I’m packing a tote bag with the intensity of a Navy SEAL heading out on a mission. I reach for a pair of neon green earplugs and snap them into a tiny plastic case, spy-like in its near invisibility. I add a journal, pen, and two ginger candies. I pour rooibos, a South African red bush tea known for its calming qualities, into a travel mug.
Mark walks into the kitchen. “Ready?”
I nod and say, “Let’s go to church.”
We’ve been part of our church for almost twenty years. The children’s area smells like animal crackers, the main foyer like coffee. Our dearest friends serve at the check-in counter for preschoolers, and we stop for a quick hug. As soon as I open the door to the main sanctuary, the music washes over me like a tsunami. I feel like a drowning woman, lost in a sea of sound.
After the first song and announcements, the lights dim and I slip in my earplugs, wearing my hair down so no one sees. I hear everything at a manageable volume. During the message I sit with my journal laid out on my lap like a happy baby, pen in one hand and tea in the other. Afterward I think, Mission accomplished.
Before I created this little system, I’d often walk through the doors of a church I love, one I’m glad to be part of, and wonder, What’s wrong with me? Why does everyone else enjoy the loud music, feel eager to join a group and go on another retreat? Don’t I love God? Don’t I love His people? The truth is, I’m an introvert who’s affected by external stimulation like loud music and crowds.
Jordan Holt, a fellow introvert, says he also sometimes struggles to connect with God in similar settings. “My most spiritual moments have been found while reading . . . and most often, while outside. Twenty minutes alone in the woods will grant me a seat closer to God than I’ve ever felt inside a church. Solitude breeds reflection and insight into my spiritual life.”
I’m drawn to Jordan’s phrase “my most spiritual moments.” It’s freeing to know that while, yes, gathering with others matters, it doesn’t have to be the place we experience our most spiritual moments. Sometimes I feel the least alone in my faith with no one else in the room. I emerge from those quiet places fueled to engage. That doesn’t mean I love God or people any less than the enthusiastic, handshaking, back-slapping greeter at the front door of church. It means I love differently.
We serve a God who delights in variety, who made us not a brick wall but a body—alive and moving, diverse in ways like not only skin color and age but also personality and temperament. I never want to look at my extroverted brothers and sisters and say, “You shouldn’t be that way!” Perhaps what’s even harder is looking at myself—my quiet, introverted, earplug-carrying self—and not saying, “You shouldn’t be that way!” either.
My church recently started incorporating Selah times into services—brief intervals of quiet inspired by the Selah pauses in the Psalms. One of my pastors asked me, “Do you like those?”
“Yes, those are my favorite moments,” I said.
“Huh, the staff worries they’re uncomfortable.”
“Not for half of your congregation.”
As author Kristen Strong says, “An infinitely creative God makes room for infinitely creative personalities.”
This post is adapted from my book, The Powerful Purpose of Introverts: Why the World Needs You to Be You. And, speaking of church and small groups, here’s a free PDF of questions you can use as a companion to the book!