Monday, June 27, 2011

Introverts in Evangelical America

The scowling old man nearly bumped into me as he fled the sanctuary.

As I turned to watch him stomp out to the parking lot, I asked a friend if she knew why he'd left before the service started. She replied, "You know how in your sermon last week you encouraged all of us to be more welcoming to newcomers? Well, after five people came up to him to introduce themselves, he blurted "Can a guy just be anonymous when he checks out a new place? I want to be left alone!" And thus concluded his seven minute survey of our church.
It's not only cantankerous old men with a flair for storm-off exits who are turned off by hyper-friendly churches, however. As I reflected on that event, I realized that I too would be intimidated and overwhelmed by that many strangers approaching me, no matter how genuine and kind they were. As it turns out, our churches are actually teeming with this species of people called "introverts." I am one of them, as is 50% of the American population, according to our best and latest research.
Unfortunately, owing to a few antisocial types as well as to a general extroverted bias in our culture, introverts get a bad rap. Mainstream American culture values gregarious, aggressive people who are skilled in networking and who can quickly turn strangers into friends. Often we identify leaders as those people who speak up the most and the fastest, whether or not their ideas are the best.
As a result, introverts are often defined by what we're not rather than by what we are. We're labeled as standoffish or misanthropic or timid or passive. But the truth is that we are people who are energized in solitude, rather than among people. We may be comfortable and articulate in social situations and we may enjoy people, but our time in the outer worlds drains us and we must retreat into solitude to be recharged. We also process silently before we speak, rather than speaking in order to think, as extroverts do. We generally listen a little more than we talk, observe for a while before we engage, and have a rich inner life that brings us great stimulation and satisfaction. Neurological studies have demonstrated that our brains naturally have more activity and blood flow, and thus we need less external stimulation in order to thrive.
I saw the need for a book on this topic when I realized that our cultural slant had infiltrated some wings of the church, especially mainstream evangelicalism. As I say in Introverts in the Church, entering your average evangelical worship service feels like walking into a non-alcoholic cocktail party. Evangelicalism has a chatty, mingling informality about it, and no matter how well-intentioned that atmosphere is, it can be a difficult environment for those of us who are overwhelmed by large quantities of social interaction and who may connect best with God in silence. Sometimes our communities talk so much that we are not able to express the gifts that we bring to others. If we are given the space, we bring gifts of listening, insight, creativity, compassion, and a calming presence, things that our churches desperately need.
Even more dangerous is the tendency of evangelical churches to unintentionally exalt extroverted qualities as the "ideals" of faithfulness. Too often "ideal" Christians are social and gregarious, with an overt passion and enthusiasm. They find it easy to share the gospel with strangers, eagerly invite people into their homes, participate in a wide variety of activities, and quickly assume leadership responsibilities. Those are wonderful qualities, and our churches suffer when we don't have those sorts of people, but if these qualities epitomize the Christian life, many of us introverts are left feeling excluded and spiritually inadequate. Or we wear ourselves out from constantly masquerading as extroverts.
Though I empathize with that old man, I wish he had endured the overwhelming hospitality of our community that day. He would have learned that the Christian life is not about anonymity, and we would have gained another introverted member who contributed valuable gifts to our community and ministry. Both he and our church would have been better for it.

This article originally appeared in the "On Faith" section of The Washington Post. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Seeking Guest Bloggers

The success of Introverted Parenting Week, combined with the limited time my book writing affords me to write blog posts, leads me to seek guest bloggers. While I can't promise that every proposal will be published, I can promise I will seriously consider each one. I can also promise you a sizable audience, since the blog gets thousands of visitors each month.

Here are some topics I would love guest posts on:

1. Anything Introvert-related, especially as related to:
    A. Experiences with Christian community
    B. The missional church and life
    C. Leadership and pastoring
    D. Parenting

2. Art, writing, and creativity

3. Listening of all kinds

4. Spiritual disciplines, contemplative prayer, spiritual direction.

5. Technology and social media and its relationship to spirituality

6. Books, especially by the authors.

7. Anything else - try me!

If you are interested, email me full articles or else send me a proposal in one or two paragraphs. Contact me at adamsmchugh at gmail dot com.

