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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Why I Sometimes Lie About My Profession

I have a confession to make. Sometimes I lie when people ask me what I do for a living.

Okay, that's a touch dramatic. It's not like I tell people that I'm an astronaut, or the guy who invented salad-in-a-bag. I'm just not always forthcoming with words like "pastor" or "chaplain" and if I say "writer" and they ask me what I write, I obfuscate a bit. I'll say "I write about the intersection of psychology and religious behavior."

It's not because I'm ashamed of what I do. It's really not. I rarely volunteer that I'm a hospice chaplain because it's the ultimate conversation killer. I'm the only person I know who has the ability to suck the life out of the most raucous party by merely saying what it is I do for a living. People look at me as though I just said "I'm a professional sniper, and YOU are my next target." I witnessed this just the other week. I was sitting in an animated Irish bar after I visited Congress with some friends and a couple of my wife's co-workers, who didn't know what I did. Everyone was laughing and having a good time...and then one of them asked what I did. "Um, I'm a hospice chaplain. I provide spiritual and emotional support for people who are dying and for their families who are watching them die." The gas went out of that party like the Hindenburg. And these were all Christians. 

I don't always volunteer to strangers that I'm a pastor because it instantly changes the conversation. I first learned this when I was in seminary, and I lived right across the street from a golf course. I would play in the afternoons and I would get paired up with strangers, because all my friends were "studying" or whatever. You can't spend more than 4 minutes with men before someone asks you what you do. Back then I was much more bold about what I did, and when I said "I go to seminary" the response I received was universally this: "Oh. I hope my cussing hasn't offended you." I was always tempted to say "Nope. What has offended me is how you take 4 practice swings before you shank the ball into the woods."

What I don't like is how the mention of my job changes how people act around me. I start out interacting with real people in t-shirts and jeans and I end up interacting with people in their Sunday best. People have no idea what to say to me or what questions to ask and so everything takes a turn to the awkward. Sometimes my golf partners would not talk to me for the rest of the round. My sense is that most of them hide not because they are hostile to religion but because they are ashamed or afraid, because of bad past encounters with other religious types.

What I am actually trying to do, when I am ambiguous in my answers to the question "What do you do?" is to keep the conversation going. I want to learn about them (well, when I play golf I just want to play golf) and discover what's important to them. I'm not "looking for an opening" but I am genuinely curious. I'm a listener by nature, but when I blindside people with my "religious career" I find that they are reluctant to reveal much about themselves. I want to have a conversation as two human beings, not (in their perception) as "sinful person" to "holy person."

Sometimes, after I have listened and asked questions and shown a genuine interest in them, I will subtly sneak what I do into the conversation. Usually, at this point, their response will be much more positive and curious. The guy who might have been a religious crazy at the beginning of the conversation has suddenly become interesting, because I have listened.

What do you think? Is this a cop out? If you're a pastor or missionary or really involved in churchy activity, do you ever hide what you do? And if so, why?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The President or the Court Jester?

My certificate for serving as guest chaplain, signed by the Speaker of the House

Three weeks ago today, I stood at a podium directly in front of Speaker John Boehner and his startlingly loud gavel, and offered the opening prayer for the day in the House of Representatives. They stationed me next to the podium a few minutes before the session started, and told me to avoid the temptation to look behind me when the Speaker, the Parliamentarian, and a few others marched in the door. "Instead," they said, "just keep looking at the CSPAN cameras."

After I prayed my 127 word prayer, vetted by the House Chaplain's office a week before, I sat down on the floor, in a Congressman's seat, while my representative, David Dreier, chairman of the eminent Rules committee, introduced me. While he was talking, the Chaplain came and sat down next to me and whispered, "The podium that you just prayed at? That's the same podium that the President stands at to give the State of the Union. The only people who ever use that podium are the chaplains and the President. We don't tell guest chaplains that until after they pray, so as not to intimidate them."

Chairman Dreier waved a copy of Introverts in the Church as he talked, and he submitted a list of all my writings into the Congressional Record for the day. The writings of Adam S. McHugh are now officially part of the Library of Congress.

