I went to church yesterday and spent a whole chunk of the service silently weeping, whilst all around me people were singing songs of praise to God.
Yes, I know, God is worthy of praise at all times. Absolutely. Now that we’ve got this out of the way, do you think you could stop preaching at me and listen? and try and understand what it was like for me, and why? Thank you.
So why was I sitting there and weeping silently instead of standing with everyone and singing?
I guess on one level I could answer this with: because Jesus said to come to him if we’re weary and that he would give us rest, and I don’t think he requires me to come to him in a pretence at some kind of joy and jubilation that I’m totally not feeling right now, I think he’s perfectly okay with me coming to him as I am, with my weariness.
But why was I so weary? Because from the moment I walked into the building, people had talked at me. Yes, for introverts sometimes the problem is with people being too friendly, too chatty. Someone sees you and says “how are you” and you try to give them some kind of truthful answer and you say “tired” or “frazzled” and they immediately ask why and the answer is kind of complicated and there’s only five minutes till the service starts… or they talk at you, just chucking in your direction whatever they happen to have on their minds at that particular moment, and you’re desperately looking for an escape route, a not-too-rude way of ending the conversation – because for introverts it’s actually really hard work to take in a whole load of verbal input, and if I’m going into church I know there’s going to be a whole load of verbal input in the service, so I need to clear my mind beforehand, not to get my mind filled with a whole load of other stuff, most of which is of no interest to me anyway, because these super-chatty people aren’t the types to be sensitive to your eyes glazing over or to the fact that you haven’t indicated an interest by asking any questions…
One thing I sorely miss from my days in the Anglican church is the custom of having a few minutes’ silence at the beginning of the service – so at least you have time to recover from that chatty stage, and to get your mind focused on God. Being exposed to ceaseless chatter and then moving straight into singing – how can I sing to God from the heart when my mind is buzzing?
It’s not always as bad as it was last night. Usually it isn’t quite that bad. Partly this depends, of course, on what state of mind I’m in when I arrive – how frazzled/tired/stressed I might be as I walk in the door. Partly it depends on the people I bump into – thankfully, not everyone is of the over-chatty ilk. Last night I was very frazzled when I walked in, then the person welcoming people at the door was of the super-chatty types that splurge a whole load of stuff at you for no apparent reason, then I made the mistake of sitting next to someone who, after being [genuinely] sorry to hear you’re tired/frazzled immediately proceeds to tell you in detail about their day… So by the time the singing started, I was at the end of my resources. Sometimes if I’m just feeling tired or down I force myself to stand up and sing, because I know it can actually help me come out of the down, praising God and singing truth about him can actually reinvigorate me. But last night I was at a much lower point than that. So I sat there with my eyes shut and wept to God. And I could have absolutely hugged our pastor when at the end of that stage, instead of – as we usually do – moving straight on to the next thing, he said: let’s spend a few moments being quiet before God.
I just wish we did more of that, more regularly. I wish my needs as an introvert were recognised more – because it’s not just me, there are lots of us around. And when the service is geared so much to what works for extroverts, the indirect message I could get is that I’m not accepted as I am – but I know that’s not the intention, so I don’t take it personally. There was another church where I felt that I really wasn’t accepted as I am, but in my current congregation my general feeling is that it’s totally okay to be me. The stuff about not having silence in the service is, I think, simply because of a lack of awareness of the needs of introverts, not because of non-acceptance. And that’s one reason why I feel it’s worth bothering to blog about these issues – to raise awareness.*
And of course I’m sure this works both ways – there are churches where there’s a lot of silence and stuff which would be stressful for extroverts. Somehow we need to find ways of being part of the body together, not overdoing one side or the other. Because we’re called to love one another – not just the ones who are like us, but everyone.
*If you are with me on this and want to help me raise awareness then please use the “share” feature below, link to this post on blogs/social networking sites where you’re a member, tweet it if you’re on Twitter – help spread the word.