Here are a few requirements:

1. No more than 600 words.
2. Must be original. You can post it on your own site 7 days later, but it must first appear here.
3. Must be consistent with the tone of this blog. Doesn't have to be introvert-related but must not be polemical, overly academic, or contain purple prose.
4. Cannot be an advertisement for a book or other product. You can talk about your book or music, but the post cannot be a summary of it.
5. You must be open to have your post edited a bit.

If you have any more questions, email me.

Thank you! I can't wait to read your stuff.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Neither hammer nor ax nor tool

My friend Matt Anderson, who just published a book called Earthen Vessels, a much-needed resource on the theology of the human body from an evangelical perspective, reminded me recently of a biblical text that has always fascinated and confused me. When King Solomon is building the temple of the Lord in the first book of Kings, the text includes this little verse:

When the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry, so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built. 1 Kings 6.7

As the temple for the worship of the Lord was built, Israel could not hear the construction that was taking place. All the pounding and chipping took place at the quarry the stones originated from. It's a little detail, yet I can't shake the feeling that it is a significant detail. I have gone back and forth on the meaning of this text. As far as I can see, the significance rests in one of the following interpretations:

1. This verse is emphasizing the ordinariness of human tools, even possibly hinting at their profaneness. The emphasis in this reading would be on the "neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron" part, suggesting that human tools, while necessary, can not be considered sacred nor can they ever be used to some "construct" the presence of God. God's presence will rest in the temple but it is not human labor or effort that makes that possible.

2. The verse is emphasizing the silence of the construction process on the temple location. The important part is the fact that no tool "was heard." In the hearing of the people of Israel, the construction was noiseless. If this reading is correct, it could indicate that the temple was so sacred that only silence could bear its weight. The sounds of pounding and metal-on-metal actually desecrated the holiness of the place. Or, it could downplay the fact that humans were building the temple and an imaginative people could envision it dropping down from heaven, built by divine hands.

So, I'm dying to know what you think. Do you agree with one of these interpretations, or do you find a third option or perhaps a middle road? 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Exploring the Inner Terrain

I have a lot of friends who love to travel. They have relentless curiosity and sense of adventure, and their yearly calendars are highlighted by trips to international, historic, exotic locales. They are exhilarated by world cultures and people.

I enjoy traveling as well, though the stamps on my passport aren't threatening the global ink trade. My wife and I spent an amazing two weeks in France last summer. One of my passions is wine and I dream of traveling to the great wine regions of the world - France, Italy, Australia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand. Conveniently, I already live in the second greatest wine region in the world - California - so I've got that one covered.

I turned 35 last Saturday, which has provoked some introspection. Since I'm a writer by trade, I likely won't make it to my 40th birthday, so I need to make 35 count. I find myself reflecting on what I want for the rest of my life, and while many will dream of vacations they want to take, I can't escape my captivation with the inner life. I find myself regularly turning in, to explore the inner terrain.

No doubt some of this has to do with my introverted bent, but I do not think the inner adventure is one that should be restricted to certain personality types. It may be that in turning inward, we discover that the inner labyrinths are more complex, more profound, more confusing, and more inspiring than the diverse web of international cultures and the most rugged global footpaths.

American culture, generally speaking, is not an effective tour guide for this inner adventure. We are becoming increasingly outward oriented, and not coincidentally, more reactionary. Social media encourages us to trumpet our opinions on everything under the sun, and we so often end up embroiled in whatever theological or political topic has been raised by the big personality of the day. We're expected to have something to say about everything, which means we often have actually have very little to say about anything. We live in a cocktail-hour culture, and I'm convinced that Bilbo Baggins anticipated such a social-media lubricated world when he said "I feel thin, like butter scraped over too much bread." If we're honest, our technology sometimes takes from us more than it gives. And yet we fear that if we do not weigh in on the hot button topic of the hour then we are falling behind.

Exploring the inner terrain might involve sitting down with that fear and asking it a few questions. What will happen if I don't express my views? What impact might exuberant self-expression have on my soul? Why are people discussing this particular issue right now anyway, and why I do want to join the conversations?

This is why I find myself turning more and more to books - especially old books - and less and less to Twitter. While I learn new information from the books I read, I also find them to be a sounding board for the rhythms of my inner life. Books explore topics in depth, which resonates with my personal longing for spiritual, emotional, and intellectual depth.

