Introvert Walks into an Empty Room, Feels at Home

I have spent most of my life wondering what the heck is wrong with me. When I participated in a group activity or social event, why did I always feel detached? Why did I feel as if I never fully belonged anywhere, not even on earth itself? Ten years ago I wrote a book about what I called my “misfittedness.” I came to embrace that unavoidable malady, but not until I was well into my fifties.

Today I imagine some of my readers back then were wondering, “Doesn’t she know she’s just an introvert?”

I did not.

Don’t worry; I’m not going to go all Myers-Briggs on you. (But if you must know, I’m an INFP.) And please, you extroverts, keep reading. This is important stuff for everyone to know, because we need not only to get along with each other, but also to love one another. Among the many factors making that last bit so difficult is the frustration that extroverts feel when others won’t join their party, and which introverts feel when others won’t leave them alone. We tend to take things like that personally. It’s time we stopped.

When I discovered that my misfittedness was directly related to introversion, at first I was confused. Those who know me would not describe me as shy. But my research (Lord, do I love research!) showed me that shyness has little to do with introversion, that it’s more about the need to be alone to recharge my batteries. When I gave that more thought, I remembered people in my checkered church past who, like me, fit that description so well.

We’re the ones who may feel comfortable in an evangelical church—especially one with a lot of small groups—but wince at the notion of a church-wide evangelism effort. We also may be content in a charismatic church, until someone tries to pull us into a conga line. I have done these things—door-to-door evangelism and dancing around the sanctuary—but what I wanted at the time was for someone to just kill me.

My suspicion is that contemplative and quiet liturgical churches will see a fair amount of growth now that several bestselling books on introversion are in the spotlight, as misfits realize they are simply introverts in an extroverted church culture. I joined the liturgical ranks a decade ago and felt I had finally found a place where I fit in. There, I’ve met many introverts whose journey through extroverted churches resembles mine.

Finding the right spiritual home, though, is a temporary solution to a deeper problem in the church. Do we want all the extroverts to leave quieter churches or all the introverts to leave livelier ones? Well, I don’t. I feel we need to become diverse communities that welcome and find a place for the outgoing, gregarious types who can’t seem to get enough fellowship, as well as the thoughtful, meditative types whose idea of fellowship is time spent with a good friend—or a good book.

Before the comments section blows up with accusations that I’m generalizing, let me confess that I realize that’s what I’ve done. Not all evangelical, charismatic, or liturgical churches fit the descriptions I’ve attached to them. (But come on, have you ever known a charismatic church that wasn’t lively?) Those descriptors are shorthand. The same holds true for the words “extrovert” and “introvert”; no one is a pure introvert or extrovert. (And yes, I know this often is spelled “extravert,” but mainly in academic and clinical contexts.) Without using the shorthand of lively churches and quiet ones, this post would be painfully long. We don’t want that, now do we?

I’d love to see the comments section filled instead with ideas on how churches and other groups can make allowances for different personality types. Instead of expecting people to change their nature to accommodate the group’s wishes, how can we accommodate the people? Some solutions are obvious: don’t tell everyone to get on their feet, clap their hands, and shout to the Lord, and then single out those who just barely managed to stand up. Likewise, don’t expect everyone to spend an hour in quiet contemplation without making allowances for some who fidget until they’ve pulled out every hair.

Until we have learned how to integrate both broad personality types into our church communities (and I’m using that term to include nontraditional gatherings), let’s make allowances for the loud and the quiet, the animated and the tranquil, the excited and the calm. Let’s stop expecting others to be just like us.

So what the heck is wrong with me? A lot, but introversion is not part of it. It’s who I am, and I’ve finally come to realize that God is okay with that.

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3 voices on “Introvert Walks into an Empty Room, Feels at Home

  1. Hello, fellow INFP. Understanding personality types, your own and those of others has been very helpful to me in learning to relate with and understand those around me. Not lumping introverts and extroverts into predetermined expectations is also helpful. I’d happily join a conga line and have no trouble stepping out from the norm of quiet or noise around me and worshipping how I choose, which has nothing to do with personality type and everything to do with being comfortable in who I am and in my surroundings. At the same time, I have been accused of being “unfriendly” more than once in churches because I have not yet mastered the art of small talk. I feel most out of place in a foyer full of people ‘visiting.’

    • Kathleen, I agree completely. I resisted Myers-Briggs for 40 years because I felt it stereotyped people. I was wrong of course, but any time we talk about personality types we run the risk of having people think that’s just what we’re doing. We’re distinct individuals. The problems arise when others insist that we conform to their expectations.

  2. Thank you! As an ENFP (90% E!) married to an INTJ, it’s been difficult finding a church that makes space for both introverts & extraverts (I like the a spelling because I’m extra-extroverted, lol).

    I hate the discomfort my husband (& introverted kids) feel in the happy-clappy churches, but I get so bored & feel disconnected from the quiet, introspective churches.

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