Sometime ago, I tweeted the following: “Lot of ‘chat’ about difficulty of doing church as an introvert. As an introvert, let me say gently to fellow introverts: get over yourself!”
It received an interesting reception, and I lost a few “followers.” Some were offended because they saw it as insensitive and unhelpful. The fact that I had identified myself as an introvert seemed to be irrelevant. The logic seemed to be that a true introvert would never have written that.
But I stand by the advice. In fact, I would say exactly the same to extroverts. Not to mention ambiverts. Let me go even further: as a bona fide member of the human race, I need to get over myself! Yet as we all know, that is far easier said than done, but recognising it as a theological issue helps.
Theology is not simply something we study. It is not an addendum to our existence, but the very core of it. Who we are and how we live is not merely influenced by our theology, but defined by it.
The problem is it is often bad theology. One of the distinguishing characteristics of evangelicals should be the intentionally theological nature of our lives.
This is why in my efforts at discipling (a.k.a counseling) people, I work from a framework of Identity, Purpose and Function.
As a believer, my identity is that of someone “in Christ.” This trumps and defines all other identities. For example, I can only be the husband the Lord wants me to be when I see my primary identity not as a husband but as someone united to Christ.
As someone “in Christ,” my purpose in life is to glorify God which I do by making much of His Son. My life is not primarily about me but about Him. This brings everything into sharp focus.
Knowing my identity and purpose, I am then able to understand what my function is in the moment, namely, to be a better lover of God and others.
I love both the practical simplicity and the theological profundity of this framework. I rehearse it to myself, and never tire of unpacking it for others. It captures two of the great virtues of the gospel: it is true and it works. Let me apply it to the thorny issue of introversion.
What is an Introvert?
Carl Jung developed the terms of introversion and extroversion in the 1920s, but it was probably their adoption as categories for the Myers-Briggs personality tests that cemented their place in the popular psyche.
As humans, we are self-aware. It helps us to understand ourselves if we have labels we can utilize. We read a list of characteristics and things seem to fall into place: “That’s me!”, we exclaim. These can indeed be very useful at a descriptive level. Just as having a sense of my height helps me to navigate through doorways, having a sense of my personality helps me to understand my reactions and preferences.
So when I read this on the MBPT site, I understand myself a little better: I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas… memories, and reactions that are inside my head… I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act… I am seen as “reflective” or “reserved.” I prefer to know just a few people well.
That really is me! I can now confidently identify myself as an introvert and really do have a sense of justification in spending time with just me and my thoughts. That not only feels right, it is right! As an individual, intentionally and uniquely formed by God, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps.139:13-14). I do not need to run from, be ashamed of, or try to hide my introversion. That’s simply a useful word to describe how I relate, process, and engage.
So far, so good.
But here comes the ‘But’!
How I Am Not Who I Am
My identity is found in something other than being an introvert. It may helpfully describe me, but it cannot define me. Being ‘in Christ’ does that. My introversion is now encapsulated by my “in Christness.”
So, sometimes it is ok to sit in a room full of people and watch. Everyone is engaged with chatter, laughter, and conversation. It is an ideal opportunity to reflect or even idly observe.
But sometimes, it is not ok. What if in that room there is someone on their own, who’s obviously feeling very uncomfortable? No matter how much I may want to retreat into my world, the truth as it is in Christ helps me to see that my function in that moment is to be a better lover. That is how I fulfil my purpose to glorify God by making much of His Son.
In Christ, I have all that I need for life and godliness for that is what the cross secured. I may not “want” to. I may crave my personal space. But I need to get over myself, and take the grace of God I have enjoyed in my life so that I may be a means of grace to others. Who knows, an extrovert may be the last kind of person that individual needs, but will open up to you quicker than a flower in the morning sun.
Join the Conversation
In what ways might the framework of Identity, Purpose, and Function help you to be a means of grace to others?