It starts young.
You were the odd one out. The weird kid. Never the first and too often the last picked for teams at recess. You could hold conversations with adults but usually preferred to spend time alone. You had a mind – and used it! – but didn’t necessarily communicate what you were thinking. You didn’t like to fight to be heard. The family played Pinochle at Christmas and you read a book. The family played Rummy and you played Solitaire. Your mother reminded you, “Well, you know, that story will be there later but if you want to watch this movie with us, you have to do it now.”
Truthfully, you liked it that way. It’s not that you were escaping your life…it’s just that everything was so interesting. There was so much to learn. Why did inertia almost make you fall over when your dad drove around the corner too fast? How does depth perception work? What does the word love really mean, anyway?
Maybe your family was part of the problem. Introverts make up a relatively small percentage of the population, but somehow your family was full of them. You lived in the middle of nowhere, and you didn’t have parties, and your parents only had one or two close friends.
And you never knew that this was unusual or problematic until you lived alone. You didn’t know it right away even then.
Sure, it was hard sometimes. You got lonely. The first year you moved to a new city after college you thought you’d NEVER have any friends again. But you joined a church, served on their music team, made a couple of friends, and spent time with your family. You learned to put down your books and pick up your nieces and nephews, you maintained a couple of very close friendships you made in college, and you still spent hours upon hours alone.
It made sense to you. During those few years in college when you experimented with extraversion, it was like you had lost large pieces of your personality, and you were grateful to have them back. And isn’t it better to have depth and substance than to only be a mirror that reflects back whatever everyone else wants to see?
Somewhere along the line, though, you began to change. You realized that the modern Western world is an extremely isolating and unhealthy sort of place. You read stories about real community by Wendell Berry and it moved you to tears. You feared sometimes that you were wasting your life. But you still didn’t really worry about it.
Then it suddenly hit you like a freight train. A few of the people you love most in the world called you on it. You were told by one of the most introverted people you knew that your introversion was more extreme than theirs. Your friends told you that you made poor impressions on others because you just didn’t care what anyone else thought and your family confessed to covering for you when that had happened. One person pointed out that it doesn’t matter how rich your inner life is if you never communicate it with anyone else and that you might as well make your interactions with people work for you rather than against you. Your sister said you owed your mom an apology, because she’d been trying to tell you for years. You worried that the people you love and would give your life for are embarrassed by and ashamed of you.
And that was just the beginning.
Hard things happen, and you feel alone – because everyone else has their own drama and because you don’t feel like anyone understands or wants to keep talking. You realize that the only thing that makes this kind of solitude feel okay is the hope and expectation that life won’t always be this way. You’re not misanthropic, just introverted. You still need community. You still want a family. And you don’t really have control over it, but you know that, given that a large number of the people you love most are thousands of miles away, something has to change. Getting out of your apartment and spending time with new people becomes one of the hardest and most urgent things you can do.
So you’re faced with a difficult balance. How do you remain yourself while also being proactive about time with people? How do you step past banal small talk and build real relationships? How do you get the rest your introversion requires while not drowning in your sudden loneliness? And how on earth do people in 21st century America meet each other in the first place? Much as you appreciate the theme song to “Cheers,” the bar scene just isn’t going to cut it. The people in your little town are mostly your dad’s age. And your church is small. You’ve got to be creative about this.
It’s still – STILL – probably better to have to come at things from this angle than the alternative. You’re not all polish and other people’s opinions. You’re not a second-hander. You’re not Peter Keating, but God grant that you’re not fully Howard Roark either. You have depth and substance – you just have to figure out how to share it and not be a jerk.
And somehow, in spite of how hard it is, it’s still all okay. Even during the moments when it feels like no one else cares, God does. After all, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8, NIV) And there’s this: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
God thinks you’re worth the trouble, and he’s not embarrassed by you. He redeems you and makes you part of a beautiful community that will never perish or fade and that will be perfected in love. Even if nothing ever changed, your “light and momentary trouble” would not be worth comparing with the glory that’s coming. Jesus is enough.
You’ve just got to get out there. And have fun doing it.