I’m an introvert. I once saw this Internet meme and thought it was hilarious and aptly described me:
I do not like exposing myself to too much scrutiny, examination, and prominence. It’s a protective measure. I don’t like getting hurt emotionally.
Those who know me and have seen me voice my opinions on Social Media would beg to differ. I tend to be quite “vocal” in my online presence; more so than I would have ever had the courage to do so in public. I have no scientific data to support my claim, but sometimes I feel the Internet, and especially Social Media, makes extroverts of introverts. It’s almost like a buffer zone for me. I am able to think, process, and then articulate my thoughts and feelings regarding various topics.
If you know me outside of Social Media, you might tend to view me as very reserved. This sometimes has gotten interpreted as being stuck up. While I was at our College for Officer Training (seminary) my now-wife was advised not to get to know me because I was too intellectual and too theological for her. I am very grateful that she did not heed that advice!
That being said, I love to preach. I love to teach. Standing up before a crowd or being part of a discussion group brings out what little extroversion I possess. However, since I am an introvert, releasing all of that mental muscle to expose myself before a group of people always leaves me exhausted afterwards. I retreat, find a book, or go to sleep.
Enter the plight of the introverted clergy. We can get very lonely.
Perhaps a common misconception is that introverts don’t want friends. This is not true in the least. For myself: I do want friends. Sometimes it’s a desperate longing. Then the inner battle of introversion begins: being vulnerable versus not being lonely. It can be a bitter struggle. Often times, I feel surrounded by a group of strangers who are watching my every move and hoping for a misstep.
In my case, my self-defense became too bitter and overran my life. I had no one (other than my wife) with whom I could express my fears, frustrations, joys, sorrows, accomplishments (or the lack thereof). I hated it. However, I was not willing to open myself up to the possibility that friendship is possible with others. My marriage suffered. My ministry suffered. I was a living hypocrite talking about loving my neighbor when I had the hardest time doing it myself. I began to look at myself repugnantly. I hated who I had become and began to hate myself.
My walls of defense had kept me safe for a little while, but in the end, they crumbled and collapsed on top of me. I was a mess.
The Hard Lesson
I realized (very slowly) that I needed to change. I began to open myself up to others. It was an arduous task. Protecting my own insecurity had led to my downfall. There were other factors mixed in that made things extremely difficult, but I at least could control my friendships. Finally, I decided to open up.
That has helped me out extremely. Trust is hard for me to give out. I had been hurt too often in the past, but then I realized that the benefits of trusting people far outweigh the hurts that I might otherwise receive from those who would betray my trust. I am by no means out of the woods and I need to continually improve myself. One of the most difficult things for me to do is to make friends in my own community. Being an officer in The Salvation Army tends to be isolating. There seems to be an unspoken rule that fraternizing is not allowed. However, I believe that actually goes against God’s command to love each other as we love him.
Being vulnerable to others is a discipline that I am still learning. I hope someday to be proficient at it. I will always be an introvert, but I don’t have to be a lonely one.