Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Moment of Silence

Introverted Church opened its doors on March 5, 2007 and hosted 5 total visitors that day. It was an intimate dinner party, perfect for introverts. We knew each others' names, talked at a normal volume, passed the salt, clinked our glasses, and lingered late at the table. It was a charming and rustic little spot.

Last month there was one day when Introverted Church hosted over 7,000 people. It was introverted Disneyland. There was no shoving or yelling, just a steady buzz of people talking quietly, usually one-on-one. Few walked down Main Street, instead choosing to tuck themselves away in the corners of the park. One guy rode the train around the park, by himself, all day long.

Truth be told, I started this blog because I wanted a book deal. In the summer of 2005 I submitted a proposal to InterVarsity Press that was about introverts in church leadership. They were intrigued, but ultimately unpersuaded. I was crushed, and I didn't touch the manuscript again for a year and a half.

In January 2007 an idea woke me up in the morning. What if I expand the book to include not just the experience of introverts in leadership, but the overall experience of introverts in the church? What if, along with leadership, I also discuss spirituality, community, evangelism and church participation?

But I needed that mythical "platform" in order to share my quiet ideas. Really, what introvert wants a platform? But it was at that time that Introverted Church was born. I posted the first two chapters of my manuscript, a few paragraphs at a time, and my few readers at the time gave me excellent feedback. I even included some of their comments in my revised book proposal to demonstrate the felt need for such a book. 2 years later, Introverts in the Church was released.

My convictions about the importance of this issue have not wavered in the last 5 years. From my interactions with literally thousands of people, I continue to believe that introverts have great struggles in the church, and great gifts to bring the church. I am amazed at how widespread this discussion has become.

When I sent in my proposal for what became Introverts in the Church, InterVarsity Press said, "Well, it's not a very sexy topic, but we see the need for such a discussion." But when, last year, I sent in the proposal for my second book, which I am calling The Listening Life (2013), people said "Well, it's not as sexy as your first book."

Somewhere along the way, introverts got sexy. That quiet, awkward kid you knew in school grew up, got himself some confidence, and now is the cover boy for Strong & Silent Magazine. And for so many reasons, he's not taking your call.

We have Susan Cain, in large part, to thank for the new sexiness of introversion, and I am grateful that I and my book have a prominent place in her tour de force. She has given me a higher platform than I could have ever built on my own.

I leave this blog today, not because my convictions have faded, but because I know that the message is out there now. Believe it or not, last month tallied the highest number of visitors in Introverted Church history, coming in at almost 25,000 people. Some people will think I am crazy to step off this platform now, but in my mind, last month gave me the permission that I needed to stop. People are talking about introverts and church, and I have accomplished what I set out to do.  It was never my intention to become The Voice for introverts. It was always my intention to help my fellow introverts find their voices.

The archives of Introverted Church will live on, and all my contact information will remain the same. If you want to continue to hear from me, then I suggest you follow me on Twitter and become a fan of my Facebook author page. The rest of the the year will be a quiet time for me, as I finish the manuscript for my new book. You will not be surprised to learn that I relish life in the underground, and though I will resurface again, that is where you will find me for the next season. If I do it right, I will not re-emerge as the same person, because the inner journey always brings transformation.

And now, I hope that those of you with fresh energy and creativity will take up the torch of introverts in the church. My book and this blog are certainly not the last word on the subject, and I hope this is just the beginning.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Loving the Quiet Places - Guest Post by Addie Zierman

It was my intention to have one post per day this week, but then another potential guest post appeared in my inbox on Monday, and its level of awesome was enough to destroy my well-laid plans. Tomorrow morning will still bring the very last post, written by yours truly, but until then relish the language in this post by Addie Zierman.

About the author: Addie Zierman (@addiezierman) is a writer, mom, and Diet Coke enthusiast. She blogs twice a week at How to Talk Evangelical, where she's working to redefine faith one cliche at a time.

Like all bad ideas, it started off sounding like a really good idea.

It came white-hot, a spark off of our discussion of Acts 2 – that end bit about the early church where they all sold their possessions and lived together. Had everything in common.

It sounds like a glowy Jesus utopia when you read it aloud in a group, and we were, after all a house church. We were committed to pursuing community in new, out-of-the-box ways.

Someone said, “We should spend all day together every Sunday. Just wake up and have breakfast together, and then hang out for the whole day. You know, just do life together.”

Someone else said, “Definitely,” and then there were a couple of hearty mmmm-hmmms. One of them might have been mine. And it was a plan.

But the first Sunday rolled around and we rolled out of bed, and suddenly, it did not seem like a good idea. At all.

For both my husband and I and our respective introverted tendencies, an all-day hangout session suddenly felt like weight to our souls, and so we ditched. Gave some lame excuse. Did life, that day, on our own.

*

I am intrigued and inspired by people who manage to merge their lives together in radical ways. People like Shane Claiborne and his community, for whom Acts 2 has translated to multiple families in one single home. To shared meals and shared bathrooms and shared routines.

I love the idea of loud, family-style meals every night, everyone stuffed into one kitchen slicing peppers and browning beef and kneading bread into great loaves meant to be shared, meant to be broken.

But I also know my own quiet soul. I am the girl who sat outside reading for most elementary school recesses. I am the one who never liked slumber parties because I hated waking up in the morning, surrounded by people.

I prefer quiet to loud, reading to conversation, writing alone in a coffee shop to almost any other pleasure.

In a more-is-more, louder-is-better, Americanized version of Christianity, it often feels like a kind of failure. In my darkest moments, I’ve felt an acute sense of responsibility for my own loneliness. Like if I had been more communal, more committed, more of a slumber-party kind of girl, this would not be happening to me.

*

I’m reading this book by this one guy. It’s called Introverts in the Church, and it’s fantastic. I am learning something about the shape of my soul. I am learning to love my quiet places.

I am beginning to believe that radical community is more intricate than I thought. It is not, as I once thought, spending every second of a given Sunday together or living under one roof. Rather, it’s about movement. It’s turning toward each other in whatever ways we can. Big or small.

In this sense, community is like a kaleidoscope. The pattern is constantly changing, and the emptiness is as essential as the beads are. Without the open spaces, there could be no order at all, no beauty. The quiet shapes the connection, throws the pattern into stark, beautiful relief.

The white spaces will be wider for me than they might be in the lives of others. The patterns will be smaller. One-on-one coffee dates. Small group dinners. Visits with a shut in. Every now and then, a bigger shape will emerge, and there will be grace for that.

And every bit of it will be beautiful. Every bit of it can be radical, if I keep moving in my own, quiet ways toward Love.

Incarnating the Books - Guest Post by Aubry Smith

Aubry Smith has become one of my favorite young writers. I first encountered her writing in this post, which leapt to the top of the charts, stayed there for 9 months, and by the end was played on every station, from pop to country to easy listening. Her writing is honest, insightful, often funny, and, as is the case with this last post she wrote, moving. I asked her to write a post for this final week of the blog.

About the author: Aubry Smith writes about theology-in-real-life at aubrysmith.com. An Arkansas native (the shoe-wearing kind), she now lives in Raleigh with her husband, Brady, and their two energetic sons Breckon and Kian. You can find her on Twitter at @AubryGSmith.

Books have been my friends as long as I can remember. I call them “friends” because I sense a very real relationship with many of them. They give new ideas, and I debate with them, I go to them as a refuge when I’m tired or lonely, I laugh with them. I can look at a book and tell you where I was when I read (met) it. As an ISTJ, the key to my life has always been information - how others act, how I should act, how the world works, what stories I should know. Books provide this information in an efficient way for me.

So when I grew into my faith and uncovered the path of discipleship, I was happy to discover that the path seemed laden with books. Want to know about God? Read the Bible. Want to know how to read your Bible? Go to a “Bible study,” where you will probably read another book about the Bible. Or go to Bible college to read large stacks of books about the Bible. Go to a “Bible-believing” church, where the main focus is on the exposition of Scripture.

This book-based life fed my introverted, information-seeking soul. And so somewhere early on, I learned that knowing more information about God meant that a person was more spiritually mature. I read more books on that quest, thinking that my deep-and-wide reading made me wiser, godlier.

There is truth to all of this, of course. Reading the writings of those wiser than ourselves, those who have lived differently and offer another perspective – to me, this is like being friends with the cream of the crop. I’ve avoided some measure of youthful foolishness because of these mentors I’ve never met. God administers a kind of grace through books, especially to those of us who are worn out by face-to-face interaction with people.

But even for introverts, is a solely book-based discipleship enough?