I started writing this post last week at the site of one of my greatest humiliations in ministry. 6 years ago I was invited to speak at a church while the pastor was on vacation. It was Father's Day and the crowd was sparse. The senior pastor had been present at my ordination 6 months earlier, and had been impressed with me. He also loved one of the songs that I chose for worship that day, "In Christ Alone." Unfortunately, his congregation was not familiar with the song, and there was no worship leader to help. So, for about 5 minutes we all sat together and listened to the organist play it. And repeat it. If I were Jesus I might have stayed in the tomb and waited for another service to burst forth in glorious day.

I stood up to preach. Normally, as a college pastor at the time, I preached in jeans and flip flops, but I had broken out a shiny new suit for the occasion. I had chosen evangelism as my topic, with the approval of the senior pastor. About 4 minutes into my sermon, I realized that no one was laughing at any of my funny lines. In fact, no one was nodding along, or had their heads cocked in a thoughtful pose, or well, seemed to be alive in any way. I had 20 more minutes left in my sermon. At about the 10 minute mark, I found myself speaker faster and monotone. At the 15 minute mark, I felt like I might start crying. I really had no idea what I was even saying at that point. I finished the sermon, that I had timed to 25 minutes that morning, in 18 minutes.

After the service, not one person came up to thank me or greet me in any way. I stood there, by myself, for 5 or 6 of the loneliest moments of my life, and then started to make my way to my car. An older woman stopped me by the fellowship hall and invited me to join them for coffee. I said thanks, I'll be there in a moment after I put my sermon in my car. I got to my car, placed my sermon on the passenger seat, sat down for about 20 seconds to breathe, then put the key in the ignition and got the hell out of there.

On the drive home, I came up with a line I used in my book a few years later: I felt like the court jester performing for an audience that just pushed away from Thanksgiving dinner.

Last week there was a presbytery meeting at that church, and I was invited to display my book out front so people could talk about it with me and have copies signed. For the hour before the meeting that I stood there, one person picked up a copy of my book, smiled at me, glanced over the back cover, and put it down again.

I hate that church.


What's strange is that I have no problem sharing the second story with you, but I am afraid the first story will make me seem ego-driven and full of myself. But both of them are authentically me. I am the guy who prayed from the State-of-the-Union podium and I am the guy who made an ass out of himself at an old, rickety podium. Why is it easier for me to imagine the true backdrop of my ministry as failure rather than success?  Why does it feel sometimes like the "real" Adam McHugh deserves to be up in front of that old, glassy-eyed church, juggling and tripping over myself, but any successes I have feel like accidents, out-of-body departures from where I truly belong?

It's not humility, that's for sure. Too often we use that word in church to cover up self-hatred, which is actually the opposite of humility. We wave off success as "all God, not me" slowly diminishing ourselves into non-existence, which is actually the opposite of the life and life abundant that Jesus is working into us.  

Where are you in your life and ministry? Are you standing at the State of the Union podium or are you the court jester making a fool of yourself? And if you are the jester, are you there because you think you belong there?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Guest post: Revealed in Grief

Leigh Kramer is in the middle of a fantastic series on her experience with Introverts in the Church. Her first post is a review of the book and a giveaway. In her second post she finally acknowledges publicly that she is an introvert. Her fourth post will be coming tomorrow on her blog, so be sure to check it out. And her third post she shares with us below.
About the author: In May 2010, Leigh Kramer intentionally uprooted her life in the Chicago suburbs by moving to Nashville. She writes about life in the South, what God has been teaching her, and her ongoing quest for the perfect fried pickle. A former medical social worker, she recently fulfilled a childhood dream by writing her first novel. You can follow her adventures on Twitter and her blog HopefulLeigh.

My eyes lit on the flowers resting under the mailbox as I opened the door to my apartment building. A thoughtful smile played on my lips in spite of my exhaustion. I'd had 45 minutes to think, cry, and pray on the drive home. Oh, and try to stay awake. I'd slept less than six hours the past two nights combined.

