I’m Just Not Wired That Way

I spend a lot of time alone. And I like it. Working on my laptop, reading a book, or just listening to the birds outside my window, I cherish any time I get to myself. As an introvert, I’m wired that way. I enjoy (some) people, but I need my time alone.

I worry, though, about the possibility that embracing how I’m “wired” can become an excuse, a temptation to avoid opportunities/responsibilities simply because I don’t enjoy them or because they’re hard for me. When that happens, my strengths turn into weaknesses and I become my own enemy.

Quite a few recent books have proclaimed the virtues of the introverted life. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop TalkingIntrovert Power, Why Your Inner Life Is Your Hidden Strength, and The Introvert’s Way: Living a Quiet Life in a Noisy World all emphasize the importance of introversion. And Adam McHugh applied many of the same ideas to the Christian life with Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture.

And I think this emphasis on understanding introversion is a good thing. As a society, we tend to force everyone into the same extroverted mold, often failing to appreciate and develop the qualities of the introverted life.

Nonetheless, we need to be careful here. All good things have a corresponding danger, a temptation to press that good thing in unhealthy directions. And the danger of understanding how you’re wired is the temptation to avoid opportunities/responsibilities because “you’re just not wired that way.”

An Unplanned Conversation

This came to mind the other day when I got an email from a student about why he was handing in a paper late. Every semester I receive at least a few such emails. And most of them trot out the same weary excuses: an alien mind infected my computer, a penguin stole my homework, I didn’t want to miss the last episode of my favorite show. That sort of stuff. But this excuse was a little different.

While I was finishing the last portion of the paper on a late night flight from Chicago to Seattle, a lady next to me asked about my paper.  We spent the next two and a half hours talking about her life, God’s grace, and Yoder’s theology of slavery to powers. After talking about some of the hurt, crying some tears, and speaking about where she would like to be spiritually, [she] decided to start following Jesus and wants to come to our church.

My first reaction was pretty excited. Talk about a great email. After all, it’s not every day that a student tells me their church history homework directly contributed to someone’s conversion! So I’m glad that the student was willing to set aside his plans and priorities and see the needs of the person next to him. (Of course, there’s still the reality that he waited until the last possible minute to finish his paper. But who hasn’t?)

The Introvert’s Excuse

My second reaction was to realize that this conversation never would have taken place had I been in that seat instead.

I fly a lot, and I’ve mastered the art of inhibiting airplane conversations. Book? Check. Headphones? Check. Don’t-talk-to-me-aura? Check. Politely nod to the person next to me with minimal eye contact, quickly turn attention to book, and I’m all set. Even if the person tries to initiate with some tentative questions or innocuous comments, I’m pretty good at responding in a way that is friendly but not too friendly. A response that tries to communicate, “I’m not a jerk, but I’m not going to talk to you.”

And, as an introvert, that’s supposed to be okay. That’s how I’m wired. God made me this way. So the flight ends with my conscience clear. No meaningful conversation took place, but that’s not my job. Let the extroverts do that.

Wired for God’s Glory

Every gift is an opportunity for either gratitude or selfishness. We can receive the gift thankfully with a desire to share it with the people around us. Or we can hoard the gift as an opportunity for self-gratification alone.

The same is true with the gift of introversion. And I do think that it’s a gift. I enjoy being an introvert, and it makes it much easier to spend so many hours reading and studying. I like how I’m wired.

But I need to remember why I’m wired that way. It’s good that I enjoy being an introvert, but my enjoyment is not the highest goal of my existence. God’s glory is. And that often means doing things that are uncomfortable, unexpected, and undesired, working against my wiring when necessary as a (hopefully) faithful bearer of God’s image in the world.

Now, since God is the one who wired me this way, I think it stands to reason that I will normally express my faithfulness in ways that are consistent with my personality. There’s nothing wrong with spending most of your energy on things you’re good at and that you enjoy. That’s the gift.

But, when our gifts become excuses, we’ve turned gratitude into selfishness.

Back to the Plane

I’m not suddenly going to become someone who always chats up the person next to me on the plane. I would hate that, and I’m pretty sure everyone else would too. But I do need to become someone who refuses to allow personality to be an excuse for avoiding opportunity. To be honest, I’m not sure yet what that will look like for me. I’ll need to reflect on that the next time I get a few minutes to myself.

