So, people like to think the world is divided between introverts who like alone time and extroverts who like social time, but reality is much more complicated. Isn't it always the case?
I recently returned from an annual clergywomen's retreat. Every year in February, United Methodist clergywomen gather together for two days of...nothing. It's absolutely wonderful. We worship...very informally so no one has to work too hard to plan and execute a flawless liturgy. We gossip...yes, I won't pretend that we don't. We catch up with old friends. We make new ones. We go for walks. We tuck away in corners to knit or craft. We "check in" and share how things are going. We discuss our work life, our family life, our hopes, and our frustrations. We share wisdom we have gained. We share books we have read. We play games late into the night. It's a precious few days that I never want to miss, but I come home exhausted. Utterly. Completely. Exhausted. Every. Single. Year.
You see, like many people, I am neither a strong extrovert nor a strong introvert. People often mistake me for an extrovert because I talk. A lot. Yes, I am a talker. If you think I talk too much and find it odd that I am aware of this fact, well, I do know it. You might be surprised to learn that a lot of us talkers are perfectly aware that we talk a lot. We just do. I am not a conversation dominator; that's just rude, but I am not shy to talk in a group. However, comfort talking in a group is not the same thing as being an extrovert. The problem comes when people connect the ability to be social with extroversion and link introversion with being shy. It's just not that way. It's complicated, but being an extrovert or an introvert has nothing to do with being shy. Moreover, neither category has anything to do with being "spiritual" (despite a cultural bias that tends to assume that quiet people are more spiritual than outgoing people). Rather, being an extrovert or an introvert concerns how and where a person gains or expels energy. Simply put, extroverts get more energy by sharing time with others. Introverts tend to lose energy around people. But, there are many of us who live our lives on the borderland between being introverted and extroverted. Moreover, it is also true that all of us need some private time and all of us enjoy social time.
To be frank, I am more of an introvert than an extrovert. To be appropriately social, I need a lot of private time. Time alone keeps me grounded, healthy, and able to give freely when I am with others. For me, I need a good full day all by myself every week. And, every day I need several hours spent doing almost anything except in direct conversation with another person. This is possible. It's not a big deal. Even in a social job like being a pastor, part of the job includes non-social things like paperwork, email, correspondence through letter, and so forth. However, unlike true introverts, I can gain energy when I am around people, as well.
Understanding how one gains and expends energy is vital in developing a healthy spiritual self. Knowing how to maneuver through the world, to create appropriate and healthy boundaries, to maintain those boundaries when others think they should be otherwise (because people will always press us to be more outgoing or quiet or physical or...), and to be able to stretch when stretching is needed are part of being mature emotionally and spiritually. You see, coming home tired from a retreat is not a bad thing for me. I lost energy in one way, but I gained energy in another way. I listened to my sisters' stories. I laughed loudly and for prolonged periods of time. I met new people, people I hope to know better over time. I rekindled relationships that floundered amidst the pressures of work and life and due to the disconnection fostered by distance. Being tired is not a bad thing, not for me. The tiredness I felt coming home from the retreat was a good tired. A holy tired. Yet, even in the midst of women I admire and love, I have to protect some boundaries - boundaries that are important. I don't touch. I mean, I touch people, but I don't like to be hugged indiscriminately. I would much rather shake a hand and keep a nice distance. That doesn't mean I don't love the person I'm with or that I have "issues with touch." It's actually a boundary that helps me give more of myself, to be more present with the person in front of me. But, even among clergy who should know better, there is an assumption that closeness requires touch. It doesn't. I can be close, present, giving, loving, and interested without it. As a matter of fact, I insist on it. I hate being told to hold hands with the person next to me in order to pray. I can pray just fine without that, thank you very much. Togetherness is one thing, but don't tell me how much I have to touch someone else. I check out mentally and spiritually; I actually get quite snarky about the whole thing.
In order to maintain equilibrium at events like retreats filled with people chatting, laughing, singing, playing, and otherwise making noise and sharing important emotional moments with one another, it is important to know when to back away. Sometimes I just head up to my room to read a little, to play a video game, or to do nothing at all. Being alone doesn't necessarily mean getting serious or quiet; it means what it says - being alone. Away from the stimulation. It helps when I come back into the group. It's important for all of us to honor our own needs as well as to be respectful of the boundaries that others' set.
To be a healthy spiritual being, it is vital for us to understand that most of us are mixtures of introversion and extroversion. It's important for us to grasp when and where we move from one way of being in the world to the other and to take care about these crossover moments. It's an awful thing to know that we really want company but feel pressured to be "spiritual" by being quiet. Some of us just don't like long walks in the woods alone. That's not how we find God. We find God in the story being told by our conversation partner. We experience God in the laughter around a coffee table. We hear God in the agony of another's struggle. This is spiritual. For all of the extroverts out there, know this about yourself. If you like getting together with lots of people to do silly things, this is holy silliness. Own it. Love it about yourself. The world needs this from you. Don't tamp it down or pretend you have some deep drive to quiet contemplation. Be contemplative with others. That's a beautiful thing. Likewise, introverts often feel pressured to share more, to say more, to "jump in" to conversation. For those who need to lie on a bed and just do nothing but get the batteries recharged, be responsible about this. Take care regularly and intentionally. Otherwise, a nasty monster will rear its head, and it turns us from "quiet" to "taciturn." There's nothing spiritual about a grump. It's up to us to know our boundaries and to keep them. And, it's okay to go back and forth. It's okay to be a person who laughs and laughs with a group and then need to spend some time with our own thoughts.
Spirituality has a lot to do with energy. Healthy energy. God's energy. To key into this energy we have to know ourselves and how we relate to, gather, and expend energy. I came home tired from a retreat. That doesn't mean that the retreat failed or that I failed in "retreating" well. I came home tired, but I also came home energized. I hold those women in my hearts. I am honored to have spent time with them. I offer prayers for their ministries and for their lives. These are good things. I also came home craving a couple of days of sleeping late and talking little. It's my job to ensure these are tended to with care and intention. To that end, I skipped something today that I usually never skip, but it was a group event. As much as I love it, I needed not to go. This weekend will find me spending some extra time alone watching old movies and bad TV. Come Tuesday of next week, I will be even footed again. Here's to spirituality. It's a messy business knowing ourselves and how to be healthy in the world.
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