Was Jesus an Extrovert?

IMG_4447I was talking with a friend this week, and we got to chatting about introverts and extroverts, and whether one is somehow ‘better’ than the other. Is it a good thing, a right thing, to need time alone to rest? Wasn’t Jesus always giving up his time and energy for the sake of other people? Was Jesus an extrovert, or an introvert? Which one would you rather be?

I’ve spent most of my life wishing I was an extrovert. Wouldn’t it just make Christian service a lot easier? I mean, Jesus must have been an extrovert, mustn’t he? He was always around other people, in the midst of large crowds, teaching and speaking and doing the sociable thing! My gut reaction in all kinds of social situations is to run and hide, as quickly as possible. When that just isn’t possible, I try and look busy. I’ve assumed that, because I’m an introvert, this is an inescapable fact of life – I will always be the one who dashes to the kitchen to see if there’s anything I can do to help, or who always leaves early because I’m ‘so tired’… And to do well as a Christian I just have to grit my teeth and fight this instinct. But what if I’m wrong?

The problem with my little theory about life as an introvert is that Jesus wasn’t an extrovert. At least not in the way that we think of an extrovert. But before all you extroverts start getting angry and loud at me, I don’t think he was an introvert either. We’re thinking in the wrong categories.

My friend and I reached this conclusion tentatively at first, but the more I ponder it, the more it fits… here’s how we got there:

What made Jesus give so generously of his time and energy for the sake of other people? There’s something undeniably good about that, but what causes it? Was he just really out-going and confident? Are we all just made to be chatty, bubbly people who enjoy being in a group? Trouble is, even the most stereotypical ‘extrovert’ can behave the way they do for the most selfish of reasons. Being someone who fits that extrovert mould is no guarantee of greater Christ-like-ness. All the talking or meeting new people could be self-centred ego-boosting. Just like my introvert default settings are very useful for serving my own selfish desires to not let others have too many expectations of me or see my faults and need.

How did Jesus tread the line, then? My friend and I began to think about how we are with good friends – how it doesn’t feel like a scary thing to let others see what we’re like, or how we can listen to one another and not have to clamour for attention. When we’re with friends, no one’s an introvert, and no one’s an extrovert. What if that’s a tiny glimmer of what Jesus is like? Could it be that he gave of himself freely to other people, not because he gritted his teeth (because he’s so obedient), or because he wanted to command their attention (deservingly, of course!) but because he geuninely delighted in the company of sinners? Because he loves people, and is really, from the bottom of his heart, for them? For us? Is that not much more likely?! Isn’t that just like him?! To actually love others and want to be with them, giving generously, listening, pouring himself out in service to them.

If Jesus is like this, and I’m being made more like him, I’m free to not worry about being an introvert. The last thing I should do is to grit my teeth and try really hard to quash the stomach-churning fear of people. It won’t work, for one thing! And even if it did, what would my attitude be towards those people? The very best I could hope for would be to tolerate them, to learn to put up with them. But if the Spirit is making me more like Jesus, as I trust he is, then could I not actually begin to love people, and see the good in them, appreciate the wonderful people God has made them to be? And as I love them, I’m fairly sure I’d find greater delight in spending time with them, giving up time, energy or other things for their sake. Not because I’m great, but because by God’s Spirit I see what he see, I love what he loves, and I delight in who he delights in. (Even though people are messy, sinful and not always good, the answer to that mess and sin is surely love?)

What do you think? What difference does this make to self-confessed ‘extroverts’? Does it fit with your experience?

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5 Responses to Was Jesus an Extrovert?

  1. James Lee says:

    I think you’re right. Both introverts and extroverts need to have our natural inclinations transformed by the Spirit working in our hearts (in a Rom. 12:1 way) – neither is inherently ‘better’. I think we see elements of both these tendencies in Jesus – think of the number of times he retreats from the crowds to spend time with the Father (esp after the disciples report back re John’s death and just before the feeding of the 5,000), and yet doesn’t use that as an excuse to turn away those who come to him in need. Yet he also clearly enjoys the company of others and doesn’t just stick to those he is closest too.

    Turning my thoughts towards myself, as a natural extrovert, I’m all too aware that this is not a ‘better’ default setting. The number of times I look back on social situations and wish I’d just kept my mouth shut or been less socially exposed! Taking up your challenge to think through how this inclination is affected – I think extroverts can feed off social contact with others, sometimes as a substitute for time spent with God. In Jesus, I am free to not have to justify myself by the amount of time I spend with others, so I can be comfortable in time alone in reflection and ‘godly introspection’. The way I relate to others is also redeemed, in that I don’t ‘use’ others for my own social gratification, but can enjoy them for themselves, learning to love in an other-centered way (is there any other kind of love?) and not feel in despair if those relationships don’t always go the way I’d like.