In some circles this inner movement is part of what's called a spirituality of descent. We travel in to find the good and the bad, the life and the death, the groans of the Spirit and the whispers of temptation. Truth is, I don't know where this inner adventure is taking me - that's why it's an adventure - and I don't know what voices I will hear as I descend, but I am compelled to keep going.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Mere Lump of Humanity? (full story)

Thanks to Chaplain Monk at Internet Monk for including this story in his recent series on "Pastoral Care for the Dying." This story is the most poignant in my work as a hospice chaplain. 

I sat at my desk on a Monday morning and perused the telecare reports from the weekend:
  • The patient needs a refill on meds.
  • I need to talk to a social worker.
  • When will they remove the equipment?
  • I colored three pictures today.
Without looking, I knew that the last call belonged to Jimmy.
Jimmy was the first patient that I met as a hospice chaplain, and I anticipate that he will be the most memorable patient that I ever meet as a hospice chaplain. The memory of our first encounter is emblazoned on my mind: the nurse, the social worker, and I ascend the stairway to the second floor of a bleak motel to Jimmy’s room, his permanent residence. Jimmy greets us in a black Homer Simpson t-shirt and shiny red shorts, eyeing me suspiciously. As we cross the threshold we are hit with a fog bank of cigarette smoke. Jimmy says few words, usually in broken sentences and non-sequiturs, while our social worker in her most gentle voice attempts to explain his medication to him and how to call hospice from his cell phone.  He nods his assents but looks thoroughly confused. This is not the first time this exchange has taken place, nor will it be the last.

This was one of the few times I ever saw Jimmy, even though he was on our service for several months. He was extremely uncomfortable around men and thus all of the hospice staff who attended to him were women. Jimmy’s story is filled with mystery, sadness, and profound isolation, yet his last months of life revealed glimmers of belonging, hope, and even a childlike contentment.

We were never able to identify a single one of Jimmy’s relatives, and he never spoke of his family or his past. He had no known friends, to the extent that we had to list his motel manager as his primary care giver. The source of his fear of men was unknown, though clearly traumatic. We could only speculate that in his life he had been hurt, physically and emotionally, by men. Some of his nurses spoke of him as a “man-child,” as his emotional intelligence was at the maturity level of perhaps an 8 year old boy. We conjectured that Jimmy had undergone severe emotional trauma at an early age, and though his body had continued to grow into that of a man, his mental and emotional capacity had frozen at that age. Others wondered if he was autistic, as he rarely made eye contact, spoke in monotone, and had limited facial movement. In the eyes of some outsiders he would have been a mere lump of humanity, misunderstood, anonymous, discarded, dying in an out-of-the-way motel.

But to our team, Jimmy became a son. During the 4 months that he was with us, we spoke of him more frequently than any other patient, often with a kind of fascinated laughter. He brought out the maternal instincts in our nurses and home health aides, who not only cared for his routine medical needs but also bought him a toaster and a small refrigerator and regularly brought him his eclectic lunch of choice, a vanilla milkshake and a fish sandwich. Nothing brought Jimmy as much joy as his toaster, the first he had ever owned. He had a phone conversation with his nurse Donna the day after receiving this gift:

Donna: “Hi Jimmy, whatcha doing?”
Jimmy: “Eating toast.”
Donna: “How many pieces have you had so far today?”
Jimmy: “Six.”

Our team secretary posted on her cubicle wall one of the many pictures he had filled in, from his Sesame Street coloring book. Jimmy treated the hospice phone number more as a friendship network than an emergency hotline, and he quickly became a hospice celebrity.  Most if not all of our telecare nurses and patient care secretaries were well acquainted with him, whose calls ranged from genuine medical concerns to how many pictures he colored in an evening. Our records showed that he called telecare over 300 times.

During the course of our time with Jimmy, he became more friendly and open. He began to learn that it’s possible to trust people, and I think he even slowly began to realize that he was loved. Likewise, we were also changed. His childlike simplicity humbled us. His authenticity and his unabashed willingness to express his needs challenged us.

That May we lost Jimmy.  I had the opportunity to lead an informal memorial service, which was more of an occasion for storytelling and laughter than it was for a ritualized service. The table in front of the room was adorned with the standard flowers and a candle, but also with a basket of the toys he had been given and a picture that had been taken on his last birthday. The picture even betrayed a slight smile on Jimmy’s face.

