You wouldn’t know it from talking to me at a party (because I tend to talk waaaaay too much, especially when I’m nervous), but I am a huge introvert. Specifically, I’m an INFJ. If you’re into Meyers-Briggs. I didn’t really wise up to that fact until I was nearing adulthood, though.
As an only child, with an introverted mother and a father who traveled a lot, I got plenty of alone time, so my introverted tank tended to be topped off. Whenever I was in larger groups–you know, on those occasions it couldn’t be avoided–I knew they tired me out. I also knew I’d much rather be at home with a book, or chatting with one or two good friends, than going to any of those bright, noisy, busy places that 90% of kids adore. (If you haven’t guessed, the other 10% are introverts.) No, I wasn’t weird. No, I wasn’t antisocial. And no, it wasn’t because I was an only child. It’s just because that’s the way God made me.
Where the vast majority of women would feel uplifted by a night out on the town with their husband, or a party with their girlfriends, or a cruise where you get to see new sights and meet fascinating new people, I would feel drained. Totally and completely drained. I’d need a vacation from that vacation. Fortunately, I married an introvert who gets my need for solitude, my sometimes fanatic enthusiasm for a project, and my self-proclaimed identity as a homebody. We help each other protect our time, and there’s little we love doing more than working quietly side by side on whatever (inevitably disparate) projects we have going.
It was a partnership made in heaven. (Thanks, God.) And then, we became parents. (Ha!)
I’ll be frank. Life with 5 kids, ages 10 and under is not the stuff introverts’ dreams are made of. At least, not on the surface. Kids, especially little kids, pretty much demand that their parents be in extrovert-mode 24/7. It’s wearing even for the extroverts! A friend of mine who is an extrovert told me that it was only after having kids that she started to understand the needs of her introverted husband, because love them though she does, her kids were the first people in the world who truly exhausted her with their presence.
The thing I have to continually remind myself of is that, even though I need regular breaks from my kids to flourish, I want them to know without question that I want to be with them as much as I’m able. That I don’t take space to escape them but so that I can enjoy them better, so I can serve them better, so I can love them better. It’s not always easy, and I don’t always do it well.
Having so many young children requires me to be self aware and purposeful. I need to know what fills my tank up so that I can use my limited alone time efficiently. I need to balance my need for introversion with my need for adult socialization and, of course, with the time and energy that I devote to my family. If I slack or I don’t communicate my needs to my family, life tends to go a bit catawampus, if not completely chaotic.
That used to frustrate me enormously. I hated the fact that I had to advocate so hard for my own well being. I would become annoyed when my children invaded time I so desperately needed to replenish myself. I felt like no one in the world understood or sympathized or even cared how tired I was and how much I needed a break!
“….crowds of people came to hear him… But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” – Luke 5:15-16
It’s been argued by some MBTI buffs that Jesus of Nazareth was an INFJ, the same personality type as mine. I don’t think that makes me in anyway unique or holy or anything. In fact, it leaves me awed with how good and holy our God is. To live the life Jesus led as an INFJ and to do it without once shouting or snapping or lashing out in desperation is unfathomable to me.
Now, I don’t claim to be right on this one, but let’s assume for a minute that Jesus is an introvert. Which does make a lot of sense when you consider he was God and yet he chose to spend 30 years as a homebody in podunk Galilee: learning Joseph’s craft, having long heart-to-heart talks with Mary. But then he spent 3 intense years in ministry and service, travelling continually from town to town, new people, new faces–so many faces! So many demands on his time, his attention, his body, his mind, his heart. Repeatedly, he went off alone to refill his tank–but not just so he could have some “me time.” He went off alone to commune more deeply with his Father, and he went off alone to keep himself fit for the demands of his vocation.
When people came to him, desperate for one more parable, one more miracle, Jesus could quite understandably have wanted them to wait. Just a few more minutes of quiet. Just let me finish this prayer. Just let me rest. But Scripture tells a different story. Rather than becoming covetous of his much-needed time alone, rather than snapping at the disciples that they were interrupting him, we are told that he “had compassion.”
“When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.” – Matthew 14:13-14
I want to be like this Jesus. This tired, introverted Jesus who withdrew to a solitary place to find a little peace and, instead of refreshment, was met by needy people. This worn-thin Jesus, who met those needs with an outpouring of compassion. Who met need with his tired and let grace be enough.
Yes, it’s important to go off in my boat, to frequent my solitary place. But when those little voices call, and those little arms reach, and I’m bombarded by insatiable, insistent, inexhaustible need, will I look to him who knows my need, who understands my tired, who sympathizes so completely with my weary heart–will I look to him and lay my weakness down and let grace be enough?
So often, I’m tempted to view my time alone as a goal, and when that goal is thwarted, I become easily frustrated, even angry. But Jesus teaches me that time alone is only a means to an end, it’s not an end in and of itself. I need time alone to refresh and fuel myself to live out this sacred vocation of mothering young souls, but my vocation is always the true goal. And when that vocation vies with my need to refuel, then it’s time to trust that God can make do with my lack.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that immediately after this passage from Matthew, Jesus gathered five loaves and two fish and fed five thousand, with food to spare. Yes, I am an introvert. Yes, God made me that way. And yes, God called this flawed and fumbling introvert to the sacred vocation of motherhood. He blessed me with these children, and he’s blessed me with the grace to love them beyond my own power, day in and day out, even when my tank’s run dry. This is what Christ’s life teaches me. This is what I’m learning slowly, slowly.