Last year, I decided that I needed to learn to pray more deeply, more fervently. So – you guessed it – I got a book. Richard Foster’s book Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home told me something unexpected. To learn how to pray, he writes, you must… pray.

It doesn’t sound so profound now that I’ve written it out. But in this simple statement, Foster reconstructed my entire framework for how I am to grow as a Christian: knowing and doing. In a word, it’s incarnational.

When God wanted to reveal Himself to humanity, He walked in a Garden, He spoke in a bush ablaze, He thundered from the mountain. His people pushed away – sewing together fig leaves and nudging Moses to the front: “Speak to God for us!” And so began a tradition of mediators: Moses and Joshua, the prophets and priests and judges. The Law, read aloud so that they would remember His words. A scroll. A book.

And then – the culmination of all His words – the Word made flesh. Jesus took the words of the Law off the flat page and lived righteousness that fulfilled, and even surpassed, the Law. He scooped up ancient commands in his hands and then touched lepers and befriended tax collectors. Jesus was the Book-turned-Real-Thing.

The irony in all my reading to become wise is that I’ve become quite snobby about my knowledge. I scoff inwardly when people say trite or incorrect things about prayer – but the reality is, my knowledge about prayer from books is weak compared to their knowledge gained by calloused knees. I roll my eyes when I hear cheap 30-second evangelism techniques, but these people are sharing Jesus – however sloppily – with those who need the salve of the Gospel on their wounded lives. They are incarnating the commands of Scripture, whereas I am only speculating about them, turning them over and noticing all the nuances without putting them on.

My introversion – a gift, I know now – has often caused me to err on the side of extreme caution in my actions. I want to know everything there is to know before I do it. I want to pick it up, examine it from every angle, read what Jesus and the Church Fathers and N.T. Wright say about all of it. And by that time, my beaten neighbor has dragged himself off the road to die in the sagebrush.

My life has been made rich through reading, and there is often wisdom in being quick to think and slow to act as introverts do. But I am praying for the ability to incarnate those written words, a little more quickly and wisely, just as my Jesus has done.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

An Introverted Angel - Guest Post by Anne Bogel

Anne Bogel is a legendary Introverted Church guest blogger. Every post she writes almost instantly lands on the most popular posts list. She wrote this one last December, and by the end of the first day, it was the 6th most popular post in my blog's history. Then she threw this one down in April and it made the list by the third day. It was clear that I had to ask her to write a post for this last week of the blog. She has game, and I am merely providing the playing field for her to showcase her skills.

About the author: Anne Bogel is an INFP and self-confessed Christian education nerd, and she muses about the intersection of faith, the church, and women on her blog Anne-with-an-e. You can find her on twitter at @ModernMrsDarcy. Each summer she devotes a fortnight to acting out the entire Jane Austen corpus for the neighborhood kids using finger puppets and her mastery of English dialects. Also check out her review of Introverts in the Church. 
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You're gonna have to believe me on this one: I'm really good at coming up with smart, creative ideas and devastating insights into your soul.

I rarely get credit for them.

This used to bother me. A lot.

For the longest time, I bemoaned the fact that assertive people got credit for their good ideas. They were acknowledged, thanked, and praised. But I seemed to lack the charisma to be memorable, and I never got any credit for mine.

As an introvert, I like to work behind the scenes, but I still wanted people to knowI was there. I knew my ideas were good: I could tell because they were implemented and acted upon. But I grew weary of watching others get the credit, while I stood to the side, forgotten (again).

But then something unexpected happened, something that completely changed my perspective.

My women's Bible study was finishing up a 12-week study, and we closed our last gathering with one of those painful-for-introverts Share Fests. Each of the 20 women held the floor in turn, sharing a little about her experience with God that spring.

The talking stick passed to my friend, and she began to speak about the amazing ways God had moved in her life that spring. Her eyes brimmed as she described the changes that were happening in her heart, and in her home.

God had given her a message--a mantra--and she'd been living by it, clinging to it. But the funny thing was, she had no idea where she'd encountered those words. She didn't know who had told her, where she'd read them. But she shared the message she'd been living by that spring with us all, and then she shook her head, saying, "An angel must have whispered those words in my ear."

And I was hurt, as I heard my words repeated back to me. She'd remembered what I'd said, but had forgotten all about our conversation in her kitchen. I was so happy for her--but wounded, too. Because my friend had forgotten about me.

I felt so childish when I confessed what had happened to my husband later that night--word by painful word--but I was weary of being the forgotten one and needed honest feedback.

His response stunned me: You are not weak, and you are not forgettable. How could you be? She mistook you for an angel--an angel from the Lord.

From that day on, I've been able to embrace my peculiarly introverted gift: the gift of angel whispers.

I'm an introvert. I'm not forceful and bold; I don't drip with charisma. My personality blends into the background at times, and this used to bother me. A lot.

But no longer. For I've learned that when I fade away, it's his glory that shines.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Spirit-Led Parenting - Guest Post by Megan Tietz

Today begins the last week of Introverted Church. I have three guests posts lined up for Monday-Wednesday and then I will close on Thursday with my parting words. 

Here is something I never could have predicted: over the past two years Introverted Church has become a place for significant conversations about parenting. I don't have children and my knowledge about them is limited, although I did become a first-time uncle in May. There have been some remarkable guest posts on introverted parents and children highlighted by Introverted Parenting Week last year. I even convinced Susan Cain to write a guest post for that series. Here is a link to all the posts that have fit into the parenting category. And today my friend Megan Tietz adds the last post to that category.
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I remember it being a little bit like that no-turning-back moment on a roller coaster, those months leading up to our first child being born. Just like when the seat belts are buckled and the coaster cars click-clack away from the platform and you know you absolutely cannot change your mind now...anticipating parenting is something like that.

I should note that I don't really like roller coasters. Not at all. And I especially hate that feeling of knowing I'm about to be pulled way out of my comfort zone and I am totally powerless to doing anything other than hang on tight. So to counter that feeling of weightless terror, I decided, in the months before our oldest daughter was born, to read everything I could get my hands on about parenting a new baby.

I would conquer the terror. And I would conquer it by staying safe and following the rules.

And all of those books and all of those rules did, indeed, make me feel safe. They made me feel powerful and in-control. And then our daughter was born and I was shocked to discover that these rules in which I had placed my every hope and all of my trust were useless. My daughter was nothing like the books described, and I was left dizzy and in despair, wondering if there was something wrong with her and more convinced than ever that there was something wrong with me.

Sometimes God shows up in the most unexpected of places, doesn't he? For me, it was a short column in a free parenting magazine that I just happened to pick up at the pediatrician's office. In it, I read about an approach to parenting an infant that was uninterested in following the rules and was entirely built upon discovering and responding to the uniqueness of the baby in your arms.

I can remember even now, over seven years later, how peace and comfort lifted my heart and mind that day. It's interesting because as an ENFP personality type, I have a strong need to be independent and am highly invested in honoring the individuality of others. It just never occurred to me, for some reason, that the intense, dark-eyed baby in my arms was herself an individual, not just some creature to be subdued or a doll baby with no preferences about the new and overwhelming life she was forced into on her birthday.

She was a real person. Babies are real people. Small and immature in every sense of the word, but people all the same. And just as Adam has written extensively about in his book, Introverts in the Church, and here at Introverted Church, all people represent the wonder of God's creation, each one of us uniquely created with temperaments and personalities and gifts that reflect the glory of our Creator.

That was a tremendous shifting of paradigm for me, the idea that the secret to navigating the hairpin curves of the thrill-a-minute ride that is infancy is not found in the formulaic rules of parenting books, but rather in letting go of our white-knuckle grips on who we think our children are. Then we are freed to experience the thrill of discovering who our children actually are.

And so for several years now, my co-author and Laura and I have been passionate about sharing with others this discovery that changed our lives:


Spirit-led parenting is not a one-size-fits-all approach.  It has no "rules" and doesn't rely on the wisdom of others.  It requires only that you listen to your child, to your intuition, and most importantly, to the Lord's leading to determine the best way to respond to each unique situation.  -- pg. 45, Spirit-Led Parenting: From Fear to Freedom in Baby's First Year

It is our hope and prayer for every parent and parent-to-be is that a spirit-led approach to life with a new baby will inspire families to seek after the Creator as we seek to make the best decisions for these squirming, grunting, teething, grinning, giggling wonders of his Creation.

