I made an astounding new discovery in class last week. Well, that makes it sound like nobody knew it before I discovered it, but you know what I mean. I learned something that I’d never heard before, but which made so much sense of things I’ve observed.
We were talking of personality tests that one might use in pre-marital counseling, and our professor told us this interesting insight into extroverts and introverts. Extroverts gain energy by either being with people or by activity. Introverts, on the other hand, gain energy by being alone or spending time with a few close people, or by resting.
Now, I’m used to thinking of extroverts and introverts in terms of their need for people interaction – extroverts need lots of people; introverts need few people (notice I do not say no people). Extroverts tend to interact by saying whatever comes to their minds (called verbal processing), and introverts tend to mull things over before speaking (called internal processing).
So this bit about activity was totally new knowledge for me. Being an introvert myself, I’ve often wondered why some people can’t just rest, why they always have to be doing something. Or was something wrong with me, that at the end of a day I just wanted to read or think or sit and watch the clouds instead of exercising or working in the garden or cleaning the house? Am I just lazy?
These are broad strokes of the brush. I don’t think these things are always true, of course. My older sister is an extrovert who loves to sit and read during vacations, for example. I know people who are introverts who want to go and “do” on their vacations. Some of these things are certainly learned behaviors from how we grew up.
But I just had never believed that someone could genuinely rest by doing. It seems counter-intuitive to me. So this hypothesis really helps me to understand some of the folks in my life. This hypothesis helps me to see myself more accurately as well. There is legitimacy to my own need to just sit and think, or to sit and observe.
Let me just say this here: if I have ever made you feel like you’re not “OK” because you don’t “rest,” but you know that you actually get re-energized by activity, please forgive me. I don’t mean to say that we don’t all need places of quietness in our lives; I think that place of quietness is imperative to learn to know the still small voice of our Shepherd. But even a quiet heart is frequently a place of activity – of active listening, of active conversation with our Lord, of active thanksgiving and worship. And a quiet heart apparently can be cultivated while you’re mowing the lawn or cooking dinner.
It kind of makes me wonder… was Joseph an introvert? Known for being a dreamer, known for not spending much time with his brothers, maybe he was. What about Moses? Or Elijah? Or John the Baptist? It seems like Paul must have been an extrovert (he almost always had people with him), and Jesus too. Activity abounded in their lives.
It’s not like the Bible says “thou shalt be extroverted” or “thou shalt be introverted,” although we might wish it would. Probably very little would be accomplished in this world without the vigorous work of many extroverts. And our souls might go dry without the dreaming reality of the introverted life. Yet we are all called to do good works, and we are all called to commune with God.
I speak, of course, of lives redeemed by God, where the goal of each person is to walk in the power of the Holy Spirit to love God and love others. Both personalities have plenty of room for selfishness, bitterness, and pride. But like many other gifts in the Body of Christ, we can celebrate our differences here, where one is a hand and one is an eye and both build up the Body of Christ as they bear witness to the world of a great Redeemer. Too often we spend too much time regretting or judging our differences on this matter.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts on this. Are you an extrovert, or an introvert? Do you feel valued as such? Do you think what I heard is an accurate conclusion about extroverts and introverts?