At this gathering Jimmy’s parents were not present, but there was the man from his bank, the one man that Jimmy had trusted over the years, and his nurse Sam that had loved him like her own son. She was the one who taught him what a “hug” was, and though at first he was extremely uncomfortable with this display of affection, by the end he would not let her leave until she gave him one. There were no brothers and sisters, but there was his doctor and social worker and team manager and secretary and chaplain, who all spoke of him fondly. There were no lifelong friends, but there were new friends who would remember him all their lives long.

It is not mere sentimentality to say that our team and others around him became Jimmy’s family during his last days. One of our hospice commitments is that parents and families come first, but this was one occasion in which those two groups beautifully intersected, and when we lost a patient we also lost a cherished family member.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Christianity Today on Introverted Parenting

Just when you think the introverted parenting show is over, you get an encore. The Her.meneutics blog at Christianity Today, which focuses on women, has a thoughtful follow-up post today from an introverted mother. Here are the questions the author ends with:
Readers, what about you? If you don’t find bedtime particularly taxing, what parenting task leaves you with gritted teeth or expletives on the tip of your tongue? How do you embrace the self-sacrifice that is necessary for being a loving parent in a way that leads to abundant life rather than debilitating emptiness?

To read the rest of the post on Her.meneutics, click here.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Summing up the week

What a week. Introverted Parenting Week was indeed a hit, receiving well over 2000 visitors. Thanks to all the guest bloggers and everyone who participated. Let's sum it up:

On Monday, the 3rd day of a 3-day weekend, Chad Jones kicked us off with a heartfelt post about the agony and God-inspired hope of an introverted parent.

On Wednesday, Helen Lee explained why good, healthy parenting, especially for introverted parents, involves "not giving my kids my all."

On Friday, Susan Cain gave us 10 tips for parenting an introverted child, leaving many people to wish she was their mom.

And on Saturday, Pastors Joe Smith (that's not a pseudonym) introduced us to the rhythms of parenting can be incorporated into a monastic life.

Let's draw this series to a close with a few questions:

1. What are the most meaningful things that you are taking away from Introverted Parenting Week?

2. How have you been challenged to embrace your introversion, rather than try to fix it, in your parenting?

3. How can parents encourage introverted children to be themselves?

4. What are some strategies you have learned for caring for your extroverted children without losing yourself?

5. What are some future posts you would like to see on the subject? What questions were answered and what questions remain?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Parenting and the Monastic Life

Introverted Parenting Week - Day 6
About the author:
Joe BW Smith is a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He lives in Federal Way, Washington with his wife, Melanie (also an ELCA pastor) and two daughters. He blogs at Your Average Pastor, and can be followed on Twitter (@youravgpastor). He looks forward to serving St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lakewood, WA.

Melanie and I both began parenting while involved in other vocational pursuits. We each served active congregations while pursuing doctorates.  We had our first child in 2002, and everything changed.

I remember trying to do everything. We made the 540-mile wintry round trip from South Dakota with our three-week-old for Melanie’s doctoral work. I kept her as close to her mother as possible. We sat in a cold seminary classroom foyer waiting for Melanie’s breaks. I could not focus on my work rhythms; I could only focus on baby rhythms of eating, breathing, squeaking and gas.

It was a Godmother that first pointed our daughter’s communication problems. We responded for the next year with evaluations, worry, prayer, tears and persistent advocacy. We learned from doctors at the University of Minnesota about her Autism Spectrum Disorder—Pervasive Development Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS). Our daughter has several autistic behaviors, but not the full range. Change was coming. I remember going to pick her up at daycare; at three years old I found her curled in a fetal position under a table, tearful. What would we do? We had another baby on the way.

Melanie’s extroversion and my introversion played significant roles in our family decisions. Through a discernment process of prayer, trial and error, we decided that I would stay home and give our children the balance we all needed. The change fit. It fit my introversion. It fit my service in the church. I was an interim pastor; I didn’t have to go back to a congregation when I was done with another. We supported each other with gifts, callings and idiosyncrasies.

I identify with other introverted parents that the constant demands of children can be grueling. At multiple times during any given day, I want a break from my daughters to recharge.  Yet through some important conversations I have had, I have reached a new perspective about my introversion and my life as a stay-at-home parent.

