A Home for Your Introversion

Photo Thanks to Dana and Peter

Photo Thanks to Dana and Peter

I was talking with my big brother, Patrick Winfield, weeks ago. I had been on his heart and he followed the rule that when somebody is on your heart for a couple days, you call. Among our words was this notion of our uniqueness.

We talked about personality. Winfield is an extravert. He’s orange. I’m an introvert. I’m gold. The colors come from some staff exercise he had us conduct years back at Sweet Holy Spirit, where we picked pictures and found out our colors and the associations with them. The colors became an abbreviation we use in our chats. We’re identified by our pictures, by our colors.

While we were talking, we got down to something specific: people need a home for their introversion. People like me. People like my sister, Vicky, Winfield’s wife. Introverts need space, created room, to be at home.

Sometimes we forget this. We, as introverts, impacted by our peopled calendars and social days, forget that we need that space to cultivate quiet. We require solitude for the sake of our selves.

But this isn’t just true for introverts. Introverts need that cultivation space for personality maintenance. Everybody needs that quiet room for the sake our the soul. Parker Palmer talks about the internal space being created in activism and not only quiet. Howard Thurman talks about the soul need for centering down. Centering down and being active don’t prevent solitude; they can foster it. In other words, it doesn’t have to be quiet around you for your soul to have quiet.

But the soul, the interior, unseen part of you that is really you, needs space to be free, space to be home. That home may be a physical place or an internal place. It may be in a broad sweeping valley; it may overlook a breathtaking mountain; it may be deep within your consciousness.

That home is for the introverted and the extraverted. Where do you feel at home? Where does your heart move when it needs relief or quiet or calm? Have you given your heart that space lately?

Advent Post #25

“Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months…” (Luke 1:56)

I love that Mary lingered with Elizabeth. She did what most of us don’t know how to do or don’t take the time to do. Mary and Elizabeth practiced a spiritual discipline in their waiting together. There was probably moments of personal solitude, likely times of conversation and eating and exercising, walking from here to there.

But they were together and they were waiting. For Elizabeth’s delivery. And to get closer to Mary’s. They were waiting to see God bring what God said would come.

I imagine that could have been a time of great turmoil and great anticipation. Any time God is at the quiet work of forming the unseen, it’s both thrilling and unbearable. You know God’s working, you sense it, but you can’t see the full product. You can only wonder if that work will look this way or that, if the fruit of God’s toil will “sleep through the night” or if you yourself will be calm or frenzied when it finally comes.

Will I be equipped? Will I fail? Can I support him through it? What good will I be to her when she needs me? How will we make it?

I don’t think we have those answers when we first want them. The answers to our questions almost never come at our desired speed. We want God to act more quickly than God does. We want to know more than we do. We want answers when all we’re faced with are more questions.

What’s the consolation? What sustains us through the quiet darknesses of the nights before. The night before Christmas. The night before a surgery. The night before a meeting. The night before a move. What helps us manage?

I think the answer is in Luke’s description. Mary and Elizabeth stayed together. So simple. They were together, befriending one another through the unseen things. They were present to one another while they waited for whatever God would do. They monitored one another’s progress, one another’s souls, one another’s care.

Perhaps the presence of others is all it boils down to at moments like those these women lived through. After all, time doesn’t move any faster. One teacher showed me that five minutes is the same whether or not you’re looking at the clock, even if it feels differently. What helps? Another person. Mary staying with Elizabeth. My friend falling into a chair in my office. The text that was a reminder that I really wasn’t alone. The prayer someone had been praying when I couldn’t reach God myself. All examples of someone staying with someone else.

May this Christmas be an opportunity for you to be present to others, and may you never feel alone. May you feel, in a good way, surrounded by grace, mercy, and all the other gifts that make life life.

Those Well-Fed Hopes

This is a prayer from my journal, from an undated entry, and it’s up here in case I need to return to it.  I believe I was relinquishing some things around writing at the time, but I can utter these words as I try to become a Christian:

Help me let go of those dreams, those well-fed hopes, stubborn desires even though they came mostly from places of sincerity and love and, perhaps, mystery.  Grant me the freedom to choose some other life, to set some different course.  Make me fearless in that choosing.  Inspire me as I close and choose and change.

Personal Retreats, pt. 2

Yesterday I started into a series of reflections, after I returned from my own personal retreat.  Today’s topic is what not to do.  These posts come both from my personal experience and from good reading of people like Richard Foster, Ruth Haley-Barton, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, Howard Thurman, and Dallas Willard.  They’re great writers and they point me to other insightful practioners as well.

Now, on to what not to do during these personal times you set aside for reflection, pause, and listening to God–in no particular order of importance.

