Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Introversion in the Church

I am an introvert, which is probably one reason I have enjoyed blogging. We are nearing 800 posts on the blog, so it seems I don't always hate it, anyway. :-) I know I am not always faithful and I don't usually have much time to publish my own thoughts. But I have been reading the blog of Adam McHugh for a couple months and appreciate the introspection and commentary he has provided concerning the thoughts of the introvert as we relate to the local church. We are there and we play a role--Here are some thoughts on the subject...And I sure hope this is not the truly last post by McHugh.


In which I write my last post (Not Bright Idea) - about introversion -Adam McHugh

I have spent the last 5 years talking about introversion, and yes, I am aware of the irony.

I actually intend this to my last guest post about the subject, a quiet farewell to my quiet persona, but I have said that before. If I can’t totally quit you, Introversion, at least we need to take a break. You’re wearing me out, and I need some space.
I started writing about the subject because I noticed that a lot of other people were talking about what introversion isn’t.

Introverts aren’t social. We aren’t fun. We aren’t open, or free, or welcoming.
The stakes of “not” get higher in some Christian circles, where the “ideal” believer has started to act alarmingly extroverted: Participating widely, eagerly assuming leadership, flitting about the social circles of the church, opening your home to new people, wearing your faith on your sleeve. If you display those attributes, you might get called a Christian “on fire.” And if you’re not one of those people, you might be quenching the flames.
I was tired of people telling me what I wasn’t. So I vowed to start talking about what introversion is and what gifts we bring to the Church. I started reframing the central issue: it’s not sufficient to say that we lose energy in social interaction. Instead, we are people who thrive in solitude, who gain energy and creativity and fire in our precious times alone. Some of our best moments come when we are lost in our inner worlds. Most of us need more of them, not fewer.
My research was boosted by recent findings in neurological studies, where scientists have discovered that introverts actually show different brain patterns than extroverts. It turns out that introversion is the presence of something, not the mere absence of something else. We have more brain activity and blood flow than extroverts, meaning that we have naturally “busier” brains and that we require less of the brain chemical dopamine that is released in social interaction and activity.
Thus, it may actually be more pleasurable – in terms of the good feelings released in the brain – for us to be at home than it is for us to be at a party or church activity. It’s not that we don’t like people or are standoffish, it's that it actually feels better sometimes for us to be alone than in a crowd. Reading a book on a Friday night may feel better than a night out with friends, especially when we have spent the week in a socially charged atmosphere at work. In that case, it's not that we are choosing out of something, it's that we are choosing, joyfully and purposely, another activity.

Somewhere along the way, the evangelical tradition has come to define “love” as “passion for community.” We idealize those people who thrive on organizing and mobilizing and attending social events, and we consider that they are those with the most love for people, and by derivation, God. And, let’s be honest, those people are absolutely indispensable for the formation of relationships in a community. Those churches that don't have those people suffer because of it. At the same time, let's also acknowledge that there is more than "love for people" that is happening here. For those social galvanizers, it feels good to be around people and to see people connect with one another. They are thriving on the dopamine that is released in their brain from those experiences. And that's how God intended it for them.

But I am convinced that love does not have to look for everyone like an overt, uncontainable passion for being with others.

For some of us, our most passionate worship of our Lord, in which we are drawn more and more into his love, will come in the silence of our hearts. Sometimes we will gently say no in order that we can joyfully disappear into our inner worlds, because compassion and empathy stirs in there. Our love for others may be slow and quiet, walking one small step at a time. Yet you will know our love on those times we lay down our rights to solitude in order to give ourselves sacrificially to others.

Adam McHugh is the author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister, spiritual director, and hospice chaplain, but he mostly just wants to write. He and his wife Lindsay live in Claremont, California.

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