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Saturday, January 4, 2014

.On Community When You're an Introvert.

I thought there was something wrong with me. Maybe something was broken. As a girl I was labeled "shy", and the way people said it made me think it was a dirty word - that somehow I didn't measure up or that I was a disease that needed a cure. As I grew the label morphed into "introvert", but the inadequate feelings remained. They permeated how I saw myself. My identity became wrapped up in that one, dirty word, and I cowered in its shadows.

I don't do small talk. At. all. I don't know how, I don't get it, and I am the most socially awkward person you will ever meet when put in this position. I stammer through pleasantries, and my face burns, my heart throbs, and I avoid eye contact. It's really disturbing, and I try to stop it, but that only makes it more awkward. And I get labeled as an "introvert" and they nod their head knowingly, and their lips turn up patronizingly as they realize that I am one of those. It's not them; it's me. But the strange thing is, when the subject turns to something real, with depth - something I am passionate about like orphan care, my children, Ethiopia, Jesus, street kids, family reunification etc. it can take a lot to get this "shy", "introvert" to shut up. But sometimes even then, when I get asked a question, even one that I am passionate about, sometimes I just want to say here's my blog link, go look there. I am always cautious in relationships, holding people at arms length, but secretly hoping that they will break in. It's a wonder that I have any friends at all, it is no wonder that they span just a small handful. That's my choice. Don't feel sorry for me. I do it to myself.

It's been 34 years of learning that my identity is not wrapped up in being an introvert, but that being an introvert is okay. This is how I was created, and I am trying to embrace that. There are, of course, weaknesses that come with this disposition, as there are with being an extrovert, I am sure. For example, so many times I just plain do not feel like opening up my life to another person. It seems far too exhausting and I feel far too vulnerable. It's a lot of pressure for me to be in community. I have high expectations that I seldom express and that often go unmet, and then I get hurt. Yeah, that's yucky to admit, but it is true. It's hard work to be selfless in relationships and to pour out oneself knowing that I could be betrayed by the friendship. It's inconvenient sometimes, and costly, and frustrating, because we are dealing with real, living breathing people. People filled to the brim with hurts and flaws. But I have written about it before, I know God created us for community - even those introverted ones like me. There are gifts inside of me, because of my introvertedness, and the body needs those. It is selfish of me to not share what God has given me.

I was created and born an introvert, but that is not an excuse for me to be invisible in the Kingdom. Blogging gave me a voice when I was too introverted and insecure to use my real one. I have found community online, and it has been sweet. I have learned to open up little by little, to authentically share my story - a story that my audible voice would have been too shaky to tell, but that my trembling fingers refuse to keep hidden. I am not going to stop blogging, and in fact I am purposing to hone my writing skills and to be even more intentional with this little space this year.

I have to be honest though, and that is hard. I have traded blogging and social media for real community for a long time. I have nurtured these relationships with words on a screen, but the spoken words between souls have become mostly silent. So many things have changed so quickly in our life these past few years, and it has made me feel isolated, misunderstood and alone, because the truth is even the shy girl needs flesh and blood community. I need friends, and I want them. It's frightening to think about starting over, because I have been burned more times than I can count. But fear isn't an excuse to hide.

Community is necessary and life-blood here on earth. So this year I am searching for it - I am nurturing my community online, but also praying to step out and nurture the real lives around me as well. I am tentatively reaching out and opening my heart. Sometimes all it takes to make friends is to say "yes" rather than hide behind excuses. Yes, I am an introvert through and through, but I really do love people. I love the stories that people bring to my life, and I love being invested in people. I just hate the "small talk" that it takes to sometimes get to real friendships where the "deep talk" happens. But if that is what it takes, that is where you will find me and my awkward self this year. Just ignore the blotchy cheeks and stammering, and please give me an extra heaping of grace.


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