  1. Don’t crowd your time.  If you do, you’ll inevitably end up being busy and hearing nothing.  A friend told me a year or so ago that his spiritual guide told him that it was perfectly acceptable to sleep during his 24-hour retreat.  Doing nothing is much better than doing too many things during a retreat.
  2. Don’t check email.  In fact, don’t do anything that you’d normally do.  If your retreat is compacted down to the size of less than a day, why would you check email and texts during that small frame anyway?  Leave those contacts for later.  Pay attention to contacting Someone else.
  3. Don’t rush.  Eat carefully, tasting your food.  Try to walk with more patience.  Turn your head and see the neighborhood.  It helps you develop gratitude when you’ve resisted the speed and pull of any and everything.  It’ll be unsettling because you’ll hear that little person in you screaming about how fast things are going around you, how far behind you’ll get if you don’t take it up a notch.  But close your ears to that voice, and try to hear another.
  4. Don’t go without a goal.  You need to expect something.  You need to have something in mind, some thing before you.  It’s good to go with questions that you want God to answer, decisions you’d like to make or be closer to having them made after your time.  Because these spaces are so spacious, you’ll likely come away with some clarity.  Your head may be clearer.  You just may hear God’s voice in that half-day retreat or in those fifteen minutes of silence.
  5. Don’t wear ear plugs.  I thought about wearing ear plugs on my Amtrak ride.  But I resisted.  I really did want to hear and see things that I wouldn’t generally see.  I think it helped.  It opened me to those little things I take for granted.  I saw the faces of the coach attendants when they came and asked for our tickets.  I heard the guy snoring when I kept reading that same paragraph six times because I couldn’t concentrate until I laughed at him.  And trust me, there are ways to get people to leave you alone without wearing plugs in your ears.
  6. Don’t set your alarm.  Whether it’s your alarm in the morning or your clock signaling you to get to the next thing.  You need room at a retreat.  Obviously if you only have 30 minutes for your mini-retreat, you need to be aware of time, but you’ll set your expectations accordingly in that case.  Otherwise, give yourself space.  Don’t feel pushed by the requirement to be somewhere else at some other time.  Try to be right where you are.
  7. Don’t do what the woman in this video did.

Would you add anything?

Personal Retreats, pt. 1

Marking out time in your day, week, month, and year for God to speak to you can be a direct way to spiritual growth.  Not that spiritual growth can be discerned easily.  It can’t be quantified the way pencil marks on a wall can track a person’s height or the way a scale can, however accurately, reflect a person’s weight.  Spiritual growth is harder to notice.  It takes into account the interior and the exterior, what we feel and what we do with those feelings.  Growth includes how we’ve thought and learned as well as how we’ve led from those thoughts.

I suppose I could spend some time with my assumption in the first sentence–for God to speak to you–but I won’t.  Go with me on that one.

There are ways that people of faith mark out time for growth.  It generally includes, among other things, acts of service, participation in congregational worship, and celebration of the sacraments (though the language of sacraments won’t be consistent across all Christian denominations).  More internal gestures would include praying, studying sacred passages, devotionals, and giving.  A retreat is another example, one that can involve people or be done on your own.  I just finished a personal retreat, and here are a few points about retreats, whether with groups or personal.

  1. Take the retreat anywhere you have space, time, and resources.  You don’t have to leave town.  When I spoke with my spiritual director about needing to focus on prayer and about the upcoming retreat too many months before May, she encouraged me to separate space in my day or my week at that time.  She said that I could build retreats into my schedule and not wait for one.  So, take the retreat in the afternoon, right before your busiest time in the day, on your commute, when you have family around who can assist.
  2. They need to be planned with enough space for you to hear.  Hearing presupposing listening, which is critical.  Retreats have many purposes.  Some people go on teambuilding retreats.  I’m talking about retreats where the explicit and hoped for point is to listen to what God may be saying.  You need “planned” time to sit, in solitude, and listen.  Solitude is hard.  If you’re not used to that word, it means doing nothing but listening.  It means being quiet before God.  It’s not prayer but it’s related.  It’s being still and waiting.
  3. Prepare yourself for all kinds of strange things.  I have a least two fun stories from every one of my personal retreats.  It’s a practice that I’ve taken one every other year for the last six.  On this last one, an old woman pulled me next to her and told me that God had given her a message for me.  Now, in my spiritual history and present that’s not strange, but in the context of my paying attention to God, it was timely–and a little interesting.  It was at the beginning of my time and gave me another reason to say, “God, okay, my ears are open.”  You may experience spiritual pain on these things.  You may revisit hardships.  You may remember or be consumed by temptations or lies about who you are.  It may not be joyful, some of these spaces set aside for listening.  It may be hard.  But growth is happening.
  4. When you return, rebuild your plans for your spiritual growth.  I came home thinking about what the next year needs to look like: my monthly spiritual direction, the idea of connecting to a group of pastors, setting in concrete conversations with a friend or two regularly, talking more to people I trust about what’s inside.  I thought about my denomination’s version of continuing education reports which, I’m pleased, they revised to include the important dimension of spiritual growth and not only reading, learning, and educational experiences.  I’m considering some of the ways I need to structure my time so that I’m practicing what I’ve learned, so that I can grow deeper and stronger, so I can hear God clearer.
  5. Tell people who love you what you’re doing.  Those good people can ask you helpful questions.  They can support you while you’re gone.  They can help fill in the gaps you left when you departed.  Tell people.  They may talk with you when you return or pray for you while you’re away.  While you don’t need to take everybody with you on a retreat, in a sense, you need others to come along.

The next post will be about what not to do on these retreats.  The one after will be about things to do.  Now, a question for you, if you’re in the answering mood.  What kinds of things do you do to hear and listen to God?