When I came across the post “14 Ways to Handle a Christian Introvert,” I laughed, I cried, I cheered, and went Yes! Someone understands!
Without meaning to take anything away from the original post and its author, I present my own version: Ways to Handle a Christian Introvert in a Small Group (or Home Group, Church Group, Bible Study, Sunday School, whatever you call it at your particular institution). There may be some overlap between the lists, but generally I’ve tried to use a different perspective.
1. You don’t have to point out that we’re quiet.
Trust me, we know. There is no need to act proud of us, or scandalized, when we do break a silence. This can make us self-conscious and less willing to speak up next time. Introverts don’t always have to overcome shyness or social anxiety or fears of public speaking. If we have something to say, don’t worry—we will say it. The Devil is not holding our tongues captive. We just want to be sure that what we say is worthwhile. Thank us for the input, but please don’t act shocked, even as a joke, or praise us like we’re a puppy being housebroken. We know what we’re doing, and we don’t need another reminder that we sometimes seem weird to others.
2. People have layers, just like onions and parfaits.
No need to freak out if you see another side of us. Many introverts have outgoing, vibrant personalities that only emerge when they are fully comfortable. Comments like “I’ve never heard you laugh before!” or “I didn’t know you could be so friendly!” could send all that fun and vivaciousness right back into its panic room. By all means, join in with our dancing, joking, pranking, and other silliness, but let us not speak of it!
Once, I was at a get-together thing, where I was talking to the few people I knew, introvert-style. A pop station was playing in the background and I couldn’t resist bopping to the beat a little because I loved the song so much. Someone pointed it out (“Uh oh, Emily’s dancing!”) and then, instead of feeling comfortable and lively, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.
3. God hears the unspoken prayers.
There is great benefit in praying out loud, both for the one praying and the one receiving prayer. But for some of us, praying out loud may not always feel genuine, and may even be as nerve-wracking as public speaking. When a group is taking turns praying out loud, don’t judge the person who opts out. The person with his/her head bowed silently is not counting the seconds until it’s over, or communing with demons. If we feel like praying out loud, we will, but God hears either way. Please don’t put added pressure on us—the pressure is already there—and don’t act blown away if we do pray out loud. Again, that will just make us self-conscious and less willing to repeat the action.
4. Give us a minute.
Many introverts take a little longer to decide on opinions, responses, and actions. Assuming there are no strict time constraints, try to work in some pauses to give us space to enter the conversation if we feel like it (“if we feel led,” in Christianese). Before moving on to the next topic or point, make sure everyone has had a chance to contribute, and ask if anyone has anything to add.
Even in purely recreational settings, give us time to make decisions and consider our options when possible (not always the case). Try not to spring a sudden decision on us and expect an immediate response. Especially if we don’t know all the options.
To an introvert, the real answer to “What do you want to do tonight?” may be “Drink a Guinness by myself and finally start watching Game of Thrones,” but in the context of “Bible-Study Girls’ Night,” that might not be an acceptable option. If everyone either wants to go to a coffee shop (groan) or to a movie or out on a walk, it’s okay to ask the introvert to choose from among those three, as long as he or she knows what the choices are.
(Depending on who you ask, he/she might still choose to go home and drink beer and watch GoT. Hypothetically, of course…)
5. Please don’t call on us to answer a question.
This isn’t something I’ve experienced in small-group settings so much as classroom settings—even as an adult. Regardless, it needs to be addressed. Talking for the sake of talking goes against just about everything in an introvert’s nature. If we feel like we have something to contribute, we will share generously. But a lack of noise from our mouths does not mean we’re not engaged in the conversation; quite the opposite. We are listening, we are pondering, we might even be forming a question or comment. But our version of “participation” does not necessarily involve vocalizing.
6. If we are talking, DO NOT INTERRUPT.
I cannot stress this one enough. Unless you need to say “Help, I’m bleeding!” or “I smell smoke/gas/napalm/a dead body,” DO NOT INTERRUPT AN INTROVERT.
Really, don’t interrupt anyone, because that’s just rude, but especially not an introvert.
If what you have to say is really important, especially if it’s a response to the first half of our sentence, it can wait the extra ten seconds until we finish that sentence. Introverts need a lot more thought and energy (both mental and physical) to gather and express their words, so please don’t throw us off by interrupting. If we’re making the effort to voice a thought, then we think it’s pretty important. By interrupting, you unintentionally imply that what we’re saying is unimportant and has no value. And again, that just makes it harder to speak up next time, and you may lose trust or respect in the long run.
This definitely doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask questions about what we said, ask for clarification, rephrase it to understand it better, or compare it to your own experiences/thoughts/opinions. Please do that, actually. Just wait your turn.
7. If you want to get to know us, read our blogs.
Yeah, this one is more self-indulgent than the rest, but I know I’m not the only small-group-attending-introverted-Christian who has a blog. Like many of “my people,” I express myself better in writing, and for every word I speak, I write about a thousand. If you’re really interested in an introvert in your life, and you know they have a blog, read it. Maybe not regularly, but check it out. What you find may surprise you.
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