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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

The introvert's dilemma

Christ gave all despite His discomforts

Issue: "Northern light," Sept. 20, 2008

If there were a pill that could induce unconsiousness when the stewardess begins to demonstrate how seatbelts work, and instant alertness when the airplane reaches my destination, I would gladly take it. Don't get me wrong-I enjoy the feel of takeoff, and the sublime peace that comes with surveying billowy clouds from 40,000 feet. My problem is my fellow man. I once read that psychopathic killers feel like their personal space is violated if anyone gets within 20 feet of them. I have not killed anyone-yet-but I can empathize.

Perhaps it's all these children. You parents will know what I mean; after a day of being pawed at and tackled and climbed upon by a passel of urchins, you want, more than anything else, not to be touched. It isn't something you'll find in those parent-to-be books.

Or perhaps my avoidance of most people is due to my extreme introversion. There is some confusion about what it means to be introverted. It has to do with whether people impart energy to you, or take it from you. The way to determine whether you are introverted or extroverted is to consider your energy level after a party. If you need, like me, to lie down in a dark room, then you are an introvert. If you find yourself chirping, "We ought to do this more often!" then you are an extrovert. Someone told me once that introversion is ungodly. I'm fairly certain, however, that this person was an extrovert, and a "morning person" to boot, which means that I am inclined not to listen to his opinion.

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But I get the sense that I am going about my tentative fellowship with other humans all wrong. Consider a worn-down Christ, resting at Jacob's well in the heat of the day. Along comes a woman. She is an alien. She is brazen, not in the company of other women as was customary and proper. She is what people today respectfully call a "serial monogamist." Unlike the woman who cleaned Christ's feet with her tears and hair in the house of the Pharisee, this woman shows no respect. How easy to ignore her. To close His eyes and rest, to pray to His Father, to wait for the food His disciples had gone to fetch.

Instead He speaks to Her: "Give Me a drink." Here is the God-man Christ, asking this wretch for water, inviting conversation. And so begins a discussion that may well change her life, and which will change the lives of many more. Here at Jacob's well is the pouring out to which every apostle of God is called, it seems, that in our weariness and discomfort we give to those in need, even when they do not realize, like this Samaritan woman, that they thirst.

Or consider the blind man healed by Christ, upon being questioned by the Pharisees. "If this man were not from God," he declares, "He could do nothing." For this he is cast out of the synagogue, one of the first casualties in the revolution already upon God's people, the civil war that will divide brother from brother, parent from child, old man from new man. And yet he is the beneficiary of this revolution as well, for Christ seeks him out, that this man may worship at the feet of the living temple, the incarnate God.

Christ sought him. I think sometimes we forget that Christ was man as well as God, and thus vulnerable to weariness. He had great thoughts in His head, and so much work to do. And yet He didn't just preach, He entered the lives of people. How fitting for the Logos, the living Word.

I like to think that Christ the man was introverted ("Someone did touch Me," He declares in the book of Luke, "for I was aware that power had gone out of Me"). Yet surely He gave all He had, in time, and healings, and His very flesh. I'm stumbling toward the fact that I, to be Christlike, can't let my comfort constrain how I give. To be Christlike is to enter the lives of others, as discomforting to the introvert as that may be.


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