits, the discipline of silence has been a valued tradition. And the tradition is still alive. Last weekend, I got to participate in a silent retreat at a local retreat center along with 20 or so others from my church. From Friday evening to Sunday morning, we kept a vow of silence, setting aside distractions, letting fears fall away, putting people-pleasing aside. In silence, we could take the time to identify our thoughts and feelings, entrust them to God, and hear His voice instructing and comforting. What’s more, in a silent group (which is only a little awkward at first), introverts can experience the reality that we’re not wrong to speak less than others. In that setting, in fact, we’re quite right!
- Reason. Research is showing more and more that introversion isn’t so much about social awkwardness (wish I’d known that in middle school) but biological predisposition. And those who have that predisposition can contribute just as much as extroverts — just in different ways. Books like Susan Cain’s Quiet and Adam McHugh’s Introverts In the Church have helped me understand and maximize ways to contribute to the workplace and church as an introvert. Introverts are generally better with one-on-one and small group interactions rather than working with large groups. So, at work and school, we can be focused workers, careful listeners, good note-takers, mediators of conflict, and more. At church, we can be great small group leaders, wise mentors, and potentially helpful with setting up events, serving Communion, passing offering plates, and so much more. Public speaking can even be right up an introvert’s alley, contrary to popular belief, because it affords the chance to prepare and to speak in a planned manner that lets the introvert maintain control of the situation. (Just don’t ask us too many scary, spontaneous Q&A questions!)