Megan Tietz is the co-author of Spirit-Led Parenting, and she writes about faith, family, and natural living at SortaCrunchy. Her husband and two daughters make up a happy mix of introverts and extroverts, and they get along quite nicely (most of the time) in their home in Oklahoma City.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Introvert Saturday: The Grand Finale

Introvert Saturday guest posts have probably been the best thing I've done on this blog, and if you haven't read them I encourage you to go into the archives and check them out. There are some varied, heartfelt, and creative posts in there. I thought Kevin's post today was the perfect way to end the series, because it starts with struggle but ends with an unabashed confession of introversion.

About the author: Kevin Haggerty is a 32-year old husband and expecting father. He runs and writes for a humor blog called TheIsleOfMan.Net and is the author of An Idiot’s Guide to the Galaxy. Kevin is a freelance writer, editor and graphic designer. He also writes for a mixed martial arts (MMA) blog called MMAMania.com
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Growing up, I thought I was a weirdo. I wasn’t like a lot of the other kids. I wasn’t generally outspoken. That doesn’t mean I didn’t have anything to say. I had opinions, I just didn’t shout them from the rooftops.

In general, I kept to myself. Not to an extreme sense. I had friends. I liked to play outside, and I enjoyed sports, but there were times were I needed to retreat. I needed to be alone. I like reading. I liked drawing pictures.

According to society, this was abnormal.

This was a trend that has followed me my entire life. I tried to repress it. I tried to be sociable for everyone else. I would make myself go to parties and big gatherings. It was like a rite of passage for me, but afterwards, I always felt totally exhausted.

That’s the paradox of who I am. I was in a band that toured nationally and played in front of crowds of hundreds, and on a couple of occasions, thousands of people. I was a teacher for six years, and it was my job to get up in front of people (albeit, little people) to speak publicly, every single day. I have led worship, on and off, for the past 18 years.

For some reason, I’m able to perform those functions and survive. But if you ask me to go to an extended family get-together, or to the mall to go clothes shopping, or an type of gathering where there will be a lot of people (particularly people with whom I am not intimately familiar), I have an internal reaction that borders on a panic attack.

I don’t think this is a personality trait that many people even know or would guess about me. My wife knows, and so does most of my immediate family. But I would guess that most of friends, even my very close ones, have no idea.

The truth is that social interaction drains me. I enjoy it from time to time. Shoot, there are times when I straight-up crave it because it’s been so long. But most of the time, if you offer me the choice between going out to a big party, or staying home with my laptop, I will choose the latter.

Only recently did I realize that there were other people who felt this way. Other people, normal people, had dealt with the same demons that had plagued me my entire life.

But maybe they weren’t demons that I was dealing with. Maybe it was just part of what made me…me. Maybe, it’s even a positive trait.

Who are these people? They’re called introverts.

Webster’s Dictionary defines introverts as follows:

1) A shy, reticent, and typically self-centered person. A shy, reticent, and typically self-centered person.

2) A person predominantly concerned with their own thoughts and feelings rather than with external things

See? Even the DICTIONARY makes us sound like freaks. The definition makes us sound like a bunch of narcissists who care nothing for those around them.

This simply is not true.

Are we more self-aware than we are aware of our friends and family, maybe during segments of times, but the whole, I don’t believe that.

Introverts care deeply. They are highly emotional and passionate people. I would go further to argue that it is our moments of self-awareness that brings about a type of external awareness that never would have occurred, had we not had the opportunity to be left alone for a spell.

I’m 32 years old, and I’m just now realizing that I’m okay. It’s awesome that I’m an introvert! I embrace it. If you are an introvert, you should too!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

In Which Sarah Bessey Writes a Guest Post

I have been bugging my friend Sarah Bessey to write a post for me for about a year. She has one of the strongest and most beautiful writing voices that I know. Plus, she is Canadian so many of her words have a surprise "u" in them. Since it is the last month of Introverted Church, I finally convinced her to write a post. I said she could write about anything she wanted, and I am honored that she chose to include some reflections on my book.

Sarah writes at www.sarahbessey.com, where she has become a voice for women in the Church on issues ranging from mothering to politics and theology. She also works with Mercy Ministries of Canada, a non-profit residential home for women seeking freedom from life-controlling issues. Sarah lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada with her husband, Brian, and their three tinies: Anne, Joseph and Evelynn Joan.
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There were a lot of aspects of Adam's book that made me feel, I don't know, less alone. I've wondered, am I not spiritual because I'm not extroverted? if people wear me out so much, does that mean I don't love them? why do I need so much alone time? why does it take me two or three days to talk through conflict? why do I spiral in and out of community? why do I need to process everything alone and internally before sharing my thoughts, even with those I love best?

My husband had a good laugh when I read a few snippets of Chapter 5 out loud to him: "When introverts are in conflict...it may require a map in order to follow all the silences, nonverbal cues and passive aggressive behaviours!"

Bless his heart.

But, in Adam's chapter on introverted spirituality, I felt my soul exhale. Because my own spiritual disciplines were reflected back at me, and it felt affirming.

I've been called a prolific blogger. (Why does that never feel like a compliment?) As life has become more complex and busy over those years - I've had three babies in a little over four years, we've moved a few times, I've cycled in and out of working in marketing for credit unions and non-profits, my husband in graduate school and working full time, now I'm trying to write a book - people just couldn't understand why I was still writing every.single.day. How did I have time or energy for this kind of output? Granted, not all of it is worthwhile, but I write, almost every single day, and I've been doing that for years.

The answer is simple: I have to write. I have to figure out what I think about my life and I can't do it without writing. I don't know what I think until I write it out.

Writing has given me permission to contemplate my life in a daily rhythm, looking for the touches and movement of God across the day. I couldn't explain it, but I needed to take the time to process through my life and even the world's demands, it became a rhythm of my day, almost a spiritual discipline, to retreat and marvel and notice and struggle. I need to figure out what I believe and why, I need to figure out God, life, love, and I do that by reading and by writing, not by talking.

"There is a mysterious, spiritual component to writing. We may start writing our words but then find that our words are being written for us. We may find we are in the midst of an encounter with God, writing things we did not intend, discovering things we did not see." (p.83)

Cue: underlining, scrawling "Amen!" in the margins. Okay, so I did a lot of that.

Part of my spiritual discipline of writing is the act of writing itself, the self-discovery, the tracing of God in my own life and questions and doubts and struggles. But the other part of my writing life is that I feel connected by this work. I feel like it is one of the few things I have to give to the world. Blogging has changed my life, my spirituality, my opinions, my relationships, my heart, my mind, and I make no apologies for that (even if "blogging" is an excessively ugly word.) God has used this medium to profoundly change me, yes, but somehow, weirdly, he's also managed to include a few other people in that, and now I feel like I'm part of a bigger story.

There’s this little sentence in one of Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians that I’ve not noticed before, probably because I usually skipped right past it, dismissed it as the unimportant greeting. Adam called my attention to it in that book I won’t shut up about (Introverts in the Church – you should totally read it). Paul is writing to the believers there, the ones like us, in another time and place and also to us, in this time, in this place, me, you:

“So deeply do we care for you that we were determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.”

Here’s my own life, I’m determined to share it, to pour it out unfinished, imperfect. My fellow Canadian, Leonard Cohen wrote "there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in." Sometimes I also think it’s how the light gets out.

And sometimes the sharing of my life, especially the tender and still bruised parts of it, the parts without answers or neat bows of seven steps to whatever-it-is, is as much an offering to God as I can imagine, it’s sometimes the only way I know how to pray and worship.

I gather my thoughts to write or talk or confess and all I can think is: I need to notice. I need to see. I need to call out what I need to feel, what I need to think, what I need to see about how God works and moves and breathes in the world. I need, I need, I need it all, too much (and I also need someone to vacuum the stairs).

Sometimes I only find God as I’m writing and other times I only find Him in the lives of others, and sometimes it’s in the middle of the night when I’m so so so tired and then suddenly He blazes out of my entire life and the world and I can hardly breathe for the beauty in the pain and His faithfulness, His Love, the light through the cracks and it’s coming in and going out and I am dazzled.

Adam writes, “the greatest gift we have to offer others is ourselves, because it’s in our fragile and vulnerable humanness that people see the unconditional love and redeeming power of God most clearly.“

So yes, I share my life for the spiritual discipline of community and noticing it, for the love and passion I have for the world, for the beloved people of God, the broken and beautiful Bride of Christ, for my tinies, for my husband, for my own soul’s health, for you, and because I see God in my own words, just a little better, a little clearer, the light gets a bit brighter every time, for me.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Very Special Guest Post

Since this is the last month of this blog, I am asking some great writers for guest posts. Today's post comes from a very special guest.