Comments

comments

31 Responses to “I’m Just Not Wired That Way”

  1. Adam Shields April 23, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    I think it is worth paying attention to times when we don’t want to do something because it feels uncomfortable. And I think it is appropriate for you to write about being an introvert because you are one. But I think extrovert (like McHugh’s books suggests) is the default setting for the Evangelical world.

    So Evangelicals value in person short term evangelisation like your student has done (and I fully support that) but tend to not value the longer term friendship evangelism that introverts are more likely to be equipped to do. I know there are exceptions to this, but most evangelism training is focused on one time encounters, which if I had to guess are less likely to actually result in someone becoming a Christian than a long term relationship.

    In a similar way, introverts tend to be better at prayer, meditation, devotional reading of scripture, deep theological thought, pastoral care, etc. That is not to say that that extroverts can’t be good at those things. But I have been told more than once that “I am just not into reading” as an excuse for not doing any content rich bible study.

    So I think it is important to investigate our own motives for doing and not doing things. But also to think deeply about not only what is uncomfortable for you, but what might be comfortable for you, but uncomfortable for others.

  2. Marc Cortez April 23, 2013 at 9:49 am #

    Definitely. As one who tried pretending to be an extrovert for a long time because I thought that’s what a good Christian looked like, I’m sensitive to that danger as well. And that’s what I’ve really appreciated about the recent literature on introversion. As with many things, though, there’s the possibility of swinging the pendulum too far and having this become an excuse. I know it has for me at times.

  3. Dora April 23, 2013 at 6:39 pm #

    “But, when our gifts become excuses, we’ve turned gratitude into selfishness.”

    Yes! This is why I keep Proverbs 18:1, “One who isolates himself pursues selfish desires; he rebels against all sound judgment.” (HCSB), posted by the front door. As a reminder that I need to stretch my introvert bounderies (at least every now and then) to share the joy of Jesus Christ. My temporary discomfort may be the time/effort that someone else needs.

  4. Rachel L. April 23, 2013 at 8:41 pm #

    I believe I would consider myself an introvert. I am one of six, and was always the ‘quiet one’. I didn’t mind playing by myself or just listening to everyone else talk. Those personality traits stayed with me. Many times I’d just rather be alone to do what I’ve got to do. As you said, that can be a good thing and a bad thing. For me, it became a bad thing. I was too concerned about not bothering people or not being like my overly extroverted sibling. However, as I have grown in my walk with Christ, I realize that it is very important to leave your comfort zone. I ask that the Lord give me a greater love for people and a concern for their souls. God is still working on me but can honestly say that my ‘introvertedness’ is becoming more of an asset than hindrance.

  5. Kim Shay April 24, 2013 at 4:02 am #

    I came through David Murray’s blog. Thanks so much for this. I live with an introverted husband, and two of my three children are introverted. I have seen its good and bad sides. I have thought often that we are tempted to use it as an excuse. Now, if they would just find a category for me: I’m not really an extrovert or an introvert! I think they need a book for people like us!

  6. Lisa notes April 24, 2013 at 5:59 am #

    I find it interesting that it’s usually the introverts (me included) that question our reasonings of “I’m not wired that way” and push toward becoming more balanced, whereas I don’t hear many extroverts push toward developing their introversion tendencies. :-)Perhaps it’s because we introverts spend more time alone thinking about such things.

    Great article.

  7. Mamaof6 April 24, 2013 at 7:40 am #

    A bit of a twist here. Does an extrovert ever consider going out of their comfort zone and being quiet? :)

    • Bobbi April 29, 2013 at 12:19 pm #

      Yes, we do…it’s hard…but very fruitful. Thank you for the suggestion. I’m sure I should try it more often.

  8. Marc Cortez April 24, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    Update: I’ve arranged a follow-up post from someone who will reflect on the same issue from the perspective of an extrovert. So stay tuned for that!

  9. Collin April 24, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    Marc,

    I came across your post via Tim Challies’ blog and I’m very glad I did. Thanks for these wise words. I too am a rather strong introvert and have been curious about how that can be a strength in a church culture that seems to center around the extrovert.

    I am currently a student at Dallas Theological Seminary and these kinds of questions have had me thinking through what my place in ministry will look like one day as well.

