A lot of people who have questioned me about whether I really am as shy and afraid of talking with people as I say. They say I look like an extrovert. When I object, I am informed that I belong in the box that energizes me. Pick one: “being alone energizes me,” or “being with people energizes me.”
I’ve asked myself these questions. When I say that I’m afraid of people but also energized when I’m around people, will you say I am simply an even mix of extrovert and introvert? These categories don’t make sense to me. I rarely “feel” like interacting with people, but I regularly feel joy and satisfaction when I do so. I see my “energy” or desire for people interaction coming from a different place than my personality. It’s caring more for someone than how awkward I feel, or what they think about me.
I can see that how I reach out is different than my social friends. I feel a mixture of energy and fatigue when I love others–and a mixture of energy and fatigue when I am alone. Perhaps those extroverts have unlimited energy to be around people, but I see in God’s Word that he created all humans to need rest. It’s clearly wrong that “extroverts” do not need alone time to “recharge.” Perhaps the difference is one of degree.
When I start to feel my definitions and categories adrift and inadequate in my thinking like this, I know I need to anchor my soul in certainty, so that means going back to the Word of God to shape my foundational categories. I’ve not found any other depiction of reality that is better.
Can I see something like the introvert/extrovert framework in God’s word? How does the energizing work of the Holy Spirit fit this idea? How does our personality make a difference in how we obey God’s word?
Showing love is a characteristic of all Christians, and a major evidence of our inheritance. (John 13:35) We are all being changed into the image of Christ. Perhaps we would benefit from putting hospitality in a “love” category rather than a “social” [i.e., personality] category. I don’t socialize for the purpose of entertainment, but because I am called to love my neighbor. My personality might affect how I love and show hospitality, but the underlying love should characterize all of those who are children of God.
The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit energizes us to love others. The fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, faith, humility, self control. These are all traits that are expressed in community. So, while walking in the spirit might begin with our individual walk, it will result in a change in how we interact with people. We can muster up our own kindness or patience for a time by strength of will or personality, but we will not be able to sustain those things without a relationship with Jesus.
When hospitality is seen as a way of loving, we acknowledge that the source of love is not from our personal well, but is rather God’s love from the Holy Spirit. The power of the resurrection. Is it possible that we’re using the wrong well? My motive for loving is different than the world’s motives. The world does not recognize or understand this energy source. Instead of reaching out because that’s how I get energy, I reach out because Christ loved me and I want to love others in return. I still get tired of people, but I love them far better when I’m thinking of others more than myself.
I can learn from the “extroverts” without needing to be like them. Some personalities do seem to have an easier time socially. What are they doing? Perhaps they are impulsive in their kindness, or they don’t overthink it. They reach out, show love, and then, whether consciously or not trust God with the results. If our hospitality is not reciprocated, we leave that with God. It’s a huge relief knowing that I’m not responsible for whether people like me or approve of me. I am far more at peace when I consciously put aside my worries about social skill and just reach out the best way I know how.
What about feeling exhausted after being with people? Isn’t that evidence that I’m an introvert? Perhaps. Because much of our exhaustion is trying to “manage” friendships, we will find ourselves less exhausted if we can figure out how to leave the managing in God’s hands. Beyond making a difference in my motivation, understanding hospitality as a form of love helps me with outcomes that inevitably fall short from my expectations. Managing all the details myself is massively impossible. Perhaps the social drain that introverts feel results from assuming more responsibility for social outcomes than we should. No wonder people feel drained after “socializing!”
I’m also at peace understanding that there is a rhythm to reaching out. We may be interpreting post socializing fatigue as abnormal, or evidence that we weren’t made for socializing like the extroverts. However, it’s impossible for anyone to give endlessly without pause. We all must rest and nourish our souls. (See Jesus’ example!) We must humble ourselves and receive from others. That’s true for what is called an introvert, and it’s also true for an extrovert. An introvert might be more aware of these social rhythms, but God’s word suggests that we all need to take time to draw joy from the well of our salvation.
Women of all personalities even have this rhythm built into our bodies, and it is an asset if we will acknowledge and value it. It’s not a flaw in the system that some weeks we have more energy to love others, and some weeks we don’t. What was God thinking?
To be helpful, physical and personality traits should be described in neutral ways. Any trait can itself be an asset or a liability. We are told introverts like deep conversations and extroverts are content with shallow small talk. In fact, some of my most “extrovert” friends love deep conversations. Perhaps those “extroverts” are more skilled with the social grease of small talk that keeps our friendships moving smoothly. Perhaps introverts should be slower to dismiss small talk as “shallow” and pay attention to how small talk can actually be a part of the rhythm of deep conversations. I’m skeptical of any personality framework that defines some traits in positive ways and others in negative.
As we work out what it means to be be humans made in the image of God, we may feel our need for others before we recognize it with our minds. Living in a quarantine and pandemic is challenging our categories of how and why we interact with people. We recognize our feelings of distress in isolation, and are helped as we examine how and why we need the physical presence of other humans. Remember in Genesis– God sought out Adam for fellowship; he understood it was not good for Adam to be alone. There’s clearly a time for solitude, and clearly this solitude can be both troubling and difficult but also fruitful and joyful. However, God himself shows us that “me and God” is not a healthy normative state.
I’ve heard from many friends who are surprised that they are struggling. “I’m not even an extrovert, and I’m sad because I’m not around people.” Some of my sociable friends are surprised when I tell them that the isolation this past year has been very difficult for me. We can learn to adapt and survive in extended isolation, but it’s not a state where we will thrive.
Whatever our personality, living in a quarantine should drive us to consider how we can love others. “Stay home” is not a sufficient answer. The constraints and pressures of a quarantine forces us to learn how to be creatively working out our salvation. Here are some questions I’m thinking about:
- What is different about connecting with people in person rather than over text or phone or letter?
- Is the exhaustion I feel after being with people a sin, or immaturity, or a normal need for rest after mental exertion?
- Is my avoidance of people because I don’t like people?
- Have I been mistaken in assuming I don’t need “socializing”?
- Will I break the law to help my neighbor if he’s having a heart attack? Will I break the law to help my neighbor who is suicidal? Should I wait until he threatens to kill himself?
- How do these thoughts make a difference for my children, in what I teach them, or how I encourage them?
- How do I love people I disagree with? How do I love people who are misunderstanding my motives and actions?