March 12, 2015

The Introverted Pastor's Wife

One of the most helpful catalysts for growth in ministry has been learning myself and how God made me, and not only learning but embracing who God made me to be.

It seems to me that every pastor's wife enters ministry by ceremonially placing the "ideal pastor's wife" mantle on herself and then spends far too long afterward stumbling under its weight. I was no exception. This role presses and squeezes relentlessly, which I've come to count as a good thing, even more so as I've discovered who I'm uniquely created to be and allowed God's gracious sanctification in my life.
When it comes to embracing who I am, my personality has been the stubborn, lone holdout. I am an introvert, and the "ideal pastor's wife" is not, by anyone's standards, including my own, an introvert. Most people desire for their church a pastor's wife (and a pastor, for that matter) who has the inexhaustible ability to be with people, who is gregarious and outgoing, and who can carry any and every social situation. Whether it's a standard others hold or that I've placed it on myself, I don't know, but it's a standard I've had to release and reject in order to embrace who I am and to believe that God has specifically called me to the people and community we serve.

I'm happy to report that I'm learning to love my introvertedness rather than wish it away. This is how:

I remind myself that just because I'm an introvert doesn't mean I don't love people.
Introverts love people just as much as extroverts do, but they are also drained by people and must preserve energy in order to love and serve others well. Recharging, especially with time reflecting and reading the Word and other life-giving books, helps me love people freely and joyfully.

I recharge by being out of social situations, therefore I must make time for recharging. 
No one is going to do this for me except me. My husband says it's like maintaining the proper temperature in a greenhouse for optimal growth. If I'm overloaded with things on my social calendar, I find myself getting angry and bitter toward the very people that I love, which are emotions I try to listen to as signals that I need some down time learning and receiving correction from Jesus. My general rule is that I can only handle one meeting a day with women for counseling-type conversations and 2-3 evening commitments a week. Keeping this rule goes a long way in helping me maintain an "optimal" temperature. I also keep a Sabbath and go off on occasional overnight retreats as reset buttons.

I am in my element in one-on-one conversations. 
Parties and large groups can be overwhelming to me and leave me depleted, but I thrive when I can find one person with which to have a lengthy, deep conversation. This has been super helpful for me to discover, because Sundays at church are large-group gatherings, and I haven't always known what to do with myself on those mornings. Once I realized I'm better at one-on-one's, I began praying each Sunday morning that God would lead me to 2-3 people that I could really lock into, whether a new visitor, someone I want to follow up with from previous conversations, someone that is on my mind, or someone I've been praying for. The goal isn't to fill an uncomfortable space, but to use something I enjoy to bless and minister to others.

I prepare myself for social interactions.
I am not spontaneous with my relationships; I am instead a planner. This has historically been disappointing or mistaken for coldness or disinterest by others, but I've learned that I cannot give the best of myself unless I am precise with the time I give to social relationships. I truly have to parcel out my emotional and relational energy--not just in a day but in a week and month and season--so that I can fulfill my relational and physical commitments. This is not calculating and stingy; this is the way I best fulfill God's calling on my life.

It helps me to have intimate friends.
Because I'm introvert, I tend to be more reserved. Because I'm a pastor's wife, it takes time and security in relationships before I feel safe opening up with my most intimate thoughts and feelings. I value time with those people that I've built those relationships with, and I highly value the women who seek to know me as I am and not as they expect me to be (i.e. an extrovert). I'm also thankful for close friends who draw me out with thoughtful questions.

It's helpful to have time to process and think about things. I get in trouble when I answer quickly.
I've learned never to say yes on the spot, because if I said yes on the spot to everything, I would say yes to things I actually shouldn't do, and I would be overloaded and even begin to dread things I've committed myself to. I need to sift every request through time, prayer, thought, and what I know I can typically handle.

I have trained myself to be like an extrovert when needed.
I never want my introvertedness to become a crutch. I want to enhance the very best of what it means to be introverted, but I also have learned to push myself in healthy ways. By that, I mean I've learned to carry a conversation, to push through the awkward and initiate conversations and relationships, to see social "interruptions" as God's providence, and to seek out social interaction at times when I feel discouraged or alone because I know it will help. Most people are surprised when I tell them I'm an introvert, and I take that as a good thing, because it means I've grown out of being overly reserved.

Being an introvert comes with gifts that can be used for the glory of God. 
I used to wish I had a different personality, namely that I was an extrovert and could go, go, go 24/7. But I've come to recognize the positive characteristics of being an introvert and to value who God has made me. I am a deep thinker, a deep feeler, and a deep question-asker. I wouldn't be who I am if I weren't an introvert. I wouldn't be a counselor, a person sensitive to spiritual needs, or able to welcome and include fellow introverts into the church. And I wouldn't be a writer if I weren't an introvert. Just as being an extrovert is a gift of grace from God, being an introvert is a gift of grace, one that I embrace using for God's glory.

What about you? Are you an introvert? What questions do you have about how to enhance your introvertedness or practically live it out? I'll try and take a stab at them. What have you learned about being both an introvert and a pastor's wife that might prove helpful to all of us? Please share your suggestions and questions in the comment section!