Do you prefer being with people most of the time, or being by yourself? Last Sunday afternoon I told Daryl, “You would have been proud of me today. At the reception for the Koehl family I served as a line marshal. I stopped visitors from cutting in line or sneaking cookies, mostly by cracking jokes, which means I interacted with actual people for two solid hours.” He was impressed.
And what’s more, that happened only one day after Cyndi and I hosted Cornfest at our house. It’s an annual event where we cook fresh ears of sweet corn and serve them with hamburgers on Cyndi’s most excellent home-cooked buns. We had about sixty people in our house and I talked to all of them that were old enough to carry a conversation.
That means by Sunday evening, I was whipped. I had to rest my blown-out knees. I had to find solitude. To paraphrase Anne Lammot, I sneaked into the back room like an agent for Mossad, just trying to find a moment’s space, just trying to find my heart cave.
And then, after an hour or so, I was ready to reemerge and play with Cyndi.
I should mention that on most personality tests I score all the way to the edge as an introvert. And, I should add, that makes me happy.
There is a pseudo-quiz floating around Facebook these days, taken from the Huffington Post, titled “23 Signs You’re Secretly An Introvert.” I scored 22 out of 23 on their quiz. I’m pretty sure if you answer “yes” to 22 questions there is no secret about it. Everyone knows.
Here’s the thing. The introspection that comes with my personality is one of my greatest assets. It’s the source of my deepest thoughts, the heart of my creativity, the root of my spirituality, and the depth of my teaching and writing. I can’t think of one good idea or creative insight I’ve had while in a group of people. The best always come to me when I’m alone, usually while running down the trail or cycling down the road, or with my head buried in my journal.
I am a lot like Philip Yancey, who wrote he is “quite content to hole up in a mountain cabin with a stock of books for a week at a time, speaking to no one but the grocery store clerk.”
But here is something else Philip Yancey wrote about his introversion: “I keep leaving home in quest of what happens when the faith I write about in a mountain cabin confronts the real world.”
Like Yancey, I also have to come down from the mountain, unwrap myself from the cozy blanket of solitude, and see how the thoughts and ideas and insights I’ve accumulated work out for real people. I have to share my faith with the outside world.
And I’ll admit I enjoy social interaction more than I let on. I enjoy every conversation with my friend Bob or my brother Carroll; I just forget to initiate it.
Still, if you catch me after one of my solo mountain retreats and ask me what I learned, I may be speechless, in spite of all my introspection. But after a couple of days processing the data I’ll start telling stories. And once I start telling stories I won’t be able to stop, whether we are in class, or at Rosa’s, or cycling, or at work.
This is one of the deepest lessons I have learned about myself in the past few years - I have to resurface and tell what I’ve learned. After my solitude and recharge I need interaction with other people. Even when I fail to seek it out. I need their attentiveness and feedback. It is my heart’s craving to give away what I’ve learned, to share what I know, and I am not happy until I find a way to do that.
In fact, while exploring the idea of a Life Theme I have converged to this phrase: “Give myself away every day.” That is hard to do when I’m sitting by myself, so I’ve learned to enjoy my time with people.
And here is another idea about this. Just last week Cyndi told me when I spend too much time with myself, my writing gets very small. She said I need to be around people during the day in order to have significant things to share. She’s a smart woman.
I believe that is the heart of what God was telling me last June when he warned, “Don’t find Me, standing alone.”
While I prefer, and seek out, solitude, it’s hard to change the world that way. It isn’t big enough to merely be true to myself. I want to be like Jesus, and He gave Himself away to people every day.
QUESTION: How do give away what you learn?
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32