Near Cowra, NSW 2011.

Introversion and Friendship

Back on the 4th of February we linked to Richard Beck's post on introverts in the church. He has made a subsequent comment:

I said that introverts were very relational, but not very sociable.

What, exactly, did I mean?

A few things. First, introverts love people and crave relationships. They just don't like socializing with strangers. In this, introverts might (and often do) have deeper and more intimate relationships than an extrovert. Introverts don't collect friends. But they do work really hard on the ones they have. Our time, relationally speaking, is limited. We can spread ourselves thinly across many relationships in the Facebookification of friendship. Or we can spend a lot of time on very few people. Introverts tend to do the latter.

The problem with sociable churches is they they tend to think "deep relationship" can be microwaved in fast, intense "sharing" experiences during church or bible class. But deep relationships tend to need crock pots. And introverts make excellent crock pots.

In short, the relationships at church should be built upon friendships. And these take time. You can't microwave friendships into existence with artificial "sharing" experiences in church. You shouldn't tell people to turn to their neighbor and ask, "How is your spiritual life doing?" These interventions are well-intentioned, but they are the fast-food equivalent of true friendship. The key to Kingdom relationships is crock pot friendship, not socializing or microwaved intimacy.

This is a significant comment. Friendship does take time. The "Facebookification" of friendships probably precedes Facebook, although Facebook makes it more obvious how easily we can have 'friends' who really are aquaintances or even mere names or contacts, but not real friends.

There is an astute comment by one of Beck's readers:

Great post. I recognize myself in your introvert description. It's nice to see acknowledgment that we have deep relationships even if we're not as comfortable in groups. My main problem with "microwaved" instant intimacy is that it pays too little attention to safe relational boundaries, which is especially important when you're dealing with something as sensitive and fundamental as a person's spiritual life. Power imbalances go unacknowledged when everyone's supposed to be instant pals. This has left me disillusioned with the "small groups" so beloved by evangelical churches, which can quickly turn into group therapy by amateurs. (Jendi)

Relational boundaries are respected in friendship. What Jendi describes in her comment is all too familiar and cringeworthy, if we are lucky. It can also be abusive. "Friendship" or "fellowship" in the small group is sometimes used as camoflague for pushing people around.

Brad East, to whom Beck refers us says of friendship in a church

Furthermore, the very idea of always having in the back of our minds “get ’em in the water, get ’em in the water!” is insulting. What could it mean to love another person, unconditionally and self-sacrificially, and yet always have unspoken “plans” for them?

He is writing from the perspective of a Christian who sees conversion as an imperative. But "unspoken plans" for people who are already committed to the church are all too common in the church . The 'superior, more spiritual' members have plans for the rest of us, and the abuse starts there. There is a distinct lack, not only of friendship, but of honesty, in such an environment.

East goes on to say

Regarding friendship more generally, in many ways the love between two friends is the height of what it means to be human. God created human beings to flourish in common life together in this world, and friendship—built on truthfulness, sacrifice, intimacy, accountability, celebration, and presence—is a testament to the sort of ordinary gifts that constitute our lives as given and beloved by God.

In other words, a church without friends is no church at all...

...friendship—grounded in love and devoid of ulterior motives—is the healthy and proper fruit of faithful witness in the world.

This is an enormous challenge; it is correct. It means that if we are not the kind of church that fosters deep relationships, we are missing something profound in our calling.

Writing on this years ago, I said

We long for the intimacy of friendship. We long for someone we can trust and with whom we can be open. Some one who will know our faults and fears, and yet still like us! And we long for that peculiar honour of knowing another's secret fears-- not for gossip or voyeurism, and not because they want us to do something. Simply because they honour us with trust. They are our friend.

The thing is, men don't usually have real friends. We have 'mates' and acquaintances and members of the team. But not friends in the real sense of the word. Intimacy-- the mark of friendship-- is usually excluded from our relationships.

Little girls, as they grown to womanhood, go through stages of bitchiness that are brutal and often despised by men and boys. However, that bitchiness is a stage in the development of friendship. They learn how to be friends and intimate.

Take two couples who have tea together. By the end of the evening the men will have talked about footy, politics, cars, the stock market... The women, elsewhere in the house, will talk about their children, period problems, coping with their husband, their fear of breast cancer, and getting old. They may well have wept together and embraced.

The women are friends, the men are mates.

This is so because boys growing up have a physical brutality and cultural bias against intimacy. As a child I knew, and bitterly experienced, that any sign of weakness (which intimacy inherently involves) would be exploited. I walled my feelings in. I did not risk friendship-- it was not to be had. But of course, I longed for friendship and intimacy.

I gained some as the en-culturated 'ockerism' and brutality of a group of us was over-ridden by awe of the vast Australian bush on our bush walking trips. Campfires warm the soul of an Australian man in a most unusual way. Those who would not be seen dead in church, will talk religion around a fire.

As I reconsider this article on One Man's Web, I wonder how aware I was of the effect of introversion upon friendship (and its lack.) The group with whom I used to bushwalk were, I suspect, more introverted than not.

As I talked with my wife about this, she commented on how friends are often surprised to find I am the introvert and she is the extrovert in our relationship. She feeds on contact with people, but is much less forward than I when we are in a group. She comes home energised, and soon feels isolated if she is not out with people. By contast, I will come home exhausted, needing to sleep, although I may have been the "life of the party," reeling of a string of anecdotes and jokes. A couple of weeks ago I had 'face to face' meetings every day of the week. I was exhausted and a mess by the end of the week.

As a minister, I ask myself much we cater for the whole range of personality types in our congregation. As an individual, I critique my friendships. Alone is good. I need solitude. But no attention to friendship is a sure sign of imbalance in my life.

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