The world is run by extroverts, and if you don’t believe me then you have probably never been to church camp. Our churches, our public education system, our offices, they are all geared towards teams, collaboration, interaction…extroverts. Now, let’s be quick to notice that, were it up to us introverts, we would have none of those organizations. Introverts don’t seek each other out and bound together to form organizations. We’re introverts… So before going further, let’s recognize and be thankful for the gift of diversity.
Over the last week I have gotten to listen to between 15-20 graduating college seniors give speeches to their fellow ACU students. Without fail, every one has given advice like the following: “Don’t keep to yourself; get out of your dorm room and go where the other people are. Don’t be a hermit.” Those who know me will not be surprised that I started my speech saying, “I feel like the person everyone has told you not to be.” I get labeled anti-social.
I like being a hermit. I like being withdrawn, being in solitude, being quiet, reading books, being reflective. I often do, as Lyle Lovett notes, live in my own mind. And I can’t help but wonder why the hermit has become an object of contempt. I recognize the necessity of extroverts and the need for people like me to push into social relationships, and I am not talking about the privatization of worship: Church, worship, the bible, and God’s mission in the world are not about me. I want to resist the self-centered gospel with everything that is in me. I am firm believer that silence and solitude should lead us into communal worship, but I believe worship should lead us right back into solitude. My point is simply this: in a church climate such as ours I can’t help but feel like we would benefit from being less social, less noisy, less together.
The following are from the Introvert Manifesto of Susan Cain‘s social-psych book Quiet:
-Texting is popular because in an overly extroverted society, everyone craves asynchronous, non-face-to-face communication
- Solitude is a catalyst for innovation
-We teach kids in group classrooms not because this is the best way to learn but because it’s cost-efficient, and what else would we do with the children while all the grown-ups are at work? If your child prefers to work autonomously and socialize one-on-one, there’s nothing wrong with her; she just happens not to fit the model.
-Love is essential, gregariousness is optional
Despite the fact that Cain is not thinking of religion, I can’t but feel like she is on to something the church should hear: How much fruit has come from our “high impact” worship when it is uncoupled with solitude and reflection? Why is the kid at church camp who wants to go read his bible alone in the woods considered weird? Would we be willing to sacrifice “team building exercises” to build a few intimate friendships? Where are the centers in our buildings for silent prayer? How well would 3 minutes of total silence go over in your congregation? Does our worship model to our churches the power of language and the sanctity of imagination or are we adding to our culture’s saturation of words?
Perhaps I am just being a crotchety hermit and am tired of feeling like an outsider. But perhaps I’m right and we could consider leaning against a distracted, overly “connected” culture; and in a world of noise and wordiness offer a sanctuary of solitude where seekers might find enough quiet to encounter the voice of God.