About the author: Adam S. McHugh is a writer whose work has been described as "genius!" by Stephen Hawking and "enchanting!" by the Blair Witch. He spends his evenings skipping his vintage pager off the surface of the community pool and flying down LA freeways to strange homes, where his hospice work is nothing if not federally compliant. If we could describe his pastoral presence at 3am in one word, it would be "awkward." In his free time Adam enjoys staring thoughtfully out of windows, celebrates the entire musical catalog of Michael Bolton, and takes long romantic walks on the beach, by himself.
                                                                      ---

I have been talking about introversion and church for so long that I have developed what I call my “introvert stump speech.” Here’s how it kicks off:

Let me paint you a picture of someone who might be held up as the very model of faith in many Christian communities. Imagine a person who is highly social and gregarious, someone with an overt passion, who finds it easy to share her faith with strangers, who is expressive and enthusiastic and transparent, someone who participates in a wide variety of activities, who knows tons of people, who eagerly invites people into her space, who quickly assumes leadership responsibilities, and who wears her faith on her sleeve.

Such a person would be highly praised in most churches, right? Churches would have a bidding war over her. If we met someone like that, we might be inclined to say that she is the epitome of faithfulness, that she really understands what it means to follow Jesus. And it is likely true that you would be describing a beautifully faithful person; however, you would also be describing a very extroverted person.

I chose the female pronoun “she” in that talk in order to be inclusive, but as I think about it, the gender issue raises another question for me. Is introversion and extroversion perceived differently among women than it is among men? I have been talking for several years about the “extrovert ideal” that pervades much of our broader culture, but I wonder if it is an even more acute issue for introverted women than for introverted men?

To read the rest of Adam's post, and it gets better, go to Emily Freeman's magical blog, Chatting at the Sky, and read "What's it like to be an introverted woman in church?" 

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hospitality for Those Who Would Rather Stay "In"

When I tell people that I wrote a book about introverts and church life, their mental Bibles often flip open to Mary and Martha. Martha is the quintessential extrovert, scurrying about to keep all the plates spinning, her attention darting from one task to another. Mary is the archetypal introvert, sitting quietly and lost in thoughtfulness, unaware of the urgent duties of the moment. But while it is tempting to read the story as a biblical forerunner to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, I think the scene poses a different issue: What is the nature of true hospitality?

Conversations about hospitality often turn around a person’s eagerness to invite others into their home and their skill in serving food and drink. If that is the proper definition, then Martha is close — but her hospitality is mismanaged. Perhaps a Martha Stewart party book would advise her to prepare food in advance so she wouldn’t be so stressed when Jesus arrives. But we must take our definition of hospitality deeper. We have all been in settings in which delightful aromas wafted yet the air somehow smelled of unwelcome. Comfortable chairs, massive amounts of food, and overflowing glasses are not necessarily synonymous with hospitality.

Martha is “distracted by many things,” observes Jesus, and my guess is that Martha has made a common mistake: she has focused on the trappings of hospitality but has missed its heart. Carving a turkey is not as valuable as carving out real space for others, to help them feel at home with us and not just give them a chair at our dinner table. “Mary has chosen the better part,” Jesus says, and I think the better part is him.

To read the rest of my new article on Crosswalk.com, "Hospitality for Those Who Would Rather Stay "In," click here.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Beginning of the End

I have been struggling to know exactly how, and when, to announce this, but here goes: June will be the last month that I post on Introverted Church. I will say more about what it has meant to me in my last post at the end of the month, but I wanted to give all of you some warning. There are some good things in store for June - a few guest posts, a giveaway, my very last post on introversion, and my tea-jerking goodbye, so please don't check out on me yet.

I will be taking the rest of 2012 off from blogging to finish my second book manuscript. I have some thoughts about what will come next but no specific plans as of yet. I'm ready to redefine myself, and my wife and I have some ideas about how that will happen. I will say this many times throughout the month, and I'll start now: THANK YOU!!!!

Friday, May 25, 2012

McHugh, On Writing

Probably my favorite topic to write about is....writing. I confess I am fascinated with the writing process, and I have found over the last few years that my spirituality has became intertwined with my writing disciplines. In this past week a couple of my articles on writing have been re-posted on different sites, so I want to share those with you today. If you've already read them, then that's one less thing you need to do before the three-day weekend. If you haven't, now is your chance. I'd love to hear more about you and your process of creating. To read the whole posts, click on the links at the top of the snippets.
                                                               ----
On Internet Monk, The Writer as Mystic and Madman:

I spend a lot of time reading what other writers say about writing. It’s an excellent way to procrastinate from actually writing. In reading the words of seasoned authors, who themselves are usually writing about writing in order to avoid other projects, I have discovered two recurring themes. The process of writing may very well make you crazy. And it may also make you a mystic.

On Faith Village, I Know Where the Wild Things Are:

Henri Nouwen couldn't sit still.

One of the great spiritual masters of the 20th century, one of my heroes, the writer who has illuminated the spiritual life for millions of people, couldn't sit through a sermon without tapping his foot and squirming in his seat. He once described the noise of our inner life as akin to monkeys jumping around in trees, and I'm willing to bet that he was primarily describing his inner life. He also said that in order to profit from our internal worlds we must be willing to go into our room, close the door, sit in silence, and wait for the pounding of beasts on the door to stop. Richard Rohr observes that when the Spirit thrust Jesus into the isolation of the desert, the first thing to show up were the wild beasts.


Re-posted a few months ago on The Ooze, The Phases of Writing:

I once heard a writer say that her writing process involves letting her ideas drip down from her mind through her arms and into her fingers. What a beautiful image, I thought to myself, and what a total load of crap. Writing a book is like giving birth to a snarling 8 headed monster. It’s a war, and your mind, arms, and fingers all hate each other.

Happy Memorial Day weekend everyone!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Losing My Cynicism

When you grow up as a Gen-Xer, cynicism is a badge of honor. It is part of your identity, and it is how you belong. Cynicism was the key that unlocked friendship with your peers, and you bonded with others based on your mutual disdain, disappointment, and hurt. And we Gen-Xers had plenty of good reasons to be cynical. We saw plenty of bad marriages, corrupt leadership, dysfunctional churches, and absentee authority figures.

A strange thing happened along the way of my 30s. I started losing my cynicism. And I think a lot of my peers have too. My first question, in relationships, in church, and in life is no longer "What is wrong with this?" I no longer think that my generation, or any generation, knows better than everyone else. I have started asking new questions like "What can I learn from this?" and "how is God at work in this situation or person that I don't fully understand?"

I think that cynicism gets challenged when one or more of these four things happen:
  1. You get married.
  2. You have children. 
  3. You become a leader. 
  4. You realize that you are the church, not only someone who is influenced by the church. 
It is in those stages that you are required to construct something, not just critique everything. You become responsible for the well being of people other than yourself, and no spouse, parent, or leader wants cynicism for someone else. No one wants to raise a cynical child. No one wants their husband or wife to become more suspicious the longer they are married. No leader wants a group of followers with scowls on their faces. And no one wants a church built on a foundation of skepticism.

The shift from cynicism to hope can be abrupt. When I became a pastor it was quite a shock to realize that I had become the object of cynicism rather than one of its many subjects. When my wife and I got married we realized that our skepticism about relationships could absolutely not extend to our marriage if we wanted to survive. When my good friends went from a large church they attended sporadically to a small community that required their participation and leadership, they were disoriented, even lost. But in time they came to create something beautiful, a community that became a harbor for recovering cynics.

Don't get me wrong: I still asking probing questions and have a healthy suspicion toward some institutions and people. But most of my new questions are designed to draw me in to a greater understanding and intimacy, not to protect me from those things, as my old questions did. In the end, cynicism is exhausting and poisonous and profoundly lonely. I am tired of holding the world at arms length. I don't want out anymore. I want in.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Your True Target Audience

Last week my spiritual director asked me a haunting question, as all spiritual directors should. I was explaining to him my frustrations in writing my new book and how slowly this project is moving. I confessed I was over-researching: I've been reading 15-20 books for every single chapter and I am bogged down in hundreds of pages of notes that I don't even end up using. His question came out of nowhere:

Who do you write for?

[Pause. Crinkle my mouth. Look thoughtfully up and to the right like I have any idea how to answer this question, like I consider it all the time. Cough to stall for time. Oooh, that dog has a poofy tail!]

Uhhhhh. The Sunday school answer is "for the Lord." But he already knows everything I write about. I write for my millions of adoring fans? No, that's not it. For my parents? Nah, I'm not 12. For my wife? Maybe.