Conversations with my spiritual director were perhaps most important for this fresh perspective. During our monthly conversations and prayer sessions, she listened to me about my parenting anxieties. She suggested that stay-at-home parenting was like a monastic life, and I was left to ponder how my life might resemble the rhythms of a monastic community.  

As a seminary student, I spent a day in a cloistered community in Washington, DC, where I met a monk named Dunstan. The monks’ devotion to manual labor was not the clergy life that I had imagined. I had “broader” ideas of Christian leadership and discipleship. Dunstan talked to me about gardening, cleaning, cooking and repairs. He said that manual labor was a spiritual discipline, giving shape to worship, prayer and study life. I did not understand at the time, but when my spiritual director mentioned how stay-at-home parenting was a monastic kind of life, I started to get it.

I know many introverted Christians can identify with a longing for a monastic style of Christian living. Granted, children don’t spit up in accordance with Matins, nor do they poop in concert with Vespers. However, the daily tasks of parenting provide a rhythm where folding laundry can accompany a prayer, and diaper changing can accompany biblical reflection. Manual labor matters in the Christian life. A type of parenting that accords with monastic rhythms is not rigid or static but can be freeing and transformative for parents, and even freeing and transformative for their children.  

I thank God for Melanie, my children, and for the other people in my life who have helped shape my perspectives on parenting, and I am grateful for Grace which enables me to share and receive love each day. As I emerge from my days as a stay-at-home father in the coming weeks, I will long for these days again.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ten Tips for Parenting an Introverted Child

Introverted Parenting Week - Day 5 

Thus far in introverted parenting week we have been hearing from the perspectives of introverted parents. Today we turn to suggestions for parenting introverted children.

About the author: 
Susan Cain is the author of the forthcoming and much anticipated book QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. Guy Kawasaki, who achieved rock-star status as the "chief evangelist" at Apple, has already guaranteed that the book will be a bestseller. Susan and I attended a service at Saddleback Church a few summers ago, and our introverted adventures are detailed in her book. It's not one you want to miss, and you can get the best price by pre-ordering it. She has a popular bog called The Power of Introverts and she is also on Twitter. Trust me, you'll be hearing a lot more about her in the next few years.    

Ten Tips for Parenting an Introverted Child

1. Don’t just accept your child for who she is; treasure her for who she is. Introverted children are often kind, thoughtful, focused, and very interesting company, as long as they’re in settings that work for them.

2. Introverted kids usually have the capacity to develop great passions. Cultivate these enthusiasms. Intense engagement in an activity is a proven route to happiness and well-being, and a well-developed talent is a great source of confidence. Traditional childhood activities like soccer and piano may work well for some kids, but don’t forget to look off the beaten path. For example, Writopia Labs is a New York City-based creative writing program that has created a fantastic community for cerebral kids. I've written about Writopia here.

3. If you’re an introvert who feels ashamed of your own personality traits, this is a good time to seek therapy or another form of counseling. Do it for your child if not for yourself. He will pick up on your own poor self-image, and also its inevitable projections on to him.  If you can’t afford the time or money for therapy, here’s a simple way to change how you feel about yourself: consider that the things you dislike in yourself are usually a package deal with the things you like best. For example, Elaine Aron, author of The Highly Sensitive Person and herself an introvert, says that her husband has always seen her as creative, intuitive, and a deep thinker. Aron had been aware of these traits, but says she used to see them merely as “acceptable surface manifestations of a terrible, hidden flaw I had been aware of all my life.” It took her years to understand that the sensitive introvert and the deep thinker were one and the same person.

4. If you’re an introvert, try not to project your own history onto your child.  Your introversion may have caused you pain when you were younger. Don’t assume that this will will be the case for your child, or that she won’t be able to handle the occasional sling or arrow.  She can handle it, and she can thrive. The best thing you can do for her is take joy in her wonderful qualities, have confidence that those qualities will carry her far, and teach her the skills she needs to handle the challenging aspects of her nature. Such as:

5. If your child is reluctant to try new things or meet new people, the key is gradual exposure. Don’t let him opt out, but do respect his limits, even when they seem extreme. Inch together toward the thing he’s wary of. If it’s the ocean waves, for, example, approach at his own pace. Let him know that his feelings are normal and natural, but also that there’s nothing to be afraid of. When he takes social risks, let him know that you admire his efforts: “I saw you go up to those new kids yesterday. I know that can be difficult, and I’m proud of you.” Point out to him when he ends up enjoying things he thought he wouldn’t like or that he was initially scared of. Eventually he will learn to self-regulate his feelings of wariness.

