It’s Sunday morning and I am feeling good because church starts in a couple of hours which means great worship and great preaching. Yet at the same time there is a sense of dread simmering up inside as I know I should get there early to join in the social activities before church but I never feel comfortable with making small talk. And I know after we have sung the first couple of songs we will be told to turn around and greet someone nearby, and that means more small talk. And then there is the social bit afterwards as people mill around enjoying coffee and more small talk. You see it isn’t that I am anti-social, I genuinely like people, but I am an introvert who suffers from anxiety issues, I’ve never been married, don’t have children and there are days when I get home from church exhausted by all the social interaction and small talk. To be honest there are times I get home from church feeling a little depressed because week after week I hear the call to be Christ filled evangelical Christians, go-getters for the Lord yet all I want to do in that moment is retreat, shut myself off from human contact and have some solitude.
But this isn’t me saying that the church needs to change, I love that the church I go to is evangelical in mind and action, and it encourages me when I see young Christians who are fearless, passionate and knowledgeable. But there are times when I feel for those of us who are introverts there are churches out there, and people in them, that don’t fully know how to deal with us, they don’t want to make you feel bad yet they are rightly committed to encouraging and empowering Christians. And the thing is, I know that no matter what church I attended I would face the same issues, the unease of social interaction where small talk is needed, whilst in my case feeling the odd one out as churches tend to be family filled places with very few single middle aged men in the congregation. Although as of yet I have not encountered anyone trying to do some matchmaking in order to make me feel more at home.
Now there are many great pieces on the internet about how introverts feel and for me “introvert” isn’t a word which really describes the situation because all introverts are different. There are some introverts who whilst needing their quite time to recharge after social encounters are more than capable of standing up in front of church and preaching. Yet there are those who like me struggle with anxiety on top of the introverted nature and as such you might have seen that person who shows up at church after the service has started and then leaves before the last song is finished. I am not saying all those who do this are introverts but there are those who to cope with the social aspects of church chose to do this, to limit the drain of social interaction. In truth I know some introverts who love church but have stopped going because they get home from church feeling depressed and failures for not being go-getters for God.
Part of the trouble comes from what we hear in church every week; cast your worries on God, he wants you to live a prosperous life, we must be dependent on God, we should be fearless in our faith and there are countless scripture which say do not worry, and they are right, when ever you feel down talk to God and tell him your struggles. But then we have a Sovereign God who has allowed me to be the way I am for a reason, if I wasn’t meant to be this way he would have answered my prayers when I have been struggling and turned me in to a super confident evangelist because there are times I wish and pray that I wasn’t an anxious introvert even though there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Of course it doesn’t help that some of the best preachers are those who come across as confident and extroverted, who appear comfortable talking to strangers and making small talk. And as such we have this comparison thing going on again as we get presented by this image of what a fearless Christian appears to be and in my case I want to be that but I am not, which in turn fuels that feeling of failure which is the last thing God wants.
The thing is us introverts have our talents, we are the writers, the deep thinkers who in one on one situations can hold wonderful conversations and sometimes mention things others might have missed as they have been busy doing rather than thinking. Yet sometimes to the bemusement of others we find ourselves clamming up when we find ourselves thrown in to group situations, trying to process what we are hearing from those around us and often getting lost in a deep thought when someone else starts to talk. I promise you that it isn’t that I am not paying attention when I have forgotten what you said it is just my brain is wired in a way that naturally ponders something you said and so I might have missed what you said next. Nightmare scenario for me is a group situation where you have to introduce yourself, not just because of the unease of doing small talk but because my mind appears to work in such a way that I can struggle to remember names as something someone has said has sent my brain in to deep thought mode.
And here is another quirk I have discovered about being an introvert which explains so much to me. I don’t do telephones, never have and only have a mobile phone for emergencies, I don’t even like texting. It seems that many introverts are the same and I read somewhere that it comes from having to respond in an instant to someone who can’t see you. It is why I prefer to communicate via email as it gives me time to think, to process my thoughts rather than blurting out something in a stuttering manner and then getting lost in the anxious thought of wondering if I sounded like a fool. I also realise when it comes to my dislike of talking on the phone it comes from two other things; often if someone says they will call me on such and such a day it plays on my mind that I am going to have to talk on the phone, that in turn causes anxiety and I end up becoming ratty and nervous as I wait for a call. The other thing is that whilst it can be a struggle when talking to someone face to face they can usually tell if I am struggling and I can see how they are responding, but on the phone my mind starts pondering how that person on the other end is responding. This leads to another issue when it comes to the social side of church because everyone, well intended as it maybe, seems keen to text and call you unaware that when they say can I have your number you can feel the beads of sweat appearing on your forehead.
It is in those moments where I struggle, when I have left church on a Sunday feeling down that in my weakness I thankfully find myself drawing closer to God and he soothes my soul by allowing me to understand more about who I am and more importantly who I am not right now. I say right now because God is the God of miracles and things can change, take the fact I am laying my soul bare on here which is not something I would have once done so I am prepared that things may change for me. But because I understand the pain that an introvert feels when it comes to greeting people and the stress of small talk that I find myself writing this article, not as a solution but so you know you are not alone, trust me there are more of us than you might think. I also write this with faith that maybe a pastor or church leader will read it and come to realise that the person who doesn’t appear to be getting involved is not anti-social or not a great Christian but are an introvert with a genuine struggle which can make church a really hard place when they are being expected, and at times forced, to join in.