I am not an extrovert.
I knew that already, of course. But this week has driven it into me in a whole new way. I do not thrive if I cannot be alone at relatively regular intervals. And this week, although filled with wonderful things, has not been an introvert’s week.
Recently, I told someone that, though I love what I do, I have a tendency to do too much of it. It’s a privilege really, I know, to be able to work in such diverse contexts and roles and to love it all. But I am not an extrovert and much of what I love doing is with people, which means I have a bit of a problem.
I am energised by the first few opportunities in a week to speak to or with a group: I love to preach and I love to bat ideas back and forth across a table; I love to spend an hour or two just being present to someone who needs an ear, to make time to welcome new people, making sure they feel comfortable, or to give advice on implementation and processes where it is requested. In fact, all of these have been part of my week so far. (In case my research supervisor happens upon this post, I did do some reading and writing too – just not enough to soothe my inner introvert and make me feel grounded!)
What’s more, I am a bit of an adrenaline junkie. That City girl training wasn’t for nothing, you know! So, the back and forth of e-mails, the satisfaction in getting things done efficiently and faster than anyone thought possible, adding value – where I can – to others and their thinking or processes…it is all good stuff and it uses my gifts and training well.
But today – and yesterday, truth be told – the introvert in me started her hissy fit. Because enough was enough. All I have wanted for the last couple of days is to hibernate. I have wanted to escape the endless deluge of texts and e-mails, to delete the calendar entries.
I have wanted to run from the people. Indeed, I have struggled to maintain the fake extroversion which allows me to do so much of what God seems to have asked of me, even as I have continued to be drawn by that same people’s joy and pain, the startling nakedness of their humanity.
I have been desperate to sit at my research desk or, even better, somewhere in college where no one can find me. To bury my head in a book. To feel the play of words through my mind. Words that didn’t need to do anything, words that I could just enjoy reading. I have longed to be able to write in a way that is careless as to the output, that does not need to produce the next one in the train of five sermons or the seven devotionals on my list. To think idle thoughts, to pray and to sit. That has been my desire.
I don’t know why I’m surprised. I have learned to be more than ISTJ, to stretch beyond the natural limitations of my personality. And so I have learned not to be only a hermit who doesn’t do well in a group of more than two or three, who cannot read a text without circling every typo in it and cannot see the big picture however many times you show it to me, who can’t be bothered with all that feeling stuff when it comes to making decision-making, and who has planned her life down to the hour for the next five years and cannot bend her schedule for anyone. (You laugh. I’m serious.)
So I am more than ISTJ. But I am also not less.
And, once again, this week I have learned that I need to honour how he made me. I must learn these rhythms of grace, of solitude and stillness, of reflection and quiet. Not that you extroverts don’t need it too, for you do. But, as an introvert, I need to remember that I will hit meltdown sooner if I deprive myself of these things. I need, yet again, to learn to be absent in order better to be present.
I have also learned how the context affects me. It was more wearing to preach in a place where I was not known than it ever was in the college chapel earlier this year. It demanded more to sit round a table dreaming ideas amongst those whom I do not yet know well than it did to do something similar at college. I am better – typical introvert that I am – in contexts where I am known, where I don’t have to project my very self quite as far into the room. I can do the other places too, and I am privileged to serve there, but they drain me more quickly and I may need to do fewer of those, to say more Nos in those places, in order that I might say a better Yes.
There are times when I am envious of my extrovert friends. For you, this large groups of people thing is energising. To preach and lecture, teach and lead conversations – these, for you, are all joy. And they are for me too. But I have to pace myself. I have to return long and often to the solitude of a book and a pen, a quiet room all of my own. I have to say some Nos to things which are good and joy-bringing, because I want to say the right and fullest Yes, the Amen to what he has purposed in Christ.
And I am still learning.