I am a classic introvert.
Being around a lot of people I don’t know totally drains me. I need substantial daily doses of quiet in order to survive. I’m introspective. I learn best through observation. I am friendly, but I hate small talk. If I had my way small talk would be forever eradicated in favor of deep talk. So what if I just met you? I don’t want to talk about the weather. What I’d really like is to say is, Hi, I’m Anisha. Tell me about your most rewarding and most regretful life experiences, and what you learned from them.
I used to think schmoozey business meetings were my own personal version of hell, but then I became a missionary and realized it’s actually evangelism.
Don’t misunderstand, I really love people. I do. It’s the whole reason I signed up for this missions life – I want to see the whole world set free to live whole, healed, thriving lives.
But I can’t do this in the typical extroverted missionary fashion. If I’m going to survive I’ve learned I need to…
Embrace who I am. I could pray (heck, I have prayed) that God would make me an extrovert, “Lord, change me and make me bold!” and all that, or I could embrace who God actually made me to be. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of change or boldness, but I’ve learned that while I’m busy agonizing and feeling ashamed over who I’m not God is right there waiting and wanting to use who I am.
Get concentrated. Instead of trying to gather and manage a large circle of people to minister to, I do much better if I focus on developing deep and meaningful relationships with a handful. I can be friendly with a lot of people, but I don’t need to force myself to try to have lots of actual friendships. 3 or 4 committed, deep relationships are about my limit. I do much better privately mentoring a few rather than publically preaching before many.
Start and build relationships in ways that fill my emotional tank. I used to do street evangelism, but that level of unmitigated shallow social engagement only leaves me angry and depressed by the end of the day. Instead, I can spend an afternoon one on one in my kitchen baking cookies with a teenager and having deep and honest conversations about God, school, and that boy she’s interested in. Crafts and photography (It’s not fancy. I use my phone camera) are other good options. I don’t have to do evangelism to engage with people. It is completely possible to meet and build relationships in ways that I actually enjoy and won’t totally and immediately tap me out.
Pick team/missions community jobs that have a built in escape. I’m a better host and cook than a facilitator. Being the host allows me to serve the people around me, but also provides me with an escape. I can break away to clean the dishes or re-fill the kettle for hot water, rather than having to stay in the middle of a large group initiating chit chat or directing conversation topics.
Use my talents. As people who generally try to avoid the center of attention, introverts are usually naturally good listeners. We also tend to do well working independently. For me, writing is my most enjoyable independent work. Combined with a love for people and meaningful conversations, my ministry project became writing life stories. It turns out, people want to be heard and understood. Writing someone’s story is a direct route to the heart. Introverts bring valuable talents to the mission field that may fall outside of normal or expected missions activities, and so extends the reach of ministry.
Schedule regular alone time. It’s no secret – introverts find a lot of social interaction very draining. And missions in general just seems to come with a boat load of social expectations. I can do the extrovert stuff as long as I have sufficient time to nourish my introvert self. Needing time alone isn’t selfish; it keeps me joyfully serving. No matter what, I’m going to need a good chunk of alone time most days. So I plan for this and try to make sure I have time after lunch every day to just chill. As much as possible, I avoid planning activities during this time and send my son to his room for “quiet time”. It doesn’t always work out, and there have been weeks that pass without any down time, but I know that I need it and will quickly flake out without it. Including quiet time as a scheduled part of my day helps to keep it a priority.
There you have it – how I survive as an introvert on the mission field. I’m certainly not your typical extrovert missionary, but thankfully I don’t have to try to be. God uses introverts too.