more thoughts on being an introvert

I’ve finally finished Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking The light bulb of recognition continues to click on as I become more and more aware of why I do what I do. Why I think the way I think. Yes, I am an introvert. The signs are all there. And, with this recognition, is a deep sense of freedom.

I always knew that I leaned toward introversion. As a child, I loved rain and snow storms. This meant that I could curl up with a book without the guilt of a sunny day beckoning me outdoors. Books still follow me everywhere I go; in the car, at the lake, on air travels. (I love you, iPad!)

I was never painfully shy, but I shied away from large social gatherings and events. I still do. I prefer an intimate evening with good food, good wine, good conversation and good friends.

I was always blessed with friends, but I valued quality over quantity. My nearest and dearest friends have been in my life for almost thirty years and more. Time flies when we chat over numerous cups of tea, drinks, or an over-heated telephone receiver. Sometimes all three!

Many of the women and men, who have been my mentors and models, are introverts also. At meetings, they don’t have the loudest voice at the table. The loudest voices usually monopolize the conversation, whether or not they have something of substance to share. My mentors are the ones who can sit quietly during the maelstrom of cacophonous voices.

But they are not merely sitting. They are pondering. And when they speak, everyone listens. They listen because they know that this person’s voice will carry substance. These women and men model strong leadership for me. They allow all voices to be heard before gently nudging from the side-lines. They don’t have to be front and center to be a moving force in a group.

I may be introverted, but I’m not afraid to give a talk or a presentation. But, I feel more comfortable reading a prepared speech. I will spend hours writing and editing obsessively. But, if I am happy with the end result, it increases my confidence. I have sat on panel presentations where I was the only one with a prepared talk, but this no longer worries me. Apparently, this is a common public speaking strategy for introverts.

I finished my university studies later in life. As a young student in a traditional lecture hall, I never raised my hand or contributed to a class discussion. With the introduction of online classes and asynchronous conversations, I had found my element. I love the thinking process. For me, writing is an extension of this process. Online discussion boards allow me the luxury of time to think and write carefully. The other advantage is that I don’t have to sit and squirm through long-winded diatribes from the class extrovert. I can simply scroll down through their densely worded paragraphs!

It is no surprise that many writers are introverts. Blogging is a great forum for us. It allows our voices to be heard, and to nudge a dialogue with others. If an online discussion gets over-heated, we can easily leave it to those who enjoy the energy of an aggressive debate. I don’t.

Did I mention that I’m an introvert?

introverts and extroverts in the catholic church

My previous post was on the extroverted nature of evangelical churches reflected in their style of worship, preaching, fellowship and evangelizing. The springboard for these reflections is Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

For me, the logical next step in this thought process is to look at our own Catholic Church. Are we a church where introverts or extroverts would feel most comfortable? What do you think?

One of my favorite things about being Catholic is our diversity. At it’s best, this diversity can accommodate many different personalities. We have a veritable smorgasbord of prayer styles, and liturgical traditions. We have Gregorian chanting Latin masses and guitar strumming folk masses. We have charismatic prayer groups that participate in a Pentecostal style of worship. We have communities that offer Taizé prayer, centering prayer and Eucharistic adoration.

We have lively, colorful parades and pilgrimages that reflect local culture and customs. We have private novenas and devotions.

Some of our clergy wear simple vestments; some tend to the more elaborate. We have religious sisters who dress in every-day clothing. Others prefer the public identification of full religious garb.

We have hermitages and cloisters. We have monasteries that open their doors to all who seek the silence within. We have retreat houses for solitary time and large gatherings alike.

We have World Youth Days that welcome thousands. And we have small, Theology on Tap evenings where faith issues can be discussed in the intimate setting of a neighborhood bar.

We have pastors and bishops who regularly make the head-lines with loud statements on the latest political events. We have many more that prefer to go about their work with a quiet commitment.

We have charismatic media preachers and reflective spiritual writers.

We are fortunate to have such diversity within our church, for it truly offers options to suit every personality. It’s sad when we don’t celebrate this diversity. It’s even sadder when one way is imposed as the only way, or promoted as better than others. Our world is made up of introverts and extroverts, as are our churches. A well balanced faith community will respect the different needs of each.

On the other hand, we all need to step out of our comfort zones sometimes for the sake of the community. You don’t want to exchange greetings at the beginning of mass? Well, maybe your neighbour finds it excruciatingly difficult to sit still during moments of silence. We can’t please everyone all the time, and we can’t expect to be pleased all the time. But, we can be sensitive to the different needs of introverts and extroverts in our midst.

being an introvert in an extroverted church

In Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, there is a thought provoking chapter titled Does God Love Introverts? An Evangelical’s Dilemma.

During a visit to Saddleback Church, one of the largest evangelical churches in the U.S.A., Susan met with a local evangelical pastor, Adam McHugh; an “avowed introvert”. The leader of Saddleback is Rick Warren, the charismatic author of The Purpose Driven Life. The church boasts a weekly attendance of 22,000. People are drawn to its high energy style of worship, which made the conversation between the two introverts all the more interesting.

Pastor McHugh described his struggles being an introvert within the evangelical tradition,

The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extroversion. The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out. And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing as well as I’d like.” It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.’ (p.66)

McHugh began to connect with other introverted souls. His blog turned into a book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. He is now promoting the importance of listening, silence and mystery in religious worship, contemplative prayer as well as community socialization.

I attended a rousing praise and worship service several years ago. I loved the lively music and energy of the worshipers…for the first five minutes. Then I began to feel squirmy. This wasn’t my style. I felt uncomfortable rising to my feet to join in the hand clapping and swaying. To be fair, I feel awkward doing this even at a Bon Jovi concert. I’m the old fart that would just like to sit in my seat and enjoy the music.

One thing that I did feel at both the praise and worship service and the concert was envy. Envy for those spirited souls who can let loose and really enjoy the moment.

For so many years, I thought that I was just being a stick in the mud. Now I’m realizing that it’s just my introverted nature. And that’s okay.

(Next: introverts and extroverts in the catholic church)