On Being The Listening Type

I like myself. Not in the I’m-God’s-gift-to-the-world kind of way, but in a way that I think God intended us to have a sense of self-respect and gladness for our uniqueness as individuals. And not that I don’t have insecurities, because I’ve got plenty of the standard. I’ve got insecurities about my acne and my weight and the bags under my eyes and my lack of that hipster factor. I’ve especially got insecurities about my awkwardness with small talk, and the fact that I am usually exhausted by my efforts at it, and the fact that I’m convinced everyone is as acutely aware of my faltering as I am.

A guy I dated in college invited me once to a casual gathering of his friends; it was going to be my first time meeting them. I still remember what he said, “You learn a lot about a person when you see them interact with a group of people they don’t know.” Great. What he was about to learn was that this girl who could talk happily and easily with just him, was going to morph into the girl who shut down conversations with pauses too pregnant with overthought and who would ultimately excuse herself to the bathroom just to escape the relentless pressure of trying to overcome this.

The thing is, you see, I like being me. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t want to be any other way. Well, maybe a little less awkward at times would be nice. But I love being quiet. I just do. I love that listening, and listening well, is one of my most commonly identified strengths. I love that people feel they have been heard when they are with me. It means a lot to me and I feel I’ve got something valuable to give to my friends through my listening.

My struggle in being the listening type, however, is that I often feel less heard. I don’t interrupt conversations in groups readily or comfortably. It’s important to me not to cut people off but sometimes that’s how a lively conversation goes, one person after another cutting in, cutting off. But me, I’m uncomfortable cutting people off and equally uncomfortable being cut off. Call me crazy, but I like complete thoughts.

It can feel lonely, lopsided. Often knowing everyone else’s thoughts, big and small, but feeling less heard, less known. No one is more to blame than the other. I love when people ask me real questions and offer a space for my voice, but they don’t necessarily know I’m looking for that. I haven’t told them, how could they know. Sometimes I think that people assume just because I’m quiet means I don’t have a desire to talk. It’s more that I’m always looking for a more comfortable context to voice my thoughts but often struggle to find it. Other times I think that people assume my quietness means I’ve got some kind of extra steady hold over my troubles, and don’t need a listening ear myself. But it’s more that I’ve just got a steady hold over my expression of them. I could still use a listening ear now and then, too.

I’m thankful for authors like Adam McHugh and Susan Cain who recognize the wisdom and grace of God in shaping us introverts the way He has. I could honestly hand you their respective books, “Introverts in the Church” and “Quiet,” and tell you that you would know so many of my intricacies just by reading them. But at the end of the day, I’d like for friends to hear me use my own voice too. I may not be a big talker, but I’ve got some things to say.

How introversion suits my pastor’s wife. And oh, that’s me.

Back in my college years, I remember dreaming about becoming a pastor’s wife. Oh silly, naive me. I certainly found a shepherd’s heart to be wonderfully attractive. I thought it would be neat to be an encourager, the main encourager, to a person in that role. I thought it would be neat for my own self to have more doors open for me to care for others.Then, I married a pastor, and I cried.  I can’t do this. I can’t. do. this.

Please don’t get me wrong. Our church community is as genuinely supportive as it gets in their care towards us and their respect of our boundaries around our personal lives. They are actually quite amazing in how supportive they are. But even still, the roles of pastor and pastor’s wife are just inherently hard. Boundaries between the professional and the personal and incredibly blurry. Our personal life, in so many ways, is completely intertwined with my husband’s professional life. That’s a lot of pressure when you’re having a bad day. When my Sunday mornings come on the heels of a busy stretch of shifts at work in the hospital, I can tell that my ability to engage in meaningful conversation at church is not so stellar, and it’s in those moments that I hope people can understand that this introvert can’t always keep up so well with the roles of nurse and pastor’s wife without a bit of social faltering here and there. I hope they can remember that I’m primarily Stephen’s wife, not ‘the pastor’s wife’. Well, beyond that, I hope they can remember that I’m just me.

After reading Adam McHugh‘s lifechanging book, Introverts in the Church, followed by Susan Cain‘s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, I have become significantly more comfortable with my personality type and have learned how to recognize, treasure, and make the most out of the strengths that introversion has to offer. I’ve learned how to pull myself out of overstimulating crowds and engage in smaller, quieter conversations with just one or two people. I’ve learned how to communicate my needs for periods of solitude to my husband so that he can plan his meetings and dinners at our home accordingly. I’ve learned that I do not need to feel guilty when I keep my open days open, and use much of that free time to read, write, and take long walks to pray. I’ve learned that this is what makes me a better listener and a better talker in the long run. And I have to admit, I still relish the shock on peoples’ faces when they find that I have a very sarcastic, pranksterish side that I love to keep quietly hidden until just the right time.

But really, as I have gained a much better understanding of who I am and what my introverted rhythms are in terms of a social versus private balance, I honestly feel that this has helped my husband and I guard our own time together in a much healthier way. While he is an introvert as well, he has much more social stamina and he does not have as strong of a need for structure in his days. My counselor suggested that I help build in structure, not only for my own alone time, but for the two of us, in order to help ensure that we both have sufficient space to breathe, rest, and receive.

Some may say that pastors and pastors’ wives would do better if they were all extroverts. I would say that I love being an introvert married to an introverted pastor, and I would say that our personality type is a good, good thing for us.