I write for me. There it is. If I get under all the sanctimonious answers, all the people I'm "supposed" to write for, I discover that I write for me. And more specifically, for this current project I am working on, for 20-year-old me. That sarcastic guy who lived in a college dorm and put White Town's "Your Woman" on repeat and skipped class to play NHL '96 on my his friend's Sega all the time. That guy didn't know jack about himself. But you know what? That dude loved Jesus. And he loved scripture. Just about every time he opened the Bible he had a stirring encounter with the Lord. And he had a plan for his life, and passion for what he was going to do, and his eye on a cute brunette who would one day be Mrs. McHugh. And he digs that that last sentence rhymed.

For the last 8 years I have again lived in the same town that I went to college in, Claremont, California. There is reason to believe that this extended trip down memory lane is drawing to a close. But I have been trying to figure out why I have lived here for so long. The job I took in Claremont ended 6 years ago, but I've stayed, even when I've had to drive 45 minutes every day to work. I suspect now that I am still here because there were unresolved issues from college. I realize that I have rejected much of who I was when I was 20. I lacked self-awareness, I lived in black and white, I was cynical, I was closed off. But maybe that guy wasn't so bad, and maybe, just maybe, as my spiritual director speculated, I need some of the passion and courage and gifts that he had in order to thrive in my next phase of life.

I think 20-year-old Adam needs to know that, it's possible, even after 15 years of wading through theology and scholarship and philosophy, to have a vibrant relationship with Jesus. All the dissection and deconstruction and critique does not change the fact that God breathes the words that give life. I think 20-year-old Adam needs to know that on the other side of disappointment and disillusionment comes new hope for relationships and exhilaration for life. 20-year-old-Adam needs to know that the initial feelings of romantic love will fade but true covenantal, sacrificial, I-will-never-leave-your-side love is oh so much better. He needs to know that God's call does not cease when you're an idealistic college student, but that The Call will be renewed and redirected and refreshed throughout all of his life.

That's who I write for.

Who do you write for? Or play music for? Or paint for? Or preach for? Or work for? Or study for?

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Introvert Saturday: The Collision of Introversion, Culture, and Confrontation

About the author: Alina Sato is a pastor's wife and a nurse in a pediatric intensive critical care unit. She finds her solace in quiet days on the sofa with a good book, long walks with her dog, or behind her camera lens. She brings together her love for photography and writing at A Pilgrim's Lens.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning as I walked towards the farmer’s market before heading to church. I heard lively music, saw bright flowers and fabrics, and could almost taste the fresh-picked fruit. As I walked, I saw a father with his two young sons; the older son stood to the side while the father wrestled with his younger son on his lap. At first, it appeared they were simply rough-housing as fathers and sons often do. But it became quickly apparent that the father was quite angry, and the wrestling culminated in the father giving his son a hefty shake, yelling at the boy, and then yelling at anyone and everyone, “I can’t handle it!!!”

I stopped, frozen in moral dilemma. I am a pediatric ICU nurse. I have seen children in the awful aftermath of abuse, and the cases are beyond heartbreaking. What should I do? What could I do? Do I intervene in some way? The behavior teetered on the border of abuse but it was a fuzzy line. It was, at best, a decent father caught in a bad moment of public frustration with his very rowdy children; at worst it was a father caught in an abusive cycle. A woman next to me said, “Those boys, they don’t listen.” I had no idea what transpired before I saw the father’s angry outburst. I ended up just staring like everyone else in the growing audience, at least to let this father know that people could see what was happening. He quickly gathered his children and left. I felt badly for all three of them.

I have not been able to stop thinking about this incident. Was I obligated to intervene, and if so, how? Some friends say they would have spoken up immediately. Why was I so hesitant, despite my deep conviction that what I was witnessing was wrong?

As an introvert, I have to wonder if my lack of response in this case was at least partly due to my need to think carefully through my words of confrontation before I deliver them. I’ve heard that introverts go into “throttle-down” mode in situations of crisis, which can prevent us from acting rashly but can also, unfortunately, slow us down when immediate action is required.

People often tell me, “You’re such a nice person. I can’t imagine you ever getting mad.” While this comment is usually presented as a compliment, there are instances where the real message is, “You need to be tougher with other people.” When I hear this, I consistently think the same things: 1.) I wonder just how soft do I come across to others; 2.) Just because I’m on the quieter side doesn’t mean I don’t know how to choose my battles – I just choose them very, very carefully; and 3.) Yes, they are right, to a certain degree. Generally speaking, it takes me a considerable amount of time to get to a point where I feel internally and externally prepared for a direct confrontation, because as an introvert, I need to sort through all my thoughts and I need to feel that I have prepared my words fairly well.

I also had to wonder if my lack of response at the farmer’s market was also partly due to my cultural upbringing. I grew up in a Taiwanese home, married into a Japanese family, and I now attend a Japanese-American church. Both the Taiwanese and Japanese cultures are strongly shame-based. There is a phrase in Mandarin Chinese, ‘tiu-lien,’ which means to lose face or suffer humiliation. It is shameful not only to be the one to ‘tiu-lien,’ but it is also shameful to be the one to cause another person to ‘tiu-lien.’ In both cultures, you have to learn how to confront others’ shortcomings and sins in such a way that will not cause them to lose too much face, lest you also bring shame upon yourself as one who is insensitive, overly disrespectful, and/or too overbearing. It is both a blessing and a curse to have this as a predominant cultural mentality.

Some cases of confrontation come with the luxury of time to think through the anticipated conversations, while others do not. The challenge, it seems, is to identify and utilize the strengths that one’s personality type and culture can offer to carry out confrontation in a timely, sensitive, and God-honoring way.

What do you think? How do you respond in situations that demand an immediate reaction? Do you think introversion and extroversion is a factor in those reactions? Do you also have certain cultural interpretations of confrontation? How do they help and/or hurt?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Anxious Christian: Book Giveaway!!

Last week I shared that I am in the midst of transition, and perhaps nothing carries anxiety with it like transition. The uncertainty, the loss of control, and the ambiguity all mix up a potent anxiety cocktail, and I'm not drinking it in sips.

This seems like the perfect opportunity to introduce to you my friend Rhett Smith's new book The Anxious Christian. In fact, we're going to make history today with the first ever Introverted Church book giveaway. Remember this day, for you will speak of it often, or at least until I shut this blog down. All you have to do is leave a comment between now and Monday at noon pacific and Rhett will pick two winners on Monday afternoon. 




Rhett is a licensed marriage and family therapist who recently stuck it to the man (Freud?) by opening up his own practice, and he also works with The Hideaway Experience where he does some intense work with couples in crisis. Here is what I said in my blurb on his book cover:

Rhett's personal story is profoundly honest - vulnerable, agonizing, and joyful. He does not settle for the quick fixes of pop psychology or the veneer of superficial Christianity. In reading The Anxious Christian you will find yourself plunged into the heart of anxiety, and in the deep waters of God's healing grace. 
 
That's just good writing. Jon Acuff also wrote the foreword, but mine is better.

Rhett's book is different in two ways: 1. He includes much of his personal story about anxiety, and believe me, there are some heart wrenching moments in there. It reads more like a novel than a psychology textbook or self-help book. 2. He treats anxiety not simply as a problem to be brushed aside but as something that God uses to change us. I get frustrated with pastors and authors who tell us to ignore our feelings and inner stirrings and to get about the business of faithfulness. In contrast, Rhett takes our feelings seriously and invites us to offer them to God rather than pretending that they're not there.

So if you've ever wrestled with anxiety (*cough*everyone!) then this is the book for you.

Boring but necessary logistical discussion: Since this is my first ever book giveaway, I'm a little sketchy on the details. Here is the best I have come up with: Leave a comment about why you want to read this book and then check back on Monday evening. Rhett is going to directly reply to the commentors who win and include his email address, and then the winners will send him their mailing addresses.

Ready? Go.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Introvert Saturday: The Top 5 Things Introverts Dread About Church

This post comes to you from Chelsey Doring. Chelsey posted a version of this on her blog last week and I asked if I could re-post it. It nicely and humorously captures some of the first issues that introverts have with church culture, especially in an evangelical culture that emphasizes sharing and transparency.

The Top 5 Things Introverts Dread about Church
(written so extroverts may understand)

5. “Welcome! Shake a hand, give a hug, share a name!”

In every church I have attended, this has been a precursor to the beginning of the service. What I want to know is why. There is no way that anyone is going to remember anyone else’s name in the 2.7 uncomfortable seconds it takes to say, “Good morning! My name is so-and-so. God’s peace.”

And has anyone considered what that is like for people who have never stepped foot in that church, or any church at all? I’ve been in church my entire life, and this entire process ties knots in my stomach. I understand the rationale behind it (we want to be a friendly, welcoming community), but isn’t this accomplished in a less forced manner before and after the service, over donuts and coffee?

