I always imagined that being an introvert was something I’d grow out of.
As a kid, I always wished I were more fun and outgoing. In general, I was happier to curl up in my room with a good book or spend hours alone with my horse at the barn than go to a sleepover with my friends.
However, in the classic college spirit of reinventing myself, in my college years I took to heart that oh-so-popular advice that I needed to “come out of my shell.” I tried to push myself out of my comfort zone whenever I could. I introduced myself to classmates. I showed up alone to parties thrown by kids from the Catholic Student Center so I could make some friends who shared my faith. I joined the college swing dance club with a friend and snuck underage into New Orleans blues clubs. I got a temp job in New Jersey one summer to help pay for school. I even spent time modeling in New York City.
To a great extent, I am incredibly thankful that I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone during those years. I grew in my faith. I made lifelong friends. I met my future husband. In intentionally trying connect with people and try new things, I learned so much about myself and about the world. I even began to learn a few of those important lessons in how a “yes” can be brave and how a “no” can be even braver.
As I grew in my faith in college though, I fell into the spiritual trap of treating going out of my comfort zone like it was a virtue.
Fast-forward a few years and (more than a few) children into motherhood. That’s when treating extroversion like a virtue finally made me crash into the truth.
As a mother, I struggled badly with guilt that I only had one..two..three small children and I couldn’t handle this event or that trip without awful anxiety. I pushed myself hard–often to exhausted and angry tears all-round by the end of the day–because I felt I should be able to handle this or that. Later, I felt guilty when I didn’t sign up my children for all of the activities they asked me about. I felt selfish for not wanting to go to every party or event, when my husband and the kids seemed almost always happy to get out of the house. I suffered deeply with feeling like a terrible disappointment to my husband when the children were finally in bed at the end of the day, and I most often wanted desperately to be alone in my room or go right to bed myself. I hated that I couldn’t seem to handle my life, despite all of my praying and all of my work and all of my virtuous extroverting.
Much of my problem was that I was trying to be something other than who God made me. Let me tell you, the enemy jumped onto the back of the natural discouragement that chasing after extroversion as a virtue produced, and it brought me to my knees with confusion and anguish about why my life was so overwhelming to me.
I had just finished praying in bed for God’s help one particularly rough evening, when I started scrolling through my phone and saw an ad on Amazon for Introverted Mom: Your Guide to More Calm, Less Guilt, and Quiet Joy, a new book by blogger Jamie Martin. As I read the description of the book, I instantly felt like sirens started going off in my head: CLICK ‘BUY NOW.’ THAT ONE. IT’S FOR YOU.
The book came in a few days later, and it was a blessed game changer for me.
A God infinitely wiser than I am, Who loves me more than I love myself, and Who sees farther and knows more than I can even fathom…is the God who made me. He thought long and hard about everything about me, and lovingly and precisely knit my quirks and gifts and personality together with more care and joy than I can imagine. He was so excited to give me as a gift to my future husband and family. And He looked ahead and saw that my family were just what I needed to bless me, fill me, and challenge me in all the right ways.
And that’s the truth.
The truth is that God didn’t make a mistake making me an introvert. I am just what I should be, and my husband and my children need exactly that. I’m not perfect, but as my dear friend Jill once reminded me on a particularly tough day, He doesn’t need me to be perfect before He can use me to bless my family or others.
I will never know all the gifts I am giving to my family. But I can certainly be keep an eye out for a few gifts I can see right now. Perhaps we have less on the calendar than other families, but my kids have plenty of unstructured time to play outside and read. Perhaps my quieter nature is just what one or another of my children need to feel most connected to me. Perhaps the way I prioritize resting and bedtime routines ensures we all get as much rest as we need. And even extroverts need to know how to step back and recharge; maybe watching me do what I need to be my best will give my children permission to pursue that in a healthy way in their own lives.
Reverencing my God-given temperament and personality myself was the start, but journeying into that in a mature, healthy way as a married couple has been huge. God’s timing is awe-inspiring. After five years of working on prayer and regular communication as a couple through our involvement in the Domestic Church movement, this spring was the first time Michael and I were finally both able to acknowledge, pray and discuss together what I need in order to be my best for our family.
It took me taking the real me seriously before my marriage could finally take me seriously. And I’ll be honest, it took me hitting a wall–in an ugly way neither of us could ignore–before we were able to enter into this idea of honoring God, our marriage, and our family by honoring how God made me. I think that sometimes God permits us to crash into a wall of truth because it’s the only way we’ll ever wake up enough to face it.
So, I give you this blog post–written on a “Mom’s Day Out” that we schedule occasionally for me now–as a real-life example of how we’re learning to honor who and I am what I need so I can love best. As carefully and selectively as we have tried to discern each event or commitment, November is still very busy for us this year, with holiday-related extra work for me and–more importantly–several weeks of six days at home with the kids while Michael is working extra.
I have almost an entire day alone today. I went to the adoration chapel, and I’m currently at my favorite local coffee shop writing this blog post and hopefully one or two others. Also–chuckle if you will–I’m getting my hair done later.:) These are things that refresh and relax me–even pamper me in this season of life. And there is so much peace in knowing that truly in this case, something that is a good for me is also a good for my family. It is taking Michael, my mom, and a babysitter to make the all-day part happen, but it’s happening. I’ve learned that it’s OK to be a go-getter about taking care of yourself.
In Introverted Mom, Jamie talks about how Jesus perfectly blended extroversion and introversion. It had never occurred to me that Jesus was anything but an extrovert. He loved people. He had great crowds around him all the time. But when I read the Scriptures again with Jamie pointing it out, I finally noticed all those passages that mention that Jesus was undeniably a go-getter about getting away for rest sometimes.
Tired moms justifying never taking care of themselves say, “They’re only little for a little while” and “These years will go by so fast!” But Jesus only had three years of ministry, and He still took breaks so that He wouldn’t break down.
Now, of course, even when He tried to get away for a few days, the people found Him sometimes and interrupted Him. (That sounds familiar, says the mother of five…) But he consistently went away for rest when He needed to. Being interrupted when you’re trying to recharge and never even trying to recharge are two very different things.
All of this to say…if you’re an introverted mother, take heart, know you didn’t get the short end of the stick, and be gentle with yourself. God doesn’t make mistakes.
Such a good post!! I’ve struggled mightily with this as well, especially with a much more extroverted husband. I hate feeling like the bad guy when I just cannot add or say yes to a social event or activity or project, particularly hosting, which I know bums him out. I also can relate to feeling like I *should* be able to handle my life/stuff/kids better, and have a hard time not comparing myself to other women who seem to have it way harder and are doing it all just fine! I feel like a wimp! But it makes sense that introversion plays a big role. How did you determine together what tendencies were truly introversion/needs that weren’t being met, and areas you really needed to grow/let go? I have a hard time parsing that out. I feel like I should *try* being more open and generous and willing to host people, but I often find even the idea of it daunting and exhausting. But I still wonder if it’s a defect in me that I ought to work on, slowly. 🤷
So beautiful, Erin. I’m an extrovert but my husband is an introvert and we constantly struggle to find our healthy balance. But I agree that generally slowing down is best for families. It is a hard balance when you feel you should be community building too. Glad you got the day to yourself!!