    Anyway, those are some random thoughts, I’m sure there is much more to be said on the matter! Thanks for posting… and hope all is going well with you! 🙂

    • Emily says:

      Thanks for a brilliant comment, James! It’s interesting to hear a balanced view of an extrovert – I loved what you said in particular about the way we relate to others is redeemed in knowing Jesus – that is so true for introverts as well, in just a different way. And I think you’re right- what other kind of love is there?! It’s really good to hear from you! I’m enjoying a return to ‘normal’ routine now that mission weeks are over – it’s been a wonderful and stressful time, seeing my own weaknesses and yet marvelling that the Lord really does delight to use weak people! (Prayer letter with info coming your way soon, so no spoilers on here!) and I’m looking forward to some holiday at Easter – plus the Beagley/Orchard wedding!!! Hope you & the family are well? Has Boaz got a smart outfit for the wedding yet?!

  2. Cat says:

    Thanks Emily for this post…. love the picture btw.

    • Emily says:

      Yeah, the picture makes most sense when you know us! And you guys were examples of what I was thinking of on the whole ‘friends find it a joy to serve one another’ idea…that is just a tiny picture of how Jesus feels about his people, his friends, his bride! Glad to serve them! Us! Thanks for being someone who shows me what Jesus is like, Cat!

  3. jrh says:

    I think there is a slight flaw in your thought process. Introversion and Extraversion are how people gain their psychic energy. Introversion is a solitary process and the introvert is drained from excessive socializing. In contrast, the extrovert is energized from social interaction. Neither is an indicator of showing or loving someone.

    Then I look at Jesus –

    1. An introvert will socialize and then, walk away for alone time. They won’t stick around at the party till the end. They will need that quiet time. How many times did Jesus was away and he wasn’t with people, not even the disciples?

    2. 40 days of solitary confinement in a desert with no social interaction. An introvert would look at that as soul replenishment. An extrovert would be damaged from that lack of social interaction. Did the Jesus who debates and rebuts Satan’s arguments appear damaged or mentally fit? (We use solitary confinement as a punishment because people mentally deteriorate. More extroverted people would probably deteriorate far more rapidly than more introverted people.)

    3. valuing substance over superficiality. Jesus did not like hypocrites. He didn’t blindly obey the OT rules (in fact he broke some). Why? Because he saw the deeper meaning behind the laws.

    4. # of friends. Everyone will notice that an introvert has far fewer friends than an extrovert. Jesus had 12 friends (yet he was followed by thousands). He had only one really really good friend – John the Beloved. That is also classic introvert behavior. Few friendships but deep friendships. The extrovert in contrast has a friend on every corner and everyone he meets is a friend. Jesus clearly differentiates between friends and acquaintances.

    5. And of course – introversion and extroversion does not indicate ability to love. Or even the ability to guide people. (Some really fabulous business and political leaders have been introverts.)

    6. Introverts are listeners. They will ask questions. They will look for the story. Read the woman at the well. Jesus looked. He “read between the lines”. (And Jesus was alone at that time… hmmm I wonder why he wasn’t with the rest of the disciples?) And – he knew that water from a Samaritan’s hands wasn’t defiled. Substance over superficial ritualism. He also didn’t make a superficial judgement on this woman that would make her feel unwanted.

    As an introvert – I can genuinely say that I deeply love my friends and family. I’d sacrifice a lot to ensure they are happy. Even to the point of harming myself so they don’t feel like I’m rejecting them. (They don’t notice because they are extroverts and they’ve never bothered to ask me why I sometimes need alone time. I understand that they love me but sometimes, I wish they cared enough to ask and to learn why. That way, I wouldn’t constantly have to compromise my energy so that they don’t feel hurt.)

    And I do love my extroverted friends and family. They remind me of the comfort of friendship and family. I just wish they were a little quieter… just a little. (Ahh… who am I kidding? They are who they are and they shouldn’t have to be different to be accepted. I love them just the way they are. Though I may not always like them.) I also see God’s welcome in the extrovert’s welcome. Everyone is a friend. Everyone is wanted. Without the extrovert, the world wouldn’t be as welcoming.

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