Recently, I picked up and devoured Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. Overall, as a secret (and not-so-secret) introvert, I found the book validating of my often dismissed and hidden nature. A sub-section of Chapter 2, “The Myth of Charismatic Leadership,” stopped me in my tracks: “Does God Love Introverts? An Evangelical’s Dilemma.”
Does God love introverts? I wondered, pausing and panicking for a moment. What if the answer is no? It must be no. No way introversion can be holy.
For a long time, I’ve believed holiness requires a degree of extroversion. I mean, it’s the outspoken apostles like Peter who bravely spread Christianity from their small corner of the earth to all corners of the earth, right? Shouldn’t we all aspire to the holiness of Peter and the apostles, the very men who gave their lives for Christ? And Jesus debated loudly in the temples with the Pharisees and scribes, turned over counting tables in Jerusalem, healed in front of crowds, and preached in front of thousands. Shouldn’t we all aspire to the holiness of Christ?
But extroversion isn’t natural for me. I’ve had to learn every bit of it. As a small child I barely spoke, hid behind my parents, and needed intensive coaching to even greet a friendly stranger. First day of kindergarten was frightening, and I remember the only comforting things about the first day is I knew one of the girls already. School with recess, lunch tables, and small group projects were educational torture. Birthday parties with figuring out who all should come and have me at the center of attention was horrible. I remember the day my mother asked if we could not have a 13th birthday party for me. I agreed and was secretly relieved I would never have to have a birthday party again. (Little did I know God would bless me with a very extroverted college roommate who insisted my birthday was important.)
Even now, where others seemingly easily bring up topics like God, religion, and salvation, I tend to shy away from those topics outright. Where friends who are missionaries spend a day each week meeting strangers, I tend to want to be introduced to people. Where others crave community, I tend to want to sit in a chapel, field, hillside, mountain, whatever, alone. Where others enjoy debate to figure out an ethical conundrum, I tend to want to reflect on it alone. I do enjoy discussing religion, friendly debates, community, and meeting strangers, but those activities exhaust me if I purposely give myself alone time.
Religion was never an extroverted affair in my childhood home. We prayed a meal prayer, went to church on Sundays, and my mother or father prayed a nighttime prayer with each one of us. Where others things in my life were loud and abrasive, religion and God were quiet and familiar.
As a child, I never equated holiness to extroversion. But somewhere around college, people starting getting loud about religion. Students would yell at passerby about upcoming events at the campus church, homeless men would yell about the coming judgement day, preachers would emphatically preach about their topics, and holy cohorts would lift their hands and sing in praise and worship. All of a sudden, it seemed as if one needed to be extroverted to be holy.
In the book, Cain interviews Adam McHugh, an evangelical pastor (specifically a Presbyterian minister) and the author of a book about introverts and religion called Introverts in the Church. The two introverts attend a service of Rick Warren, pastor of mega-church Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California.
McHugh reflects on the service:
“Everything in the service involved communication. Greeting people, the lengthy sermon, the singing. There was no emphasis on quiet, liturgy, ritual, things that give you space for contemplation…At a place like Saddleback, you can start questioning your own experience of God. Is it really as strong as that of other people who look the part of the devout believer?”
McHugh reflected of the greater evangelical Christianity culture:
“The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extroversion. The emphasis 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 no 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 well as I’d like.’ It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.’ “
I’ve believed the same lies. God isn’t pleased with me. I’m not as holy as these other people praying with their hands raised. I have to be involved more to be holy. I have to preach about God more to others to be holy. I’m not doing enough. I’m not holy enough. All these doubts swirl to one essential lie: As I am, I’m not enough for God.
But God Himself is also an introvert. The same Jesus who preached to thousands and healed in front of crowds also went off by Himself to pray. He avoided the same crowds He preached to. Some of His most powerful teachings happened in the context of a one-on-one conversation, like that of Nicodemus or the rich man.
Jesus’ holiest preaching, that of His agonizing death on the cross, is a classic act of quiet courage. Instead of yelling out, instead of fighting, instead of loudly (and justly) opposing what was going on, Jesus remained mostly silent. He prayed alone in the garden for humanity, for us, for you and me. He accepted the Father’s will. He did not resist his unjust arrest. He held his tongue as the high priest and Pilate questioned Him. He never cursed those who beat him, scourged him, mocked him, wrapped his head with thorns, or nailed his hands and feet to the wood of the cross. He bore the cross without righteous complaint of His suffering. He comforted those who mourned for Him. He only cried out to give His spirit back to His Father.
God not only loves introverts, He created introverts. Just as God created both men and women, masculinity and femininity, in His image, He created extroverts and introverts in His image. Just as women are no holier than men because they are women, extroverts are no holier than introverts just because they are extroverts.
Peter is a wonderful example of a holy extrovert, but the Bible is bursting with examples of holy introverts too.
Take Jesus’s foster father, St. Joseph. He wanted to quietly divorce Mary to protect her dignity. He quietly obeyed the will of God to marry her. He obeyed the tax and census of the Romans, going to Bethlehem despite the hardship of travel for his pregnant wife, not protesting. He obeyed the will of God to take his wife and newborn son to the foreign land of Egypt. He quietly raised Jesus as His own and brought Him to Jerusalem as prescribed. Knowing his character, He likely bore all criticism and mocking in the small town of Nazareth without protest.
Take Jesus’s mother, Mary. She accepted the will of God in the message from Gabriel without protest. She likely did not protest when St. Joseph planned to divorce her. When kings and shepherds praised her son, “..Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). She followed her husband faithfully to Bethlehem and Egypt. She quietly asked her Son to perform a miracle, His first miracle at the wedding of Cana. She quietly watched Him suffer and die, so quietly standing at the foot of His cross that only the disciple St. John the Evangelist who stood at the foot of His cross, explicitly writes of her being there. She quietly bore His suffering as her own, not taking anything out on the soldiers, passerby, or anyone else who mocked her most beloved Son and Lord as He suffered indescribable agony. She quietly helped ready His body for burial. She quietly stood by as they rolled the stone in front of His tomb of her child, her Savior.
Yes, God loves introverts. He has a special role for them in His kingdom, but too, He has unique challenges for introverts that come to extroverts more naturally.
Sometimes as an introvert, I am challenged to go outside my nature and courageously have that conversation about God, join that small group, participate in that community, debate that moral issue, graciously give fraternal correction, meet strangers, etc.
But in the same way, extroverts are also challenged to go outside their nature and courageously ponder the Word of God, reflect on the deep, hidden parts of their heart, bear criticism without protest, take on suffering, let their actions speak more than their words, sit in the silence, etc.
Holiness is not a cookie cutter shape. The holiness of St. Joseph is a different shape of the holiness of St. Mary which is also a unique shape compared to the holiness of St. Peter. Holiness is merely being the best version of yourself, the very best version of who God created you to be.
So, maybe when you sing to God, your hands are at your side or folded across your chest. So, maybe when you meet a stranger, you want to know who they are before you preach about who God wants them to be. So, maybe when you’re in a crowd, you want to be introduced so you have a point of connection. So, maybe you need to go off by yourself to reflect and pray. So, maybe you’re an introvert.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Some prophets preached loudly. Some prophets preached softly. All prophets were appointed by God for a special purpose and created intentionally by God for that special purpose.
Extrovert, introvert, you too are appointed for a special purpose, a special role within the Kingdom of God that you and only you can fulfill. And God loves you, just the way you are.