But there they lay, a bright cacophony of color. I scooped them up and made my way to the silent apartment. My roommate was on vacation; there would be no listening ear, for which I was grateful. I had no words left.

I turned the dining room light on but left the rest of the place dark. My bags around my feet, as I drew out the card from the envelope. My first condolence card. I sank in to the chair and read Becca's words of compassion over the loss of my grandmother18 hours prior.

I had lost loved ones before but this was different. Only two months ago we'd buried my great-aunt Teresa, not knowing that Grandma was days away from her own cancer diagnosis. Teresa stayed under the care of the hospice (where I worked) for 9 months; Grandma lasted a little over a week. As I shepherded my family during those months, I had no idea that I would experience my role as a hospice social worker in a completely different light.

Hundreds of people attended Grandma's wake and funeral. I stood in the receiving line with my parents and greeted family friends and second cousins. Each interaction bolstered me. These were people I knew and loved well. Then, every so often, I'd escape to the back room to breathe or sample a cookie. I prayed no one would ask how I was doing.

A day or two later, I returned to work, helping others go through the very thing I'd just experienced. My role as a social worker was to be there for them. Because of that, I couldn't escape reminders of my own grief. The work days exhausted me, especially when insomnia kicked back in.

Prior to this loss, my planner stayed full of activity: hanging out with friends, concerts, dance parties, and the like. Over the years I came to view a night home as synonymous with being disliked. As much as I benefited from time at home and curling up with a favorite book, those soul-restoring activities were limited to an hour here and there.

When grief entered my life, I was already running on empty. All of that busyness no longer mattered. I took note of the friends that vanished now that I wasn't there to console them or plan the next party. Grief heightened my introversion. And so, I cocooned. I made it through each work day on a wish and a prayer. I'd stow the work laptop in my home office, then settle on the couch with a novel for the rest of the evening. I plowed through a book every day or two.

I couldn't journal, my usual way to process. I literally couldn't write the words “Grandma died.” But I talked to my closest cousins and my Mom. Occasionally, I'd share with my closest friends. The hospice bereavement coordinator Peter kept tabs on me regularly. I'd tell him how sadness or anger manifested themselves and what I was doing to honor Grandma's memory. Each time, he'd sit and listen and then marvel at my self-awareness. I knew what I needed to integrate Grandma's death into my life, while also giving myself the time and space to do so.

Every week my roommate or best friend would drag me out for dinner or coffee. At first, I resented it. But I came to appreciate the way they let me have my space while also loving me enough not to let me stay there.
Over time, it took less convincing for me to leave the comfort of my apartment. Work became less draining. I processed the loss enough to share more of my grief experience with my friends. I learned to let others in to my in-the-moment pain and vulnerability. I grew comfortable with my need to stay home a couple of nights a week. In fact, taking time to myself helped me enjoy my relationships even more.

Grief naturally changed me. While I wouldn't wish to repeat that time in my life, I have a better sense of who I am. And now I know I'm more introverted than I ever thought and that it's not a bad thing.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Guest Post: Married to an Extrovert

The topic I introduced on Saturday, "mixed" marriages between introverts and extroverts, has ignited a firestorm of feedback. Clearly this is a topic people want to talk about. So, to continue the conversation, I submit to you a guest post written by a friend of mine from college. Every now and then she and I run into each other taking solitary walks in Claremont. Her husband is one of the most extroverted, and awesome, people I have ever met.
About the author: Dana Schafer Forti is an economics graduate of Claremont McKenna College. After 8 years in litigation consulting, she left the corporate world to be a full-time mom. She lives in Claremont, California, with her toy inventor husband Mark, two lively sons, and a sweet baby daughter.

My house roars like Grand Central Station at the start of a three-day weekend. The international student we are hosting skips in from a day of shopping with three bubbly girlfriends. My husband Mark has turned the dining room into a film studio, where he is interviewing a panel of theologians for his latest documentary project. Our seven-year-old son chases his little brother through the house making piercing siren noises. I shift the fussy baby into one arm and use the other to open the refrigerator and stare. It’s almost dinner time—am I expected to feed all these people?

