more introverted than you know, more social than I realize

Not too long ago, I read this book by Adam McHugh called Introverts in the Church. As soon as I heard the title, I knew it was something I had needed to read for a long time. When I reached the last page, I let out a long exhale of relief as I felt for the first time that someone had helped put words to some fundamental aspects of who I am and why I operate in the ways that I do as an introvert. Not only does McHugh help articulate these things that I until now only vaguely recognized in myself, but he validates the strengths and giftings in introverts which often can go unrecognized or even be looked down upon in a society that truly does seem to be much more strongly geared towards extroverts. The guilt that I have experienced in feeling like I somehow had less of a “heart for people” because of my fairly strong need for solitude is slowly dissipating, and I find this both healing and liberating.

McHugh provides a wonderful summary of common attributes of introverts. I identified unhesitatingly with each one – some more than others, but definitely saw each of these in me to a fairly significant degree:

–       Prefer to relax alone or with a few close friends

–       Consider only deep relationships as friends

–       Need rest after outside activities, even ones we enjoy

–       Often listen but talk a lot about topics of importance to us

–       Appear calm, self-contained and like to observe

–       Tend to think before we speak or act

–       May prefer a quiet atmosphere

–       Experience our minds going blank in groups or under pressure

–       Don’t like feeling rushed

–       Have great powers of concentration

–       Dislike small talk

–       Are territorial – desire private space and time

–       May treat their homes as their sanctuaries

–       Prefer to work on own rather than with a group

–       May prefer written communication

–       Do not share private thoughts with many people

I am learning now to not only embrace but also cultivate my strengths as an introvert, and it has been wonderfully life-giving. I would even dare to call it exhilarating. I am more comfortable with silence, particularly with my patients and their family members. I used to feel as though I needed to always be able to talk it up with them to put them at ease. But I am finding that sometimes, they appreciate the space to think and rest after being inundated with so many people and so much information, not to mention the inner emotional and mental battles that come with being in an intensive care unit. I also feel that McHugh’s book sparked a new fire in me to write, take photographs, and write some more. McHugh talks about how introverts often appear calm on the exterior but our inner worlds are always “noisy.” Writing has given me a place to filter and share a bit of that noisy inner world in a way that comes more naturally for me. It has been encouraging to find that some people have been edified by my photography and writing, and I am grateful for those of you who visit and dialogue with me in this space.

A good number of people have expressed surprise when I tell them that I am an introvert, and a strong one at that. Some have told me that I am the most social introvert they know. What I have concluded is that I am more introverted than people know, and more social than I realize. It is both a good and hard tension to live in.

I have appreciated McHugh’s website a great deal, and I am excited that he accepted a guest blog post that I submitted about the introverted worship leader. I feel that he is reaching a significant number of people, and I feel very honored and humbled to participate in his dialogue in this small way. Please check out the post and his site, and I strongly encourage you to check out his book, for yourself and/or for the introverts around you.

How to accomodate dinner reservations for 940 people with only five chairs at the table

After I sat and briefly greeted the birthday girl, I checked in with my 661 friends and told them all what a lovely evening it was to celebrate a birthday at this fantastic Hollywood restaurant. Six friends told me how they too had eaten there and suggested some dishes. Two friends lamented about how they had to work that evening. One friend mentioned she liked my haircut, and another friend asked a side question about whether or not I got that email she sent me yesterday. Meanwhile, the birthday girl was eyeing the menu and said something about how she had been craving gnocchi lately. I looked away from my entourage for a few moments to discuss the menu options with the birthday girl, secretly slightly dismayed that so few of my 661 friends liked where I was for dinner that evening.

We ordered our food, and of course I had to take the obligatory photos of each dish to then show to my 661 friends. It wasn’t that they had asked for the pictures, but I figured some among them might want to know what I was eating that night. And see, some in fact did. There was one especially fancy dish that caught so much attention and food envy that quite a handful of people from my entourage kept interrupting my conversation with the birthday girl with their oohs and MMMMs. I knew someone would like the photos. I was loving their reactions. Oh. Oops. My food was starting to get cold.

After dinner, the miniature cake with the candle arrived for the birthday girl, and another gal who sat at one of the five chairs at the table snapped a picture of the birthday girl blowing out the candle. My 661 friends waited so patiently as the five of us sat and chatted. Meanwhile, the birthday girl turned to her other 274 friends, and showed them her birthday-candle-blowing picture. We had her open gifts and cards, clinking our glasses of wine to wish her a most wonderful upcoming year, but she suddenly seemed just a touch distracted, as if waiting for something to happen. But she smiled and we smiled and the night went on, and eventually we all pushed out our five chairs, hugged, and headed towards the door.

