Be All You Can Be and Other Such Thoughts

I am introvert.

I married an introvert.

Yes. It is true. On a continuum with one end being introversion and the other being extroversion, I am on the side of the former.

For those of you who are bloggers like myself who enjoy sharing who you are, this is not a surprise. In Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, bloggers are more likely to be introverts, willing to reveal who they are via a keyboard. She writes:

Studies have shown that, indeed, introverts are more likely than extroverts to express intimate facts about themselves online that their family and friends would be surprised to read, to say that they can express the ‘real me’ online, and to spend more time in certain kinds of online discussions. They welcome the chance to communicate digitally. The same person who would never raise his hand in a lecture hall of two hundred people might blog to two thousand, or two million, without thinking twice.  The same person who finds it difficult to introduce himself to strangers might establish a presence online and then extend these relationships into the real world (p. 63).

However, for those of you who know me, it is possible you may be surprised by my personal revelation. After all, some of you have heard me preach and/or teach. Others have witnessed my engaging of topics with a passion. How can it be that I can stand in front a crowd and deliver a sermon with zeal and animation and still be an introvert?

Easy. I have a manuscript.

I am energized by teaching and preaching, but I am not an extemporaneous speaker. Believe me, I have tried, and it was not a good experience for all involved, particularly me. I have beat myself up for my inability to speak extemporaneously. In my PhD program, I watched with envy as my classmates were able to speak in front of the group and share about their projects with seemingly little effort. Me? It’s just not happening. My attempts at extemporaneous speaking seem to portray me as one who stumbles over her own words with very little to say . . . except for the obvious. The less comfortable I feel, the more likely I will experience brain freeze (and I am not talking about the kind of brain freeze that transpires when you are eating ice cream too quickly).

For introverts who are unable to speak extemporaneously, Cain describes them as being overly stimulated. Each of us has a sweet spot, says Cain. We can be under stimulated in which case we more than likely will be bored, or we can be overly stimulated in which case we are unable to excel. Whether or not you are an extrovert or an introvert, it is good to know when you are in that sweet spot because it is from here you are able to do optimal work. (see Cain, Quiet, 120-129)

Besides needing plenty of time to prepare in order to teach and relying on a manuscript for said situations, my introvert proclivities appear as I appreciate being alone, studying, researching, and writing. They also emerge in my enjoyment in interacting one-on-one or with a couple of others about the deeper issues of life . . . our places of vulnerability     . . . uncertainty . . . questions . . . anxieties . . . fears . . . struggles . . . loss . . . grief . . . death . . . dying . . . transformation . . . finitude . . . the intersection of life and theology . . . etc. It was on these types of discussions on which my husband and I built our budding relationship during our pre-dating days, and, I might add, such discussions have not stopped . . . 31 years later.

I also have an aversion to crowds (on Black Friday you will find me shopping online) and a distaste for multi-tasking (and some studies seem to indicate that no one can). An all-encompassing persistence as well as a resistance toward speed are also qualities I embrace, both of which Cain notes are characteristics of the introvert.

As I type out my own introverted qualities, I admit that it was Cain’s Quiet that has provided me with a mirror, resulting in increased freedom to be. She points out how American culture lifts up the extrovert, putting it forth as the norm, and the church culture is not immune either. Cain talks with Adam McHugh, author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, and he speaks of evangelicalism’s holding forth the extrovert personality as the model of a mature Christ-follower. McHugh explains, “The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out. And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing well as I’d like.’ It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me’” (66). Cain even notes how some churches are encouraged when seeking a new minister for their congregations to find extroverts (65). While Cain does not mention my own tradition of Pentecostalism, I wonder if we have implicitly supported an extrovert personality with a preference for charismatic leaders, extemporaneous preachers, exuberant worship, loud audible prayers as well as stressing doing more so than being and evangelism over discipleship.

