Monday, October 6, 2014

Shyness, introversion and ministry

During the year I have listened to some wonderful interviews on the ABC Conversations program with Richard Fidler (lovely to fill in time on a long run).

There are great stories and interesting things about different people.  Recently an interview was with Sian Prior who has written Shy, A Memoir. Despite being an accomplished performer and journalist, she has suffered from shyness all her life.

Listening to it brought back many memories of my own experiences and how we learn to function with shyness in the world.

Some of these include:
  • Never liking children’s parties in primary school and often choosing to spend time with the host mother rather than the other children.
  • Hating giving talks up the front of class in high school, and being unable to stretch a book review talk to the required 2 mins.
  • Struggling to walk up to groups and join in a conversation.
  • Only really having one or two close friends at a time, rather than a lot of friends.
  • Being quite happy with my own company and quite contentedly enjoying a good book and some silence.
Then it made me ponder the reality of being a shy person and being in ministry.

Much of my natural shyness I have had to overcome in ministry:
  • While I struggle with it, I will walk up to new people and introduce myself.
  • I still find breaking into groups of people hard and am more likely to be seen standing on my own at church wondering who to approach.
  • I have learnt to lead services, give talks and speak up the front with ease and comfort – this is still astonishing to me.
However it has made me realise that shyness, and her related sister, introversion, do come at a cost. My husband is not shy, but is introverted.  At times, I am both.  Both of us need silence at times.  We both need to ‘veg out’ and not talk at the end of busy days before we have energy to talk together.  We both cherish silence but need to keep remembering realise that a house with 3 children will never be quiet.  We both want to be hospitable and have an open house, but know we have limits in how we can do so in a helpful way for others yet also for ourselves.

When we talk about ensuring about ministry is sustainable for the long term, it includes rest and holidays and days off, but it also means we need to ensure we don’t so overload ourselves with people that we are unable to care for ourselves, each other and our family. Some of the things we have found work for us are:
  • We do not host Sunday lunches. Sunday is busy enough with morning and evening church, and having people over for lunch means that there is no break in the day to recharge.
  • We try to make sure school holidays have no busy evenings. Evening meetings and catch ups mean we usually have 3-4 nights a week automatically taken up, and at times it’s 6-7 nights. Breaking the cycle every school holidays is a chance to re-set a bit and take a breather.
  • We share our calendars online. That means we can both see when things are getting too full and we need stop booking in more things.
  • I have to plan my days with ‘free-time’ to enable me to get through the evenings. Sometimes it feels decadent making myself put my feet up with a cup of tea for an hour or two in the early afternoon, but it means I can manage the rest of the day so much better.
  • We have to make a concerted effort to accept each other’s limitations in this area. When one of us cannot do more, we both have to respect that and change things accordingly.
I find it odd that people think I am not a shy person. I am definitely still shy. I just manage it reasonably well in public.

What about you?


Andrew said...

Hi Wendy,

Have you come across the book Introverts in the Church? Can't recommend it highly enough - would suggest it as mandatory reading for anyone in a pastoral care role! Also very useful for people with introverted tendencies trying to make sense of how they fit into "church life" and ministry.

Tamie said...

I've become stacks more introverted since living in another culture, I suspect because normal things take so much more energy, and the interactions that would normally be energising are fraught with awkwardness.

I like how you talk about planned free time - with Arthur out most evenings during the semester we've instituted 'rest time' for an hour or two in the arvo (generally however long Elliot sleeps for!)

Rachelle said...

Thanks for this post Wendy, it's nice to hear about a shared experience. I am also shy and introverted and often find morning tea after church a difficult time (and morning tea at college sometimes too!). I've wondered about my usefulness in up-front ministry because of this. Thanks for the encouragement in this post: that I can push myself, and that I shouldn't feel guilty about needing some down time.

Wendy said...

Thanks for that reference Andrew - I'll look it up!

Tamie - we have regular "rest time" here, which since sleeps were dropped many years ago has become "screen time". It's still clearly to give me a break time!

Rachelle - a woman after my own heart! I found morning tea at college hard too - so many people...

Thanks for all your comments!

Jean said...

Yep, here it's screen time for the kids combined with a rest for me! I need a quiet time during the day just to get through a normal morning and evening, let alone an evening with ministry, so I totally get this. Thanks Wendy.

Jane Lister said...

My husband is introverted and at the end of the day we need to check in with each other, get on the same page about tomorrow and have some down time alone after that, which makes things difficult when guests stay late after dinner. So Steve has started explaining this to guests when they arrive, asking them to leave by 9.30pm and then setting an alarm in his phone. At first I thought this was embarrassing but now it's just our normal thing and nobody minds at all.

Wendy said...

Ah - Jean, another like minded soul!

Jane - that's a great idea. We do a similar thing, although not as obviously - which would be a good idea sometimes. My husband just says, "Ok, let's pray before you leave" - and that wraps things up well! I'll keep the phone idea in mind, he'll like that.