    You listed a few books at the beginning of your post and I have a two-fold question concerning them:

    1 – How did you feel they were valuable to you as an introvert? What I’m really asking is whether or not you felt they further enabled your introversion as an excuse to withdraw?

    2 – If you had to recommend one of the four you listed, which would it be?

    Thanks again for this post!

    • Marc Cortez April 24, 2013 at 8:09 am #

      Great questions. I thought all four books were valuable, though I would definitely lean toward Quiet and Introverts in the Church. Those were the most helpful for thinking through the benefits of being an introvert without denigrating extroverts and without naively ignoring the potential weaknesses of introversion. I’d be hard pressed to choose between them, but given your context/interests, I’d go with McHugh’s Introverts in the Church if you had to pick just one.

  10. Ian Beckerman April 24, 2013 at 8:57 am #

    Thank you Mark…I am an introvert,an associate pastor, and happily married to a woman who is very much an extrovert. We have a happy home, and its funny that any conflict usually arises from the fact that the two extroverted women (wife and daughter) do not understand the introverted males…:) – All of this article rings true with me as I have many of the same traits and have done many of the same things you describe in your article…I’ve even bought Introvert Power but have not read it yet. Thanks for your article…its very helpful!

  11. Sean Nemecek April 24, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    As an introvert, I agree that we sometimes use our introversion as an excuse. However, I have also found that we need to do things differently than others. We need to rethink evangelism, visiting, and other things that are typically taught with an extrovert bias. We need to reimagine them in a way that uses the strengths of our introversion. If we try to act as an extrovert we will just burn out.

    Susain Cain’s book Quiet mentions Highly Sensitive People or HSPs. If someone is HSP and an introvert, like me, they have to be especially careful about trying to act as an extrovert. The burn out could be even more extreme.

    My point is that we should not avoid the things that God commands (evangelism, assembling together, etc.) we need to find ways to do them that will allow us to express our introvered strengths. This means doing the hard work of ignoring the extroverted bias of American culture and having the integrity to stand out and be different.

  12. Melody Harrison Hanson April 24, 2013 at 1:06 pm #

    This is a terrific reminder that as introverts we can still respond to the spirit as we are challenged. Thanks.

  13. Todd April 24, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    I too gravitated here from Tim Challies blog and I’m glad I did. Thank you for touching on this subject. Very helpful for me.

  14. Bobbi April 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

    As an extrovert, it is surprisingly hard to join in these conversations. I so appreciate your paragraph on being balanced…and that our goal is to glorify God, no matter what our natural tendency is or how we feel we are “wired.” I have read snippets of the book…as shared by another blogger. Honestly, my feelings were hurt…it came off very “introverts are the only deep thinkers of thoughts, therefore much deeper spiritually.” Also, “extroverts are essentially shallow and don’t blog about such things because they spend no time thinking such thoughts.” I do spend a lot of time thinking that it would be nice to be more like my introverted friends…good listeners, deep wells…I married one and I value him immensely. However, I must strive to embrace how God made me…and as I carefully evaluate this balance I also strive to live for God’s Glory ALONE! God makes no mistakes. We are made different so we can blend beautifully.

    • Bobbi April 29, 2013 at 2:56 pm #

      The book I was referring to was Quiet:the power of introverts…I have not read the others.

  15. Patricia Kilbourn September 20, 2013 at 12:07 am #

    It’s nice to know there is a name for people like me “ambivert.” I was struck by the comment about evangelizing leaning toward one-time encounters. I was at a business convention in New York and knew no-one else there. A man sat next to me and we chatted a few moments about the upcoming keynote address. Leading naturally into the question (and I am still not sure how he did it), he asked if I was born again. Thrilled that I had a fellow Christian to discuss the coming speech with, I told him that indeed I was. He immediately jumped up and left the table and I never saw him again. It gave me a very jaundiced view of those who tell us we should be proclaiming the word to everyone we meet. Over the years, I have learned that my opportunities to witness come through my attitudes and behaviors which prompt others to ask the questions for which Christ has the answers. I remember teaching an 8th grade literature class and reading the Twenty-third Psalm to the class. One of my students, a Hindu, said that I read it as if I believed it. Which led to a great class discussion (in a private but not religious school). God will use us as we are if we let Him.

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