Awkward encounters are so much easier with caffeine and sugar.

It is for this reason that I really love running slides or doing some other manner of work for the church during the beginning of the service. Can’t shake your sweaty hand if mine are busy doing something else.

4. “Chelsey, what do you think?”

Okay, look. I will tell you what I think once I want to say it. Trust me, I am very opinionated. Just because I am sitting quietly in this group of people, listening to all of them talk about their lives or this Bible passage or this idea, doesn’t mean I have a rock for a brain or that I’m too scared to speak up. Or, even worse: that something is wrong with me.

The worst offenders for this one are small group leaders and youth directors. And I know that for a fact, because I am one. Take it from me: if an introvert isn’t speaking, it isn’t because nothing is going on upstairs. It’s because they’re thinking. And once they feel comfortable enough, they will share. And yeah, that might take a couple minutes. A couple weeks. Maybe even a couple months. Their silence isn’t a reflection on your leadership! Leaders like me need to be secure enough in ourselves so that we can let the silence happen. It's not "awkward" until you make it awkward.

3. “Let’s get into groups and pray aloud and/or tell each other our deepest, darkest struggles.”

At this point, you may be wondering if I actually like people. I like people. I really do.

Introverts tend to have deep relationships and friendships. They are often very few in number. Case in point: when planning our wedding, I told my husband Ted that I wanted three bridesmaids: my sister, my best friend, and his sister. He gave me his best puppy dog face and told me that he wouldn’t be able to go lower than 9 groomsmen. People just love Ted. I get it, obviously. (We ended up having 7 bridesmaids and 7 groomsmen, and I love and cherish every single one of them.)

At the church where I work, we meet weekly to pray over the prayer requests we receive as a staff. We separate into groups of 3 to 5, go to separate corners of the church, and begin to pray over the list. I have a mini-panic attack every single time. I hope I’m adept enough to cover it. I’m probably not.

2. Spontaneous Public Prayer

If you could see into my head while I pray aloud, it would look something like this:

“Dear Jesus: I am completely blanking right now. I know that when we usually talk, the conversation never ebbs, but all these people are looking at me and listening to me and I feel like I’m naked and I’m going to hyperventilate. If you love me – no, I know you love me – please give me something intelligent to say in front of all these people. That I work with every day. Who are expecting me to form a coherent sentence. If it’s fancy and a little theological, too, that would be great. Thanks a million. Amen.”

Recently, one of the pastors at my church gave a devotion about how people pray out loud. He said that if a person asks for things that God has already promised, like his presence or his faithfulness, then it’s foolish and they probably have a pretty weak faith.

Right. As if I wasn’t already self-conscious enough.

On Jon Acuff’s post about introverts, one very well-meaning woman tried to give an introvert some advice about praying out loud:

“Sometimes I have an apprehension of going to the bathroom in public with someone who is the in the stall right next to me. Sometimes it is really hard to avoid. However, I know I have to go, so what I do is close my eyes and just go with the flow. I would say the same to you the next time you are asked to pray out loud in front of others: Just close your eyes and go with the flow. He promises that as we open our mouths he will fill it with his words. I have found this to be true not only in my life, but also in the lives of others I know.”

I'm convinced that "go with the flow" is a distinctly extroverted phrase. Also, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to use the phrase “go with the flow” again.

1. ”You should be more…”

Talkative. Friendly. Open. Or, my personal favorite: “You should be more like your sister.”

I once had a very influential camp counselor tell me that. My sister and I are very close now, and I would love to be more like her, because she is clearly cooler than I am.

When we were in high school, my sister was a beautiful, blonde, popular, fashionable, outgoing cheerleader. I was a somber, dark-haired band nerd who wore jeans and t-shirts and hated high school. Of COURSE I wanted to be more like her! Who wouldn’t?!

You would think that this sort of thing doesn’t happen to me anymore, but it does, actually. Even at 23, an age in which I am actually secure in my personality, this conversation takes place:

Me: “Yeah, I’m an introvert.”

The other person: “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

-----
God has created us all so beautifully and uniquely. There is no reason to apologize for that.

I am very sure that other introverts out there have had similar experiences. Please feel free to share, because I know that I shouldn’t be so presumptuous as to speak for all introverts everywhere.

But only if you feel comfortable enough.


If you want to read more about introverts and church, check out Adam's book Introverts in the Church. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Falling Asleep

A couple of nights ago I couldn't fall asleep. I was on call and my beeper sat on my nightstand 8 inches from my head, scowling at me, threatening to make a nefarious digital laugh at any second. One of these days I'm going to summon all my strength and throw it back to 1992 where it belongs.

I have a lot on my mind these days and it's causing me more anxiety than I am accustomed to. I used to take pride in the fact that I was unflappable, but I am in a season of life in which I am flapping quite a bit. I believe I have landed in one of those "liminal" places - the transitional time, suspended between two places, unwilling to go back but unable to reach the other side. It's the place where your stomach never feels quite right, like you're either in a perpetual state of mild nausea or you're in a non-stop free fall.

So I lay there, staring at the ceiling in the dark, listening to my wife breathe softly and the cat by my side purr quietly, and I thought about sleep a lot, which really isn't as restful as actually sleeping. Willing yourself to sleep, as you probably all know, is completely ineffective. Shutting your eyes tighter, actively trying to sweep all the thoughts and images out of your head, and searching for the perfect sleeping position only brings joy to the god of wakefulness.

The only thing that helps me drift into sleep on those nights is to pay a light attention to my breathing. I don't focus hard on the rhythms of inhaling and exhaling, but I allow the breath cadence to fill my mind and body until there is nothing else. If a thought or memory or image comes to mind, I just allow it to float through and out of my mental sight-lines like a cloud through the sky overhead. I am emptying my mind so that I may experience rest.

It occurs to me, two mornings later, that falling asleep is a perfect image for contemplative prayer. In contemplative prayer we seek to rest in the Lord, to sit in silence with him and simply enjoy him. To that end we empty our minds for a time- allowing active thoughts, words and images to float through without concentrating on them. Yet the goal of contemplative prayer is not emptiness but fullness. True rest is not the mere absence of activity. We aim to fill our minds, souls, and hearts with the peace and presence of God in Christ, interwoven with the life of the Spirit in us. We are reminded that in order to be truly "filled by the Spirit" we must release the distractions that keep us listening only to the sound of our own minds. Our prayer technique may involve an "anchor" - like the rhythms of breathing or a short phrase like "Come Lord Jesus" - to help us move past those distractions and to become attentive to the sounds of the Spirit reverberating through us.

Contemplative prayer is not in competition with other forms of prayer and it certainly is not in conflict with word-based devotions and practices. I do wonder though if contemplative prayer is the prayer of the liminal place, because transition surfaces so much anxiety in us. There is so much ambiguity and mystery in transitional seasons. If we concentrate all our energy on the anxiety that inevitably comes from ambiguity, and attempt to problem-solve that loss of control, we only give it a louder voice. Maybe what we need is to, in faith and hope, fall asleep in the Lord. If you think about it, sleep itself is a liminal state. The old day has passed, but the new day has not yet begun, and we rest in the trust that the Lord is still working and that the sun will rise.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Get Your Towel Dirty

There are some people we simply can't pay back, and I suspect that we should stop trying. There is nothing you can do to pay your parents back. They gave you life and no matter what you do for them, it's always going to pale in comparison. You have no gift that will measure up to life, ever. 

After Jesus on his last night took a towel to Peter's feet, Peter could have immediately turned the tables and washed Jesus' feet. It must have occurred to him, given his protests at Jesus' condescension. And it would have been a meaningful gesture, but it would not have carried the same power and symbolism. It always means more when the master serves the apprentice. You never forget it.

I have a mentor who in the last 12 years has done more for me than I can describe or absorb. He has played a role in every job I have been offered. He was the one who gave me the pulpit for my very first sermon. He connected me to a wonderful and generous church that supported me through seminary and the ordination process, and that supported me financially when I was a missionary. When I struggled to find a job out out of seminary, he made many calls on my behalf. He was the first one to tell me that I could get ordained by the PCUSA to work with InterVarsity. He is the one who suggested that I started this blog 5 years ago. When I was struggling personally a few years ago, he sat with me, listened to me, prayed for me, and cried with me. He endorsed my book and featured it on his blog for a week. Without his influence and his counsel I'm not sure that I would be a pastor and published author, and I know for certain I would not be the person that I am now.

