“You know, I’d love ministry…if it weren’t for all the people.” [Prominent Christian Pastor and Author, who shall remain nameless]
No, I don’t like putting people in boxes.
Or stereotyping. Or trying to oversimplify complex humanity.
But I have to say, every time I take a personality test–even the normally bogus ones on the internet–the characteristics of an introvert are like the test is reading my brain.
I hate small talk. And talking on the phone. Being around people sucks the energy out of me. Doing the whole “Turn around and greet your neighbor” thing at church is about as comfortable to me as a colonoscopy.
For millions of people, this is not really a problem. They can go to work, interact with limited people, go to church and interact with limited people and spend as much time at home as they’d like.
I, however, cannot do that.
I am a pastor. I’m also an ESL teacher. These two ministries are not for the introverted faint of heart. It is both good and necessary for me to engage in small talk, to seek people out, to spend hours around dozens or hundreds of people and to turn and shake the hand of a complete stranger.
As a result, my brain goes wild when I’m uncomfortable. And at times I avoid discomfort in outrageous ways. Normally, I don’t share these experiences with hardly anyone. Yet today these secret thoughts are my confessions. Maybe some of you can relate.
First, I get so tense when someone I don’t know engages me in small talk, I often put one hand up the opposite arm’s sleeve–totally subconsciously–and pinch myself to relieve the stress.
I’m not kidding. My vital signs read like a person in danger or in trouble when two people who are not me engage in stranger small talk. So when I have to participate, you may as well pull out a gun and rob me. That’s the stress level going on in my heart and mind. What kind of psycho chats up a complete stranger anyway?
I’m not kidding. My vital signs read like a person in danger or in trouble when two people who are not me engage in stranger small talk. So when I have to participate, you may as well pull out a gun and rob me.
I have, several times in my life, gone a whole day–a normal day, not on vacation or out in the wilderness or in some far away cabin, but a normal day–without speaking out loud or having any personal human interaction of any kind.
Most recently, a few weeks ago my wife went to Nashville for a fitness conference and one night we talked on the phone at 10:40. The next night, we talked at 11:15. In the 24+ hours in between, I took no other calls, saw no one face to face, and only left my apartment to walk for an hour. If I were not a pastor, I would do this a lot more often. As it is, I view these days the same way I view Christmas.
Sometimes, I jump on small jobs to keep me from having to socialize.
When my English students have end of year parties sometimes I will often volunteer be the DJ, deciding what songs to play, because it takes me from the middle of the party. At my church, I enjoy doing the sound booth once a month in part because the responsibilities prevent you from having to interact for a while after the service is over. If I’m at a social gathering where I don’t know most of the people, and there is trash to take out or something mundane to do in the kitchen, I will jump on it. I acknowledge that I have to fight these temptations, because to impact people you have to interact with them! And as a pastor and teacher, I have to be the first to be uncomfortable.
This is my internal reaction when someone says, “Turn around and shake someone’s hand”…
90% of the time when I have a scowl on my face, it’s because I am thinking deeply about something, not because I am mad.
True story: My first two years in Chicago I worked in the lobby of a high rise building downtown. The job had security aspects and required you to maintain focused attention for a long time, multitask and be willing to confront people–all things I stunk at and still do. Often I would stop paying attention to what was going on around me and get deep in my own thoughts. And that caused me to scowl. Once a lady in the building saw me scowling and thought the scowling was aimed at her. After about four or five times of leaving and coming back into the building and seeing my facial expression, she decided I was looking at her with suspicion. Offended, she talked to my supervisor to complain that I was giving her the stank eye all the time. My boss, who knew me quite well, laughed in her face.
People who dominate the conversation in a large group, or the teacher/speaker’s attention in a lecture with incessant comments or questions, annoy the snot out of me.
I will often say over and over in my head, “WOULD YOU PLEASE JUST SHUT UP ALREADY!!!!!” But you’d never know I was thinking it. You only see the scowl. For the 10% of the time I’m actually angry. After I calm down I just want to ask, “What’s going on in your heart and your mind to cause you to act like this?”
At my church, I enjoy doing the sound booth once a month in part because the responsibilities prevent you from having to interact for a while after the service is over.
I would rather clean a middle school locker room toilet than have to make a call to a stranger.
The internet age has been a jewel for people like me, who can do a lot of communication and especially customer service without actually having to talk to anyone. My ESL job requires that I call my students at times. And I usually go in a room by myself, think about what I want to say 239 times, stare at my phone, check Facebook, go to the bathroom, think about what I want to say again, breathe into a brown paper bag for ten minutes, dial, get on my knees and pray that no one answers and then if they do I will pace back and forth and talk awkwardly in semi-coherent sentences. And then shout for joy (on the inside, no one needs all that attention from an out loud shout for joy) when the conversation is over. I probably pinch my arm for this as well, but my brain is so overwhelmed by this process that I have never noticed.
If a social event has a set end time, I will shut down at the exact minute it’s supposed to end.
My social time is nearly always spent with cultures that are far less time-oriented than I am. So if I’m at a Bible Study that ends at nine, it really does not end at nine. But at exactly 9:00:00 I either shut down and get on my phone internet, or if I’m convinced that will be considered rude, I’ll go stand somewhere away from everyone and start thinking about something. If heaven forbid someone finds me and starts talking to me, I start faking interest in whatever they are saying because I am so deep in my own head I don’t want to make the journey back out. This is probably what I look like:
I realize by sharing all of these confessions, I may make things awkward for me and some of my potential readers. Next time you see me, you may be on the look out for my hand creeping up my opposite arm shirt sleeve. You may call me just to force me to talk on the phone (although if I don’t have your number, I will not answer). But that’s the risk I’m willing to take. My greater hope is that our REO introverted readers will appreciate this. That’s really one main goal in our writing.