I 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?