For years I struggled to find ways to pay him back. I hoped for a day when finally I would have the stature where I had something to offer him. I was in mentor debtor's prison. Until I realized that I can never pay him back. That realization didn't carry  a helpless or inadequate feeling. It was freeing. On the day of that revelation, I made a new commitment, one that I could actually keep: Even though I can't ever repay my mentor, I will commit to helping other people who are coming up behind me. I will offer whatever I have to give to people who need it.

I have tried to hold to that ever since. Sometimes I even tell people why I am helping them, because I owe a debt that I can never pay. The hardest part might be accepting the fact that I have things to offer people. I tend to always feel like the student; it's been a slow process to accepting a new role as a teacher. I think we all have more power than we realize. There is always someone who can benefit from our expertise, our guidance, our feedback. If you're 13, there's a 12-year-old who is in need of some serious junior high knowledge about where to sit in the cafeteria and what corner to stand in during a dance. Or perhaps there is someone older than you who is breaking into your field and you have some wisdom to share. Sometimes we will respond to people, but the most poignant acts of service come when we surprise people with the initiative.

So my challenge to you is twofold: 1. Accept that you can't repay the mentors in your life, whoever they are. 2. Let your gratitude overflow to people who can benefit from your help. Or, phrased differently, get your towel dirty. There are a lot of dirty feet out there. 

Here are a few ideas:
  1. Help someone identify a specific gift or talent, especially if they are not aware of it.
  2. Truly listen to someone - ask them about what they care about, their experience, their dreams. Don't     project your experiences onto them but help them discover themselves. A true mentor does not shape people in their image, but helps them discover the image of God in themselves.
  3. From time to time, when you don't have the time, find the time.
  4.  Use your connections to help people who lack connections.
  5. Inconvenience yourself to make someone's life easier.  
  6. Once in a while, gently, encouragingly, and lovingly offer a little unsolicited advice.
  7.  Do the blue collar work. Work behind the scenes, even doing physical labor, without expecting any recognition for it.
  8.  Prioritize the emails and requests from people in need, not your colleagues who want to trade favors.
  9. Ask an unexpected question to an unexpected person.
My life has been changed by people who had every right to shelter themselves off in an executive washroom, but instead chose the role of a servant and washed my undeserving feet. Will I, and you, get our towels dirty?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

When Your Kid is an Introvert (ish) - Guest Post by Emily Freeman

She sits across the table from me in a room filled with high school students. It’s dinnertime, and I take slow bites as I watch her. She takes none at all. She’s studying her surroundings.

The students closest to us laugh at a joke I don’t hear, their voices louder than the already active hum of noise in the room. The beach house is big enough to sleep forty, but my kids and I are staying across the street.

I’m not sure I can handle a week in a house with my three kids and forty of someone else’s.

For five years now, my husband has brought students to this beach during spring break, one of the many trips he takes as their pastor. This is the first year I’ve come with him, bringing our kids. As I watch my daughter’s face, I begin to wonder if it was wise to come at all.

She’s eight and the slightly more social of our twins. But before she interacts, she watches people with eyes like a hunter, searching for acceptable behavior. She loves making friends, but in crowded rooms of people twice her size, she gets nervous. Unsettled. Exhausted. I watch her watch them and in one swift move she’s no longer sitting across from me but leaning hard against me, whispering into my ear, Mommy, can we eat outside?

We talked to a counselor once who told us our children learn their coping skills from their parents. I’m still trying to work through what is unhealthy coping and what is God-made personality. Adam's excellent book Introverts in the Church is helping with that. Still, my mind immediately wanders to all of my own coping mechanisms. Surely now my children are destined to eat mint chocolate chip ice cream when they’re bored, watch mindless TV when they procrastinate, and cry when they’re embarrassed. I’ll pay their counseling bills, I vow to myself.

I only feel slightly better.

Because as I watch my girl become nervous in this crowd of loud people, I see myself. I’m the one who booked the house across the street so we didn’t have to stay in the noisy one. I’m the one who is watching her every move during dinner to be sure she’s okay. I’m the one who is emotionally allergic to small talk. So is she the one who gets energy from alone or have I taught her to be that way?

On the continuum of energy, my husband and I both fall slightly on the introverted side. We need the same kind of space and the same kind of community. In order not to project our own personalities and insecurities onto our kids, we’re learning to take notes on the things and situations that uniquely give them life.

Sometimes I trust them into God’s hands. Lots of times I don’t. I pray for wisdom and for the courage to let her write her own story. And that the Lord would give her a light hand when it comes to the mint chocolate chip ice cream.

Do you have experience in parenting kids who seem to be following in your personality footsteps? I figured Adam’s readers will be the smartest group to ask, and I could use all the help I can get.


About the author: Emily P. Freeman, author of Grace for the Good Girl and Graceful, is a writer, speaker, and listener. She is the creator of the blog, Chatting at the Sky, where she combines photos and story to create space for souls to breathe. Emily is deeply curious about the mystery of Christ, the gracefulness of the everyday, and the sacredness of our inner lives. She and her husband John have been married for ten years and live in North Carolina with their three children.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Introvert Saturday: Loving Your Introvert: Thoughts from an Extroverted Mama

About the author: Kamille Scellick passionately believes that gathering around the table is where the body, mind and soul will be nourished. It's around the table where you're sure to find her on any given day...eating, talking, listening and sharing life with her husband, Ben and two girls (and others). You can find her sharing stories, hospitality, food and life with friend and stranger at her blog, Redeeming the Table.

These girls of mine couldn't be more different. As they bounce, climb and jump. Slide, bump and crash on the inflated air of plastic, with hair spun back like a weavers tapestry making conversation in their own unique way.

As I stood outside of that chain-linked wall, holding the tape recorder while looking into a sea of children, hoping for at least one friend. So she stands with her Baa Baa the lamb, enticing little girls her size into conversation. She's like a veteran captain taming the waves with her confidence and know-how of people. Her stature exudes confidence that is brilliant. When confronted with the sea of strangers, she dives in deeper.

While her older sister imbues a cautious observation. One I know. To scan the scenery before plunging forth; yet, she differs by being content on her own. I, on the other hand, scan...observe, in order to make a move.

She is a person who cannot be rushed.

Climbing methodically up the stairs as the crowd builds behind, and still...she cannot be rushed. Everything about her speaks "when I'm ready--I'll be ready," because she's a tea kettle on simmer--slow to warm.

Kindness and gentleness, her regard for others is astounding. She's my little Ferdinand protected beneath the shade, smelling flowers. Her world is right there.

Peacefully playing and bouncing with her baby doll by herself, not minding the solitude in this crazy jamboree. Meanwhile, her little sister making friends, embracing the loud by adding to it, is finding herself.

Extroversion and Introversion, I have one of each. As an extrovert, I'm seeing more and more how this world is geared toward the extrovert. How the extroverts abilities to dive right in, make friends, major in communication and open book, is seen as the greater. How in school settings the teachers or parents can worry about kids, like my oldest, not throwing themselves into the whirlpool of sociability.

But, what if these little introverts were quite content where they were. What if these little introverts didn't need us to feel sorry for them or push them to become someone they were never meant to be? What if they don't need, or even want, that many friends?

I confess that's it's hard for me to understand this and accept this about my introverted child. I have felt sad knowing that she might not have many friends, or be alone. Yet, I have to see her as she climbs the wobbly stairs, while holding tightly to that plastic hand with contentment and joy. She does not lack security or courage in that friendless side, because it's as if she knows more about this world than I think she sees.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Introvert Brand (redux)

Today Jon Acuff, author of the remarkable book Quitter and all-around funny guy, asks for feedback on awkward moments that introverts face in church. Given that I've been talking about this issue for so long, I think I am the King of the Awkward Moment. It's quite a professional brand I've developed. I thought I should re-post my article on The Introvert Brand so we can all laugh, and cry, together.
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I wrote a book called Introverts in the Church, and I swear that it is a serious book. I didn’t realize I would have to remind people of this when it was published. But one of the first book reviews, written by a dear friend and mentor, began like this: “Introverts in the Church. No, this isn’t a joke.” And here I thought the title was significantly less funny than other working titles I played with:

Introverts in the Shack
Three Cups of Tea…By Myself
Blue Like Introverts
Outliers: Introvert Edition
Introverts in the Hands of an Extroverted God
Good to Introvert
Girl Meets Introvert, Keeps Looking
The Life You’ve Never Wanted
Left Behind, and Happy About It

Surprisingly, my publisher rejected those title options. I had thought we settled on a boring but descriptive option, but apparently my book title also works as a punch line.