Suddenly the birthday girl blurted, “I can’t believe none of you four liked my birthday-cake-photo!” Bewildered, we reminded her that we were sitting next to her, celebrating with her at the time of the photo. She was grateful for that and all, but she really did wish that we had liked her photo.

As I walked to my car, it appeared that my 661 friends had gone on their way and had all quickly become quite busy with their own things. I suddenly felt a little bit lonely. I don’t know why I was so surprised that they all had so easily forgotten about my fun evening out over a lovely dinner. After all, they had been there too, hadn’t they?

When I got home, I looked again at my friend’s birthday-cake-blowing photo, and I did like it. It looked like it had really been a nice evening spent together with friends.

the (he)art of conversation

I’m always fascinated by people who have a way of making anyone and everyone feel as though they have known each other for years. My roommate in college during freshman year was this way. This worked out rather well for me, as all types of people would come knocking on our door, reducing the amount of effort I had to make to meet new people. I was dismayed to find, however, that just because people showed up at our door didn’t mean that I was going to know how to connect well with them myself. Compared to my gregarious roommate, I was shy, awkward. There is something to be said about the art of conversation.

There is, in fact, much to be said about the art of conversation. But at the heart of every genuine exchange between two people, at least those exchanges that are free of hidden agendas, is the desire within a person that says,

Find me here, where I am, and know a bit of me.

I think of the deaf patient I met who could ‘listen’ by reading what people wrote out for her. A slight inconvenience for a busy nurse? Undeniably, yes. The temptation to dismiss the value of that extra effort was real. But it became so readily apparent that she was significantly more at ease when I took the time to explain to her what I was about to do with the syringe in my hand, or why I needed to uncover her and probe at her in such personal ways. The written conversations were important in recognizing that she was very much present, in her quiet world, fearful and anxious about her condition, needing as much explanation and reassurance as any other person would. Would it hurt? How long was this going to take? Is this ok? Am I ok? Her nods and brief written replies let me know that she was ok. Less anxious. Increasingly at ease with me as her nurse. And I in turn became increasingly at ease with her. I found out a bit more about her, as she did about me.

I think of the elderly woman I met years ago during my years of research in nursing homes. The one who meant to tell stories about her son’s new baby, who meant to say “It’s nice to see you today” or “I feel sort of lonely today,” but when she opened her mouth to form the words, all that ever came out, in varying inflections, was “Doh doh doh doh doh doh.” That fateful stroke robbed her of all vocabulary but this one solitary word. She was, however, sharp as a tack and could understand everything being said to her. And so we had our conversations. I told her stories that I thought she might find interesting. I tried to remember not to ask questions requiring more than a “yes” or “no”… or in this case, a nod or a shake of the head, accompanied by “doh” with the appropriately corresponding inflection of her voice. I flinched when she would clearly be asking me a question, “Doh doh doh doh doh… doh?” and held my breath when I answered yes or no, hoping I had answered appropriately. Her shock at my response to one of her questions told me I had clearly misunderstood what she had asked, and so I quickly corrected myself, and she seemed sufficiently satisfied. Oh the adventures those conversations were! She wanted to be found and known beyond her limited vocabulary. And she was wonderful. I miss her.

I think of the recent immigrants who were uncertain about visiting a new church, our church, for fear that their English was too poor to connect meaningfully with anyone. They wavered for a while about whether or not to come visit. They smiled and nodded politely at people who talked at otherwise normal speed, but the translation process in their minds could not keep up. The ways they subconsciously brightened up when people spoke slowly, simply, or with a few phrases of their native tongue, revealed their relief at being freed for even just a moment from that gnawing sense of isolation. Please find me here inside my not-yet-bilingual world, and know a bit of me.

It has taken me a long time to understand, much less appreciate, the ways I am wired as an introvert. I love to sit back and just listen to people talk, but don’t tend to interject very often. I am handicapped with chit-chat. I feel uncomfortable entering into large gatherings of people I don’t know very well. I get nervous when I tell stories in groups, even in groups of people that I know and love. I tend to be rather reticent about volunteering a lot of personal information on my own initiative, but curiously I love being asked questions and tend to warm up to inquisitive people much faster. I too want to be found and known a bit by others.

There is so much to be learned from the art of conversation.