Mark sticks his head in. “Where’s the spare battery for the video camera?” I point to the telltale bulge in his back pocket, and he keeps going. “Oh, Jim’s flight was cancelled. He’s going to sack out on the couch tonight.” Mark glances around contentedly at what our home has become. “I just love this crazy atmosphere!” he exults and ducks back into the dining room, oblivious to the evil eye I’m shooting his way.

Maybe Mark built up an immunity to chaos growing up as the fifth of six kids in a noisy Italian household, or maybe he just has a high dose of innate extroversion. I, however, am screaming (but only inside my head, of course) for all these people to just GO AWAY!

The next day after the non-residents have cleared out, I voice my complaints to Mark. “But I thought you liked Jim and the rest of them,” he says. The fact is, I explain, I love each of these people dearly, but all at once and without warning had sucked my social energy reserves dry.

Mark and I still mystify each other after almost fifteen great years of marriage. He can’t understand why I love to sit and read for hours on end (or at least I could before having three children who constantly need juice refills and diaper changes and referee services!). Mark’s work often requires that he stand at a trade show booth talking to people eight hours a day for five days straight about his company’s products—and then taking key customers to dinner afterwards. What tortures one of us is pure joy to the other.

The essential part of marriage to an extrovert, I’ve discovered, is to understand his strange behavior and explain my own to him. My extroverted sister-in-law used to complain about her rude husband: he comes home from work, waves a quick hello to the assortment of her friends and neighbors chattering away in the living room and promptly retreats to his den. Actually, her husband is an introverted doctor who spends his days saving the lives of premature babies while dealing with anxious parents and a constant stream of hospital staff needing his advice. By the time he arrives home from “playing extrovert” all day, he simply isn’t able to hang around and chat with a bunch of near-strangers. When he explained this to his wife, she had a major “aha” moment.

So here’s my question: given the vast potential for misunderstanding and conflict between introverts and extroverts, why do so many of us marry our polar opposite? The old cliché says that opposites attract, but why?

In typical introvert fashion, I gave much thought to this issue. My conclusion? We seek the strengths that we lack. Whether consciously or not, we recognize our own weaknesses and look for a partner that can fill in the holes: someone who brings balance to our lives.

Tonight Mark is bringing balance to my life by taking the boys away to our mountain cabin. The baby and I plan to eat chocolate ice cream and fall asleep watching Alias reruns on DVD—I can’t wait!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Introvert Saturday: Inter-Temperamental Relationships

Megan Tietz, author of the wildly popular blog Sorta Crunchy, posted about Introverts in the Church this week. I'm thinking about stealing and trademarking the title of her post - "Prone to Ponder" - which is one of the more brilliant descriptions of introverts I have read.

Megan, an extrovert, starts off by discussing her marriage to an introvert:
If I really dig deep to examine just what it is about knowing and understanding the Myers Briggs personality types, I would have to confess that it is this: in a very real way, a good understanding of personality types saved my marriage.

I realize that sounds dramatic, and I should clarify that at no point have my husband and I been on the brink of divorce, only to be pulled back from the edge once we were able to label ourselves ENFP and ISTJ. But I cannot overstate enough that understanding how the other one views the world has helped us stay open to each other. When you marry your exact opposite, the temptation is always there to close yourself off from the other, writing off your spouse as too hopelessly different to ever understand.

Because I now have a better understanding of how he navigates the world (and he understands how I approach life, too), we are able to honor the different ways we are created while at the same time, leaning more easily on the strengths the other one brings to the marriage table.
Inter-temperamental relationships is not a topic I have addressed at length in this space, but it is one of the main ways that people discover their own tendencies and learn how to appreciate, not just tolerate, the tendencies of others. My wife and I are also MBTI opposites - I am an INTP and she is an ESFJ - and it has taken us years to come to a place where we stop ascribing moral value to particular temperamental tendencies. There have been times, when approaching a problem or a situation, that it almost seems like she and I are different species, because our approaches are so variant. But there are also times when our contrasting approaches combine to create something truly amazing and we can see and do so much more than we would as individuals.

