I like to have time on my own. And sometimes that means I find church awkward, because it is built around community. The building of relationships, the time spent sharing experiences, the aura of accountability and the torturous after-church process of mingling. I’m an introvert.
I want to be part of an honest, open and growing community. It’s going to be tough.
But introversion isn’t an excuse, it’s not enough to say that I find forming relationships difficult, or that I express my emotions more easily to anyone on these pages than to a friend sat across the table from me.
I am done pretending that I need to be someone else. I am done trying to be the centre of attention, the hub of social groups, the person who is always the last to leave. Because when I try to do these things I find that I am not the centre of attention, I don’t have the glue that brings groups together and it’s just a paranoid fear of missing out that causes me to stick around until the pub closes.
Trying to be someone who I am not has shown up my weakness rather than my strength.
Recently quite a bit has been written about the role of introverts in the church, how they are sidelined by the nature and activities of church, how they are relegated as second class pew fodder, while the extroverts run the show. There is a sort of begrudging acknowledgement of the worth of an introvert’s preferences, a nod to the value of times of silence and solitude. But they are the optional extras of church life, by their very nature they do not come to the fore in the collective life of the congregation.
So I find myself in a tight spot. I want to be a part of a community. I want to know and I want to be known. I want people to look into my life and tell me what they see, I want the heartache of difficulties embraced together and I want the joy of celebrating when we overcome. But I don’t want to do it on the terms that I’m told it needs to be done.
Here’s a peculiar little thing: we value people who are popular and surrounded by others, but we also value travelling light – living with the freedom and the flexibility to move on whenever the next thing comes along. We have made peering over the fence to check if the grass is any greener into an art form. We have embraced superficiality with considerable sophistry.
And often I find that crowds are just another place to hide from people. So maybe our tendency to have lots of people around us is a way to limit how well any one person will know us. When we make to leave our send off will be packed to the rafters but our life will be empty very soon after.
I know that everyone relates differently, for some they can handles having hundreds of friends, for others even a few is a taxing endeavour. So maybe I shouldn’t judge, perhaps I should keep out of this, instead sort out my own life out and leave everyone else to worry about theirs. But that’s just the problem, we hide behind propriety and make great play of our difference as an excuse for our deficiencies; we let each person go about their life in their own way.
And we miss the chance to do it together. Because community means compromise. The giving of the self to serve others, the joining together with people who are not the same. The learning together, the loving each other, the living that brings each of us to life.
I wish I had a ten point plan: community building for introverts. I could market it to the disenfranchised half of the church. But I don’t have that. All I’ve got is a bunch of friends I want to know better, and who I want to know me better.
And maybe, just maybe, one day at a time the layers that disguise us all will give way to a ragged, radical, community.