Tuesday, September 12, 2017

In an Extroverted Church Culture, Silence is a Homecoming for Introverts

There is an ancient and beautiful monastic ritual called “The Grand Silence.” For centuries, at the conclusion of evening prayer, monasteries have called a full halt on speech, to be observed except in dire emergency. This silence endures through the night until the first prayers the next morning, when as the sun introduces the new day, the quiet is broken by the singing of Scripture.

I first encountered this tradition on retreat with several of my ministry partners while I worked as a college pastor. They were a fervent group of extroverts, and for them, the nighttime silence was less than “grand.” They squirmed their way through that first evening, contorting their faces every time they had a thought they had to stifle. By the second night, though, they started to enjoy it and acknowledge the value of the silence. If we’re honest, too much talking can be a slow leak on even the most extroverted soul.

For me, the lone introvert, not even the most haunting chants of the Psalms that resonated through the chapel at daybreak could compare to the transcendence of the Grand Silence. Monasteries may be homes of asceticism, but each night their members feast on a gluttonous banquet of quiet. I anticipated and relished those hours, often going deep into the night to savor the stillness. For my extroverted colleagues, the grand silence was a vacation; for me, it was a homecoming....

Read the rest of this excerpt from the "Introverted Spirituality" chapter of the Expanded and Revised edition of Introverts in the Church at Introvert, Dear!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Psychology Today and the New Introverts in the Church

I was honored to interview with Psychology Today writer Nancy Ancowitz last month, and all three parts of our conversation about listening and introversion are now up on the Psychology Today website. That link will take you to part one, and here is part two and part three. Part one focuses on listening to others, part two on listening to ourselves, and part three on the specific opportunities and challenges for introverted listeners.

And, this is one more gentle reminder that there is a revised and expanded edition of Introverts in the Church hitting my publisher's warehouse on July 7th. Here are some of the changes in the second edition. It should be shipping out of online retailers by mid July, with the official release date in early August.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Best Kind of Hospitality

      When you’re an introvert, it’s easy to get overconfident about your listening abilities. It may seem an odd thing to strut over, but it’s true. Those on the extroverted side of the scale are rewarded with verbal ease and high energy; our introverted realm is the land of listening and reflection, and we sit proudly on our quiet thrones.

The breezy dichotomies start to fall apart, however, when we go deeper into the practice of true listening. I am not actually convinced that listening comes naturally for anyone, of any temperament. True listening is an act of selflessness, a work of ego surrender, and most humans don’t do those things instinctually. Now, if we define listening as sitting quietly while another person speaks, then yes, introverts have the upper hand. We are the masters of the quiet sit. Providing the air space for others to share is the first step, and we may have a head start here.

The worst listeners are easy to identify, because they are unable even to get this far. We all know people like this. They dominate conversations, performing soliloquies in our presence like windy Shakespearean characters, and they have little ability to gauge our interest level in their chosen topic. They are strangely impervious to the glassy-eyed stares of their captive audience.

Those who yammer on like radio talk show hosts are the easy targets of bad listening, but there are many more culprits of a subtler variety. This is where we introverts may not be the natural listeners we think we are. We may be adept at creating the outward space for others, but we may assume that in showing up and closing our mouths we have thereby done our job as listeners. We have removed the outward distractions, but the problem is that our heads continue to buzz with a myriad of inward distractions.

I believe that listening is the truest form of hospitality, which is good news for those of us who don’t relish opportunities to invite groups of people into our homes. To me, the best hosts are not those who throw spirited dinner parties, as enjoyable as those can be, the best hosts are listeners, those who welcome others into their minds, hearts, and souls. That is true hospitality, the meeting place for healing and empathy. Creating the outward space is absolutely essential because it is the setup; it is the listening equivalent of setting the table, lighting the candles, and opening the door to your guests. This is the context where true listening can happen, yet it is prologue, not the meal.

While for the more extroverted among us the greatest listening challenge may be in the outward act of hospitality - finding the time in a busy schedule, allowing quiet space, and refraining from steering the conversation with their words - for introverts like me the listening challenge is in the inward act of hospitality, making room in my inner life to allow for the needs and interests of others. The atmosphere surrounding us may be quiet, but so often the climate in our heads is thunderous. We have naturally active brains, which is why we often don’t feel the need to fill our lives with busyness. Our brains are quite busy enough, and we can provide all the stimuli that we need on our own. We’re our own favorite company. This is an asset for times of prayer and solitude, but it can be a barrier when we want to be attentive to others.

