Walking through life with others is an extraordinary gift. I have the privilege to walk with a lot of people- my family and extended family, my immediate community of friends, my extended community (past and present), my colleagues, my clients, my classmates, my students, and all 947 of my friends on Facebook. As an extravert, I thrive on relational connection. It fuels me and energizes me, and it makes me feel full.
I love parties. After hosting a party or gathering, I float around the house smiling and talking incessantly. My husband, an introvert, is usually sweeping or cleaning the kitchen (no complaints here), doing his best to listen and “be present” for my extraverted process while I try not to step in his dirt piles waiting to be dust-busted as I follow him from room to room. I love to re-cap the experience, highlighting great moments, meaningful conversations, awkward interactions, and (my favorite thing) new friendships being formed in my presence. I am like a kid in a candy shop, and for those who know me, a candy shop is just about my favorite place to be.
As much as I thrive on connection, I admit that sometimes my desire for interconnectedness makes things feel forced or disingenuous (the opposite of the environment I am hoping to create). I also know that I can put too much of my identity in being a connecter, taking pride and self-glorification in my successes, while also feeling defeated and even resentful when my attempts don’t go as planned.
I recognize that my tendency toward putting myself in that spot of connecter is a characteristic of my personality; but as I get older, I am becoming more aware that I have put too much emphasis on that role in my life. Recently, I have been trying to be more of a “sit back and soak it in” kind of person instead of always jumping to my go-to reaction of “I need to be at the center of all things”.
My introverted friends and family members have taught me that a lot of really meaningful stuff happens on the edge of things. There are subtle, beautiful conversations that I miss when I sit in the middle of the table and talk the loudest. There are intuitive nods that I brush off in order to stay involved in the most prominent conversation. There are people I overlook because they aren’t talking in front of a crowd or seeking attention, and I never take the time to focus solely on them for even a few minutes to actually try to get to know them.
Jesus could talk to huge crowds, but he seemed to prefer to be relationally intuitive and seek out those who others weren’t actively pursuing because he realized their worth and understood the value of intimate connection. I have had to learn to do that more in my job as a counselor. When they walk in to my office and the door closes, my clients have my full attention (most of the time.. I am still human, of course). And then I get home, and I struggle to give my husband my undivided attention for 5 minutes. I have play therapy sessions with young clients where I track their movements and reflect their feelings, and I can see how valued they feel when someone puts them above all else for a whole hour. Then I come home and rush through a puzzle with my son so I can get on to “bigger” things.
I want to be more than present. I want to be deliberate. I want to be attuned to the needs of others and show people they are important to me by not smiling through their responses to my obligatory question of “how are you?” while I look over their heads to see what else is going on. I want to attend a dinner party and choose to sit at the end of the table, focusing on one meaningful conversation with the person next to me instead of jumping around to 8 or 9 conversations in the middle of the table.
Let’s be honest, no one that I know has time to be deliberate and attentive to 100 people on a weekly basis. Big group events are a great way for me to touch base with a lot of people, especially those who aren’t in my immediate communities. But if those big group events are the only connection point I have for my “home team”, my closest people, then there is a problem. These are the family members and dear friends that come to Josh’s soccer games and plan vacations with us; that intimately know about our struggle in becoming parents because they walked through it with us; that ask me hard questions and think about and pray for my family regularly; that attend my big events, knowing that we may only have one or two moments of genuine connection, but it’s okay because they know me and they trust our relationship. Trusting the relationship is one thing, but taking those relationships for granted is another.
Are there people you cherish who sometimes get lost in the relational shuffle? Are you the extravert who craves big connection or the introvert who prefers the comfort of a few close friends? My challenge to myself (and to any of you who choose to accept it) is this:
Be deliberate in your relationships. Don’t let your personality or your insecurities be an excuse for not fostering deep, meaningful connections and putting effort into those relationships. Whether you are extraverted or introverted, embrace it for all the gifts it brings without giving it too much power or control over who you are or how you relate. True connection is not limited to certain personalities. Lastly, ask for forgiveness when you aren’t attentive to the relational needs of others, especially your home team.
*I borrowed the term home team from one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist. I don’t think she will mind.