“My former priest told me he doubted my commitment to God because I was ‘too reserved and unenthusiastic’. I serve God, and I do it well but his stupidity was so off-putting that I left the church to channel my faith in other ways; without the judgement.”
– Rebecca, a homemaker from London, and self-confessed introvert.
It’s unfortunate that even in these enlightened times, introverts continue to be subjected to many misconceptions and scrutiny. In her book, The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extroverted World, Dr. Marti Olsen Laney defines introverts as: “People who need private space to refuel, who do not gain their primary energy from external activities and who usually need time to reflect and think before they speak.” Other attributes associated with the trait include:
Good listening skills
The need for solitude
A rich inner world
Introverts comprise of approximately 25% of the population, and akin to other minorities subject to majority rule, they are often undervalued, deemed odd and dominated, in this instance by extroverts whose main characteristics are; processing information whilst engaging in conversation, risk taking, being energised by continuous social interaction and the need for outside affirmation.
Nonetheless, in today’s world, where people are enamoured and bewitched by a plethora of social media, including skype, facebook and instant messaging, and a 24 hour accessibility to our psyche and privacy is not only assumed, but all encompassing and unrelenting, yet the reward for those who are unable or unwilling to engage in said activities is suspicion and censure. It was only a matter of time before other extroverted tendencies such as gregariousness, group-think and copious amounts of social interaction were adopted by stalwarts within the prevailing church orthodoxy. Unfortunately for the uninitiated introverted female worshipper, the acceptance of such ideals can result in very tough terrain for her to negotiate.
For example, within many sociable churches such as the Evangelicals, an ambience of openness and enthusiasm in the expression of feelings is often encouraged because it’s felt that it fosters a sense of deep spirituality and cohesion. However, the way in which these feelings are conveyed in a verbal and physical manner, can prove to be an uncomfortable experience, as Jenna, a lawyer from Manchester explains:
“I always enjoy small prayer meetings, but recently our minister wanted us to exchange hugs and deep secrets with each other before we begin, so we connect at a deeper level.” She explains. “The thing is, I’m not one for sharing my feelings with people I don’t know well. It just isn’t me. But now everyone thinks I’m stuck up – they call me ‘Princess’.”
The forced sense of belonging which some churches have embraced can benefit many parishioners, but for others it can convey a message that there is only one, albeit superior way to conduct oneself, and any deviation from that rigid template presumes a sense of inferiority, weakness and timidity on the part of the introvert attempting to circumvent it. Which begs the question, do churches wish to cater to and attract a diversity of attendees? Or do they prefer a one-size-fits-all congregation?
It is an issue which Reverend Adam S. McHugh is well aware of and explores in his book, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. “Introverted seekers need to know and see that it’s possible to lead the Christian life as themselves.” He says. “It’s imperative for them to understand that becoming a Christian is not tantamount with becoming an extrovert.”
Furthermore, there are some churches, who tend to abide by immutable rules regarding gender roles which dictate that men fulfill the role as leader, whereas women are often expected to be overly accommodating to people they barely know, share their utmost feelings and participate in the bane of an introverted woman’s life – small talk. Consequently, such constraints can either coerce women into adopting a personality completely divergent from their own, which exhausts them, or result in valuable parishioners packing up their tents and heading for the proverbial hills.
However, the question remains; how can introverted women be comfortably integrated and accommodated into connecting with and serving God within the auspices of the Church? Undoubtedly, it’s dependent upon how their gifts are utilized. For example, instead of obligatory group settings, one-to-one meetings could be introduced where introverts could use their skills of listening and insight to great effect, following a spell of solitude.
Moreover, since they are easily overwhelmed by outside stimulation they could be given solitary tasks to perform which involve sustained periods of deep concentration. And with regards to introverted women’s spirituality and relationships, even though they may lack an outward expressiveness it doesn’t mean they are unresponsive. Therefore, they should be allowed to conduct themselves in a manner which is not only conducive to them without being morally judged, but afforded the same courtesy as their equally valid extroverted counterparts.
In essence, since we are all created in Gods’ image yet reside in a world where the pressure to conform in terms of personality, body image, and political affiliation is not only omnipresent but unrelenting, perhaps embracing those with divergent ideas and thought processes to our own should be something to celebrate? After all, introverts aren’t a separate species; if anything they complement extroverts, if only they would allow them to do so.
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© 2019 Dawn Daniels