6. If your child is shy, don’t let her hear you call her by that label. She’ll start to experience her nervousness as a fixed trait rather than as an emotion she can learn to control.  She also knows full well that “shy” is a stigmatized word in our society. When others call her shy in front of her (which they will), reframe it lightly. “Sophie is great at sussing out new situations.”

7. Get to social events, like birthday parties, early. Let your child feel as if others are joining him in a space that he “owns,” rather than having to break into a preexisting group. Similarly, if he’s nervous before school starts, bring him to see his classroom, meet his teacher, figure out where the bathroom is, and so on.

8. Teach her to stand up for himself. It’s best to start young, if you can. If she looks distressed when another child takes her toy, take her aside afterwards and teach her to say “stop” in her loudest voice. Practice saying – shouting – STOP. Make it a game. Be light about it, while letting her know that you understand her feelings.

9. If you have an “orchid child,” you are very lucky:  If your child is “highly sensitive” – the term for kids who are sensitive to lights, sounds, emotional experiences, and/or new situations -- then he probably fits into a category of children known as “orchid” children. This term derives from a groundbreaking new theory captivating the attention of research psychologists. It holds that many children are like dandelions, able to thrive in just about any environment. But others, including highly sensitive kids, are more like orchids. They wilt easily, but if they have good childhoods they can actually do better than dandelion children. They’re often healthier, have better grades, enjoy stronger relationships, and so on. If you want to know more about orchid kids, I've written about the subject here and science writer David Dobbs is publishing a book about it in a year. In the meantime,  you should know that one leading orchid theory researcher, Jay Belsky of the University of London, explained to me that the parents of orchid kids are very lucky because “the time and effort they invest will actually make a difference. Instead of seeng these kids as vulnerable to adversity, parents should see them as malleable – for worse, but also for better.”

10. Respect your child’s desire for time and space to play alone.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Introvert Superhero Parents

Introverted Parenting Week - Day 4
A couple of notes: 
First, due to the exuberance of my guest bloggers and the huge numbers of visitors this series has received, Introverted Parenting Week will extend through Sunday. 

Second, today's guest post, written by Kristi Cash White, is in some cases referring to what's called "a highly sensitive person." Many HSP's are introverts, but not all. HSP's, among other things, are extremely sensitive to light, sound, and smell. For more about highly sensitive people, check out this description or for further reading, check out Elaine Aron's book, The Highly Sensitive Person.

About the author: 
Kristi Cash White is a play therapist and counselor with a private practice in Portland, OR. She also was the subject of one of my most popular interviews, when she and I talked about the strengths that introverts bring to the field of counseling. You can find her at her website and on Twitter. 

Introverts of the World Unite! will be the words splashed across the posters that I staple to the corner streetlights, covering the posters for last week's punk indie grunge band. But, wait, introverts really don't want to unite, since that kind of goes against our whole, you know, way of being...Instead, maybe we need to have some type of underground secret society. No meetings. No crowded cocktail receptions [shudder]...Maybe we could at least come up with a secret handshake?..Or we could all get a similar tattoo?...

A less than flattering trait shared by introverts is that we, as a whole, seem ashamed of personality type of which we have been given. We sit at the side in class and marvel at those gregarious friendlies who flit from person to person, throwing their heads back in laughter, apparently totally at ease. We wonder in bewilderment how our spouses can stay so cheerful as they engage at another office party (while we do our best to just endure). We give in to our silly American society that says that being outgoing is better! As if!

Being an introvert is a gift that should be wholeheartedly honored and celebrated. We have so much to offer the world! But introverted parents - how do we even survive? Quite well actually, because of our superpower - extra heightened senses.

As my son walks through the door and kicks off his shoes that he wore with no socks (even though we tell him to every. single. day.), it takes only about 1.26 nanoseconds for the stench to penetrate the delicate nose hairs that do very little to protect my industrious olfactory senses. This nose can be used to find which backpack holds the banana that was not released from its clutches earlier in the week, as well as if my four-year-old decided to use mommy's hair products in her gorgeous locks.