The truth is that only the listener can gauge whether he or she is truly listening, because true listening takes place on the inside. You can have all the trappings of listening – eye contact, appropriate body language, active listening sounds, occasional questions – and still not be genuinely listening. I know, because I have done it. I have been complemented for my listening by people that I knew I hadn’t listened to well, because I was preoccupied with my internal thoughts while sitting across the table from them. I was listening to the voices in my inner world, with their nagging concerns, self-doubts, and judgements, rather than offering my internal attention to the person in front of me. As Steven Covey put it, I was listening to respond, rather than listening to understand.

Therein lies the greatest listening challenge for those of us with quiet exteriors and noisy interiors: We must practice an inner hospitality, learning to clear the internal space, and turning down the volume of our inner voices, so that we can welcome the voices, thoughts, and hearts of others. That is how we become the best kind of hosts.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Introverts in the Church, Revised and Expanded

Now 40% More Introverted!!!
About a year ago, I cracked open Introverts in the Church for the first time in several years. Contrary to what some may believe, we authors don't cuddle up to our books on cold nights. I had moved on to other topics, namely The Listening Life, and some other writing projects.

I had been wrestling with questions, once again, about how to approach some new relationships in my life as an introvert, and I thought to myself, "You know who's an expert on this topic? ME!" So I dusted off my copy of Introverts in the Church and immersed myself in chapter 5, the Community and Relationships chapter.

What I found is that while my advice is helpful, some of it already feels outdated. It is astonishing how much things change in 8 years. In 2009, when the book was published, everyone in the church was talking about postmodernism; now, I almost never hear that word. In 2009, I didn't even know the phrase "social media," and the iPhone was just starting to flood the market. I started writing Introverts when I was 29 years old, even though the book wasn't published until I was 33. I will be turning 41 in a few months, and needless to say, I have changed, as a person, as a writer, and as a believer.

I was a decent writer when I was 29, but I am much better now, and one of the things I noticed, ironically, is that the book is just too wordy. I can tell I was dealing with what they call "Imposter Syndrome," a common struggle with a first book, and I wanted to prove to everyone, myself included, that I was qualified to write a book. I dropped in all kinds of theological knowledge and research that just wasn't necessary and was, in some cases, distracting. That, combined with the outdated time stamps in the book, compelled me to approach InterVarsity Press last summer and ask if we could release a 2nd edition. I wanted to write a new version that had a more timeless, and succinct, feel to it. And I thought I could make the book a lot funnier.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that the Revised and Expanded Version of Introverts in the Church is now available for pre-order. Here's what's new: each chapter has been thoroughly revised, both in content and in flow. I have written a new introduction. I have interspersed more discussions about the struggles of introverted parents and ministering to introverted children. I have incorporated the new research that has been conducted in the last few years about introversion, neurology, and sensitivity to stimuli, as well as some recent studies on the effectiveness of introverted leaders. And I have brought in the work of the Queen of Introversion, Susan Cain.

There are also some new endorsements. Scot McKnight wrote the forward, and he says "the first edition was exceptional, the second even better, at least by half, perhaps more than that." 

Jenn Granneman, creator of the popular introverted community, Introvert, Dear, writes: "Introverts in the Church is thoughtful, validating, and charming. It’s the book for any church-goers who have ever wanted to disappear into their seats when the pastor said, “Turn and introduce yourself to three strangers.” Adam teaches an important lesson: Spirituality should not be measured by sociability. The introvert who quietly reflects on her faith is as true of a believer as the extrovert who preaches exuberantly to others."

There are also endorsements from Susan Cain, Lauren Winner, John Ortberg, and many others. I echo Emily Freeman's hopes when she says, "I have a hopeful vision that the giftedness of the next generations of introverts will be honored and celebrated thanks to the fine work of Adam S. McHugh in this timeless, important book."  

You can now pre-order the revised version of Introverts in the Church on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Pre-ordering guarantees you the best price, as the price will decrease at times over the next few months, and it is a helpful way to draw the attention of retailers and reviewers. The official release date is August 7, 2017, but if you pre-order the book you will have it in your hands around mid-July. While the new edition will be of particular interest to new readers, those of you who read the first edition will find plenty of new content.

As always, I am deeply grateful for all of you who have read the book, recommended it to others, and sent me emails about it. I liked the first edition of Introverts in the Church, but I like the 2nd edition much, much better. I think you will too.