These thoughts got me thinking . . . was Jesus an extrovert? Consider with me carefully some of the things about Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is portrayed as living by the philosophy: No reward for speed. The Fourth Gospel frequently uses the concepts of time or hour to speak about the fact that Jesus’ time or hour has not yet come (e.g., 2:4; 7:6, 8, 30; 8:20), but as the story unfolds, such an hour arrives (e.g., 12:23; 13:1). In Matthew and Luke, Satan invites Jesus to worship him so that he may have all the kingdoms of the world—the speedy way to fame and reward; however, Jesus rebukes Satan, resisting this temptation, and chooses the slow, painful path. I also notice Jesus had twelve close followers and three who were even closer. After ministering to the crowds, what does Jesus frequently do? He isolates himself—he seeks to be alone. Does this imply, unlike extroverts, crowds did not rejuvenate him?

Of course, I have no idea if Jesus was an introvert or an extrovert. It is possible that each Gospel’s portrayal is more indicative of the author’s own personality style. Consider with me John’s use of the word “hour” and his writing of only seven miracles and Mark’s use of the word “immediately” and his having more miracles than any other Gospel. Is this a reflection of John being the introvert while Mark is extrovert?

Putting that wondering aside, I think John does teach us the concept of doing flows from being. In 2:23-25 we are told that many people believed in Jesus because of all the miraculous signs he did, “but Jesus would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people. He did not need anyone to testify about man, for he knew what was in man.” Jesus knew himself. He refused to be swayed by the people. In John, he knew when his hour would come and insisted that he wait until then. This is one of the areas that highlights Jesus being in control, which is different from Mark’s Gospel. I believe one of the ways Jesus was able to accomplish this is he knew who he was, and he knew people. Jesus knew he and the Father were one (ch. 10). He understood he was God. This is implicitly indicated in his healing of the lame man on the Sabbath (ch. 5). Hebrew scholars believed that God did not stop working on the Sabbath because God’s providence also remained on the Sabbath. For instance, people continued to be born and to die on the Sabbath, indicating God’s work. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, he was stating he was equal with God through this action (see NET Bible notes for 5:17). Jesus knew who he was in that his very being was God’s act of ministry to the world (3:16). Jesus’ own words point toward his being as “the resurrection and the life” (11:25). One could say, then, that he never stopped ministering since his very person is God’s act of ministry. Even when he slept, he continued to be God’s act of ministry. His being cannot be separated from his action. I reiterate: his being is God’s act of ministry.

Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 12 we see that as members of Christ’s body who we are cannot be easily separated from what we do. In verse 7, Paul writes, “If the whole body were an eye, what part would do the hearing? If the whole were an ear, what part would exercise the sense of smell?” If we are to be the member that God intends (e.g., the foot, the hand, etc.), it is out of who we are that doing flows. A hand does what it does because it is a hand. A foot does what it does because it is a foot. That is, the foot’s doing flows out of its footness, and the hand’s doing flows out of its handness.

In contemplating the concepts of introvert and extrovert, I think Paul’s words may be applicable to us as contemporary Christ-followers. Within context, the Corinthians were struggling with comparison and competition. (Is that not what we do with the ideas of introvert and extrovert?) In chapter 11 they were not respecting each other during the eating of the Lord’s Supper, but instead there were divisions. Some of these divisions may have involved who the people were, such as the Jews and Gentiles as well as the slaves and the free (12:13), and how people’s gifts were being used, such as those who were more vocal and visible and those who were not (12 and 14). This causes Paul to admonish the Corinthians that they all were not the same member, but diversity was present. The Apostle, then, invites the Corinthian church to embrace each other with a love (13) that involves equality and mutuality. He advocates for no division as shown by a “mutual concern for one another” (12:25). This mutuality is seen in that, “If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it” (12:26).

So, my invitation for consideration: Who am I? How may I allow my doing to flow from my being? In what ways may I offer grace to others as they, too, allow their doing to flow from their being?