I can use my heightened vision to spot the earring back that my ten-year-old dropped, or, with the most sensitive peripheral vision, catch the glint from the wrapper of the forbidden chocolate my son attempts with stealth to partake. Although I may often be heard to say, "MY EARS ARE BLEEDING!" from all of the noise that my household produces in any given moment, these bionic-like appendages can distinctly hear if the cry from my child four blocks away is one of joy, anger, or pain. I also probably clearly heard who really "started it" despite the fingers pointing in every which direction.

Do you see? What amazing gifts we have been given! Not only are we blessed with the physical talents over which others (*cough*extroverts!) must writhe in envy, we can use those special abilities to be attuned with our children in powerful and unique ways. We can listen - really listen - to our children. As chaos begins to circle, we can be a voice of calm and reason. Through our empathic observations of our children, their peers, and their friends' families, we will be called upon to minister and bless. We can demonstrate by example the Biblical concepts of rest, quiet, and solitude.

So don your capes, fellow introvert superheroes! Stand tall and be proud! Our God-given personality type is a gift and a blessing - especially to our children.

Now, how about that tattoo?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why I Don't Give My Kids My All

Introverted Parenting Week - Day 3

About the author:
Helen Lee is the author of a new book called The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home and in the World.  The title alone should be enough to convince you that it is a unique and overdue resource for moms who want to integrate their parenting into lives of pursuing God's mission. I highly recommend it. You can follow Helen at her website, The Missional Mom, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

Why I Don’t Give My Kids My All
Helen Lee
I used to think I was a kind, patient, flexible, understanding person.

And then I started having kids.

Three little boys later, there are days in which I am the absolute opposite of the gentle-spirited, gracious mother I always envisioned I would be. More often than I should, I exhibit qualities that are so far from ideal I wonder if my kids will think I’m a total hypocrite for having a poster of the “fruits of the Spirit” on our wall.

It’s taken me nearly a decade of parenting, but I now I understand that the times I exhibit Lucifer-esque qualities are the ones in which I have been around my kids a little too much.

I realize this sounds nearly sacreligious in our increasingly child-centered culture. “Too much???” I can imagine people thinking. “How can you ever spend too much time with your children?”

First, a side note about my personal context. I’m a homeschooling mom, so I spend the majority of my day with my children. And secondly, I’m what my husband calls “an extreme introvert,” because no matter how wonderful a person you might be, no matter how much I enjoy you, I will come home spent after being around you. (Even you, Oprah!) And my own children are no exception to this rule.

“Kids are like clients,” intoned Patty Hewes, a ruthless corporate attorney played by actress Glenn Close on the television show “Damages.” “They want all of you, all the time.” Hewes meant this in a pejorative sense, but there is truth to the statement. I’m around my kids all day, and they still cannot get enough of me! I’m not saying this to boast; it’s just the nature of children, to want your 110% of your attention, 366 days a year.

But I’ve realizing that I love my kids too much to give them that much of myself. For one thing, it’s not biblical. Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother author Amy Chua writes, “Everything I do is unequivocally 100% for my daughters.” It sounds admirable, but Christian parents are called to recognize that our children are not supposed to be the center of our lives, no matter how much our “plan-for-college-when-kids-are-preschoolers” society wants to push parents to embrace this particular form of idolatry.

And another reason I need to make sure that I don’t give my kids every ounce of myself is because when I do so, I become a much worse mother (not to mention wife, writer, friend, neighbor, church lay leader, and other roles in which God has plans for me). Practically speaking, this means that I need to build in time by myself to recharge. Even if it’s just a half an hour here and there, those short breaks truly help keep me sane.

The same principle applies if you’re in the workplace and around people all day. You may be happy to see your kids when you come home but still feeling as though you need to get away. Give yourself permission to take even just 10-15 minutes to alone to recharge before you jump headfirst into family life. Those few moments can make the difference between your being attentive and loving to your children versus being distracted and snappy towards them.

And if you’re the one home with the kids, as eager as you might be to release the kids onto your introverted spouse when he or she walks through the front door, try to give your spouse space when he or she comes home before the kids latch on. Your spouse will appreciate it and emerge a better parenting partner as a result.

“Know thyself,” Socrates says, and the maxim can release introverted parents from guilt as they embrace the idea that spending time apart from their children can actually do more good than harm. I’m far from perfect, but my 8-year-old son still calls me his “angel mother.” Not bad for someone who makes certain she gives less than 100% of herself unequivocally for her children.