As many authors can attest, however, after a few months of talking nonstop about your book topic, you get the writer’s equivalent of the late-night giggles. Everything becomes a punch-line. You catch yourself applying the topic of your book to every conceivable situation. I started seeing introverts the way Haley Joel Osment sees dead people. As I poured the milk on my cereal, I pondered, “I wonder what type of cereal introverts prefer? Shredded Wheat has a lot of substance and depth, but Lucky Charms has layers of meaning, and the more you eat it, the more you learn about it.” Then you realize that you’re psychoanalyzing your cereal and you seriously consider pouring the leftover green-colored milk over your head. Yes, I went with Lucky Charms. I’m an Irish introvert. We’re magically delicious.

It doesn’t help when people you encounter in social media tend to reduce you to your book topic. Once I was asked to write a blog post on how introverts and extroverts can partner in ending the international orphan crisis. Granted this is one of the pressing global issues of our time, but is the fact that I need to retreat into solitude after extended social interaction really a significant factor in solving it?

Another time I tweeted that my book was selling better on Kindle than in paperback, and the first response was “Maybe introverts are just thrifty.” I’ve received a few Facebook birthday wishes that said “Happy Birthday, introvert.” Or there was the time I confessed that in college we smuggled in a student from another school to be our flag football quarterback (he was the brother of a friend and also just happened to be a Heisman trophy candidate that year) and someone replied “Totally sounds like something an introvert would do.”

This happens in real life too. I haven’t received as many speaking invitation as some of my peers, and I’m convinced it’s because people assume that I, as a self-acknowledged introvert, will be a train wreck of a public speaker, and that I may not even be willing to leave the house. Once, when I did miraculously venture out to meet with a prominent pastor and bestselling author (to protect his identity I’ll call him “John O. or “J. Ortberg”), he told me: “We made sure you would interact with as few people as possible on your walk from the church lobby to my office.”

Because of all this, it’s unclear to me whether this introvert thing is a genius piece of branding (in addition to being, you know, my personality type) or else an inescapable straitjacket that will limit me and make me a bit of a joke. In twenty years, will people say, “That book really changed things in church culture and Adam has become a significant voice”? Or will they say, in a sexy deep voice: “Adam McHugh: he is the most introverted man in the world. He doesn’t always go to church, but when he does, he prefers not to talk to you.”

Time will tell. Let me know what happens. I’ll be at home.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Introvert Saturday: My Kids Think Church Isn't For Them (And They're Right)

About the author: Anne Bogel is an INFP and total Christian education nerd, and she muses about the intersection of faith, the church, and women on her blog Anne-with-an-e. You can find her on twitter at @ModernMrsDarcy.  Anne has also written the most popular guest post in Introverted Church history: A Christmas Snapshot. Also check out her review of Introverts in the Church.

I’ve been afraid to say this out loud, but here goes:

My kids hate church.

They say it’s not for them. And they’re right, it’s not.

You see, two of my four children are introverts. Crowds drain them. They process internally. They hate noise.

But we attend an evangelical megachurch, and the controlling equation of children’s ministry, from age 4 on up, is Big + Loud = Fun. But my kids aren’t keen on big, and they don’t do loud. Children’s church isn’t fun for them; it’s terrifying.

So they think church is not for them. And they’re right: this children’s ministry is heaven for extroverts, but it was not designed for kids like mine.

I am terrified they will think Jesus is not for them either.

But this isn’t just about my kids. Church isn’t for me, either, these days, because if they can’t go to church, then I can’t go to church.

My church values honesty, authenticity, transparency. The sermons are practical, addressing issues the congregation is dealing with.

Which means my kids can’t tag along to Big Church, unless I want to answer questions like, “Mom, what does ‘pornography’ mean?” after Sunday service.

This is THE issue of faith in our house right now.

I’ve been attending church when my kids can go play at their grandparents’ during service. They’re happy, and I’m happy to get to worship with other believers.

We teach them about God at home, but they don’t go to corporate worship right now. I hate that.

But I can’t fault them for objecting. They’re not wrong: church isn’t for them.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Going quiet

I'm sorry I've been so quiet recently. Actually, introverts should never apologize for that. I'm giving three talks next week at Westmont College in Santa Barbara and that is consuming most of my attention. On Tuesday I am speaking at a leadership lunch on "Leading with Integrity" which I'm going to interpret more specifically as "Leading with Authenticity." On Tuesday night I am participating in a panel on "Introverts at Work," in which I will share my work experiences in the church, parachurch, and chaplaincy. Then on Wednesday morning I am speaking in chapel.

Immediately after Westmont, I will be driving up the coast to the Santa Ynez Valley for a writing retreat, working on my next chapter for my new book. This chapter is called "Listening to Scripture."

So I will be going quiet until later in April, though I may post a guest post or two. I would very much appreciate your prayers for the next couple of weeks. Peace!


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Guest post on Emerging Mummy

I started writing about the subject because I noticed that a lot of other people were talking about what introversion isn’t.

Introverts aren’t social. We aren’t fun. We aren’t open, or free, or welcoming.

The stakes of “not” get higher in some Christian circles, where the “ideal” believer has started to act alarmingly extroverted: Participating widely, eagerly assuming leadership, flitting about the social circles of the church, opening your home to new people, wearing your faith on your sleeve. If you display those attributes, you might get called a Christian “on fire.” And if you’re not one of those people, you might be quenching the flames.

I was tired of people telling me what I wasn’t. So I vowed to start talking about what introversion is and what gifts we bring to the Church. I started reframing the central issue: it’s not sufficient to say that we lose energy in social interaction. Instead, we are people who thrive in solitude, who gain energy and creativity and fire in our precious times alone. Some of our best moments come when we are lost in our inner worlds. Most of us need more of them, not fewer.

To read the rest of my guest post, on Sarah Bessey's awesome blog Emerging Mummy, click here. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Introvert Saturday: Grabbing the Oxygen Mask

About the author: Linda Stoll is a board certified pastoral counselor, a certified life coach, and much-in-love wife/mom/grandma. She's an avid blogger, a collector of sea glass, an online used book seller, and a devoted viewer of Food Network's Chopped. She and her husband dream together of someday finding a little cottage by the sea.

If you’re in a people-helping profession, you know it can be rewarding, yet draining work. And if you’re an introverted people-helper, you know you have no choice but to take care of yourself if you want to stay in it for the long haul. If you’ve experienced burnout in the past, you also know that there’s no way you ever want to head in that direction again.

I’ve been a pastoral counselor and life coach for a decade. I love interacting at the deepest soul level as I talk one-on-one with women. And I find great satisfaction in guiding couples as they learn to speak truth in ways that are respectful and loving. I work hard to provide an environment that is safe and filled with hope. I love what I do.

I also work with a non-profit that ministers to families where there’s a parent with a life-threatening illness. I join other staff and volunteers to serve these families on periodic retreats, facilitating support groups for the parents. Each daily, two hour session is packed with authentic conversation that’s soul searing and fascinating, exhausting and challenging, heartbreaking and rewarding. Together, we sort through pain, hope, fear, joy, anger, doubt, and what it looks like to leave a legacy of lasting value. I so deeply admire the courage and resilience displayed as these moms and dads fight for their lives and for meaningful time with their spouses and children.

But my work is exhausting, and I have to be intentional about self-care. A five step routine of rejuvenating solitude has naturally evolved over time for me, becoming a re-energizing lifeline after any kind of intense interaction.

You know how those oxygen masks drop down over the seats in a plane during times of turbulence? If you want to be of any future use to anyone {including yourself}, you have no choice but to quickly grab the mask … before you take one more step in helping others!

1. Put the mask on and refresh. Head outside and find a place to embrace solitude like an old friend. Find a comfortable seat and put your feet up. Or take a walk. Shed tears if needed. And debrief with the Lover of your soul.

2. Breathe deeply and refuel. Find something fairly healthy to eat. Drink some cool water. {And never say ‘no’ to chocolate!}

3. Rest fully and re-calibrate. Do something mindless. Read the paper. Wander around online. Pick up some light reading. Pull out your Bible. Debrief in your journal. Or simply take a nap.

4. Shift gears and re-focus. Pick up the phone and check in with loved ones who feed your soul, make you laugh, and give you the bigger picture. {Chatting with little people can help immensely. There’s nothing like a conversation with a toddler to give you a fresh perspective!}

5. Remove mask and re-engage. Ready to roll again, you’re equipped to emerge from the quiet place back into focused, joy-filled interaction with others.

Sadly, compassion fatigue is alive and well, especially for those of us in ministry. It has the propensity to hit us introverts especially hard. Meeting people in their most desperate hours is what I’ve been created to do. It’s my sweet spot, and I’m committed to do it well.