This is obviously bigger than introversion and extroversion. But since this blog focuses on those topics, let's discuss that. Do you have a "mixed" marriage? Are you an introvert married (or dating) an extrovert or vice versa? How has that affected your marriage, both in a good way and a bad way? 

Also, be sure to spend some time over at Megan's blog, which is smart, thoughtful, and graceful. She has a book coming out soon on Spirit-led parenting. And, if you leave a comment on the Prone to Ponder post, you just might win of of the three free copies of Introverts in the Church that she will be awarding on Monday night.

Monday, March 5, 2012

TED talk: The Power of Introverts

Susan Cain, author of Quiet, will stop at nothing to outshine me. First she writes a book that outsells mine in about a week. Then, on the same day that I was praying in the House of Representatives, she gave a TED talk. I'm onto your little game Susan.

But seriously, if you want a 20 minute summary of her work, and of the experiences of introverts in our society, be sure to watch it. It's really great and definitely worth your time.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Introvert Saturday: You're not Alone, You're Lonely

About the author: Sarah Kidd is currently finishing her second year absorbing the language and culture of South Asia. When not sipping chai and chatting with the neighbors, she's sipping chai and reading good books and blogs. She writes about her adventures at Whispers on the Journey (

When I moved to South Asia, I expected there to be a lot of adjustment. But when my new life sharing a one-room house with three other women began, I thought I had reached the introvert’s limit. To sleep, we rolled out mattresses on the floor after dinner and rolled them up before breakfast. We spent every day in glancing distance from one another.

I discovered that in my new language, Hindi, there is no distinction between the words “alone” and “lonely”. I felt like crying. After the sweltering 120 degree heat, pungent spices that made me doubt my taste buds would recover, and a language that reduced me to the verbal equivalent of a three year old – this, I thought, is the challenge that will crush me.

My adopted South Asian family worried when I insisted I needed to spend Saturdays alone, wandering our city’s parks and mall. I’ve always wondered how they came to accept the explanation that, in Hindi, meant, “I need some lonely time”.

When I moved out of their house, they were relieved that I moved in with two other roommates. At least I wouldn’t be “lonely.” I struggled to explain to new friends that I actually enjoyed the weekends when my roommates were away and I had the house to myself. I clutched at culturally appropriate ways to deflect their offers to spend the night so I wouldn’t have to be lonely.

I slowly began to see that introverts do exist in this culture and learned how they found time to be alone. Volunteer to go to the market for vegetables or linger a few extra minutes on the roof when you take down the drying laundry. When others go out shopping for clothes, be the one to stay home and watch the house.

Eventually, my roommates moved to other places. My South Asian friends dropped by frequently. Morning, noon and evening they came to share a cup of chai and make sure I wasn’t drowning in the sorrow of loneliness they expected. For one long year, each moment alone I managed to scratch out felt like a stolen, life-giving nectar.

The flexibility that comes from what is new and unusual became the frustration of times alone constantly compromised. I prayed long, angry prayers to God. “What made you think a culture where alone equals lonely was the place to send an introvert?” If it’s possible to glare at God, I glared each time a friend forced their company through my door to keep me from being lonely.

God’s quiet answer back was, “Trust me. Throw yourself into each exhausting encounter, and I’ll provide the rest you need”.

So I struggled with my attitude when a day off became the day of three visitors. I tried to keep my tone with God civil when one emotionally charged day of personal counseling or ministry fed into a long weekend full of unexpected friends dropping by.

And I found that He, better than I, knew what I needed. When my day alone got interrupted, I found that two or three days later – all of my appointments and classes would suddenly be cancelled and an unexpected mini-retreat would materialize. I found quiet moments in a crazy day when His presence allowed renewal and recharge to come faster than usual.

And over it all – I heard Him whispering, “See? I made you an introvert. I called you here. And I knew exactly what I was doing.”

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