To the Introverted Evangelical.
"Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know Thee." - St. Augustine
Introversion. What a beautiful word. It’s a word I wasn’t aware of until the last few years, and grasping an awareness of this term has released me to understand my faith in Christ in a deeper way than I could ever have imagined.
Has anyone ever shamelessly uttered to you, “Why don’t you come out of your shell more?” Yeah? Me, too. (Cue the eye roll, please)
What does personality have to do with the way one interacts with Christ? In my opinion, it has practically everything to do with it. Because we are made in the very image of God, the way that we view Him directly impacts the way that we view ourselves; conversely, when we view ourselves as inadequate members of the body of Christ (as has been a common attitude I’ve observed in evangelical churches towards introverts), we don’t view ourselves as God would view us; thus, we fail to attribute the presence of God’s image being displayed in our uniqueness because we are not gregarious or outgoing enough.
Growing up, I was eager to attend summer kids camps and teen camps with my church to southern Illinois. Whenever our bus reached our campsite, I sighed with excitement in my heart for what I would experience that summer week. I thought to myself, “This is the week when I will grow closer to Christ,” as well as “This is the week I will become more extraverted” (though the latter phrase was uttered in secret).
As I adjusted to camp by meeting my camp counselor and other fellow campers, I knew that I was in for the week of a lifetime. As the week progressed, I was flooded with so many stimuli – from leaders speaking into foghorns, to team competitions, to loud ice cream social times at the end of each night. Honestly, I could care less what team I was placed on because I was overwhelmed by every team game (except for individual tennis, which I loved to compete in), and I hid in the corner with my fellow quietude lovers whenever we would have hour-long team pep rallies. I thought that surely the evening worship services would patch up how out-of-place I felt during the morning and afternoon activities, finally allowing me to encounter God for who I was instead of who camp culture thought I should be. However, my impressionable self felt like a failure when I couldn’t engage in jumping-and-shouting camp worship services. I thought camp surely was the height of the spiritual experience, and I was missing out because I was so distracted by the screams and the shouts and the lights and the smoke. The higher I jumped and the louder I shouted, I realized that the only marked experience occurring to me was that my body was growing tired and my voice was quickly turning hoarse. “Maybe tomorrow night will be my night at camp,” I’d say to myself and to my friends. “Tomorrow might be the night when I experience God for real. Tonight was just off for me.” I decided that I needed to define what a successful worship encounter would look like. “When I finally cry, that’s when I’ll know I’ve experienced God, just like everyone else.” This was my resolution. So I would hope for tears, seeking for the Holy Spirit to move in my heart in a tangible way so I could validate my experience to those around me – so I could validate my experience to myself. But I was tired. I was weary. I was disillusioned.
But when I least expected it, when all but a few campers had left the sanctuary for the night, I felt God's sweet presence meeting me for who I was – quiet, contemplative me. I held to those moments.
After coming home from church camp, I returned to my same life routine; I still craved silent prayer time with Christ over corporate worship times at church. I was terribly nervous to go up to the altar during worship at my home church, but I also felt a sense of guilt if I didn’t make my faith known to those around me by my outward actions. I didn’t feel comfortable dancing or shouting in youth group. I was not only tired; I was tired of being tired. I was living my faith in light of the expectations I felt others had upon me. Instead of genuinely raising my hands during worship, I would strategically time when I would raise one hand, then two, higher, then higher, in order to make sure my outward expression was acceptable to match the “passionate” people around me.
By the time college rolled around, I had had enough. I just wanted Christ without the noise that had become all too familiar. I craved His presence not so I could say to others that I’d been in His presence. I craved His presence so I could know that He was near beyond tear-soaked tissues, present when lights and smoke weren’t circulating around an auditorium, and aware of my worship to Him when my heart was bowed before Him, even if my body wasn’t knelt at the altar. It was at this moment of the recognition of my own inward inauthenticity that I decided to visit an Anglican church. I desired a change of scenery, but what I needed was a deeper awareness of God’s presence in the quiet of my naturally contemplative soul. And He met me there. He met me in the quiet awe, the planned out liturgy, the passing of the peace, and the Eucharist. And He’s still meeting me there.
In Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, she explains about the culture of the evangelical church at large, “Evangelicalism has taken the Extrovert Ideal to its logical extreme. If you don’t love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love. It’s not enough to forge your own spiritual connection to the divine; it must be displayed publicly” (Cain 69).
As a newcomer to adulthood, I’ve become ever more comfortable and confident in my introversion. Though I’ve still had a fair share of extraversion-targeted conferences and events to attend during my college years, I have chosen to embrace the silence in my heart, as well as the opportunity to sneak into a hotel lobby on an upbeat family vacation to write a little (as I’m doing right now). So, back to that shell we’re both in.
I think it’s okay to be at home in that shell. For, that shell isn’t something to fight or to scorn, for God can use your unique, introverted personality to bring Him glory, revealing His praise through each reflective and sometimes silent step. It’s okay if you’re not into the flashing lights, the smoke, the dancing, the shouting, the raising of hands, or the running. Please, my friend, know that you aren’t alone on this journey of being an introverted evangelical in a very extraverted church culture. Though you may not be gregarious, you are valuable. Though you may not be the first to volunteer for being on the worship team, your worship to the Lord is valuable and is beautiful in His sight. Your personality is not flawed because you crave contemplation and silence; for, you are made in God’s very image, and He will be glorified through your willingness to love Him with all that you are. Let your unique song add to the beautiful cacophony of praise and worship being offered by all who follow Christ, extraverted and introverted Christians alike.