Her eyes sparkled. Her face radiated pure joy. For most of two hours I listened to her speak, amazed by her rock-solid faith and incredible testimony.
Part of our education here at Faith Builders involves apprenticing (hands-on learning experience). The teacher apprenticing students observe and teach classes in the school. Those of us in the Christian Ministries track of study get to choose from a variety of local ministries to do our apprenticing. This semester I chose to be involved in prison ministry.
So last Saturday I went to the prison for Bible study for the first time. Earlier in the week I was thinking, Why did I choose this? I don’t think I am cut out for this. Why do I always think I have to do things that will stretch me? Haven’t I already been stretched far enough here at FB? But by the time I left the prison on Saturday, I felt as though I had received far more than I had given.
Fran Salem leads the ladies’ Bible studies at the prison, and Sherri Bracken is her assistant. We sat in a meeting room with five inmates and engaged in singing, prayer, Bible study, and discussion. Most of the time Fran talked, turning to Sherri and me occasionally for input. She wove part of her life story into the Bible lesson, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the ways God has worked in her life. With plans to retire when she was sixty-one, she envisioned sitting back, enjoying life, and taking it easy. But the Lord showed her that He had other plans for her. Today, thirty-four years later, she is still actively involved in ministry. Yes, you heard that right. Fran is ninety-five years old.
Trevor held the door for Fran as we were leaving the prison. “See?” she said to me. “It’s so much fun being ninety-five! People do all kinds of nice things for me. You have so much to look forward to!”
“I can’t wait,” I laughed.
A few highlights from last week:
–morning sunlight glinting on the red breast of a robin in flight
–spectacular golden moonrise
–wet spring snow that clung to every tree branch
–a walk with a few friends through the snowy woods and over frozen swamplands and beaver ponds (The stark splendor of winter forest still pierces me with its heartbreaking happiness every time).
–spring bulbs waking from their winter sleep and bravely blooming while the snow still flies
–sunlight through a water glass scattering rainbows all over the room and into my lap
The mystery always remains: How can life be so hard and yet so glorious?
Here I pick up a few loose threads that may or may not help to bring a conclusion of some sort to the four previous posts.
1. I’m smiling happily to myself just now because I am thinking of the ten ladies in my class here at Faith Builders. We have the reputation of being a rather introverted group. You might not hear us saying much in the midst of a large group. But if you could somehow listen when the ten of us are alone together, you might wonder, Introverts? Who said this group was introverted? When we introverts find ourselves in a group that we know is not intimidated by our quietness and actually values it instead, that is when we talk most freely.
2. Extroverts trying to relate to introverts need to learn to ask better questions.
3. I believe in silence. I value it. But please don’t hear me saying that silence is always good. Silence can also be a deadly weapon. It can be devastating. What I am advocating is a healthy balance where silence is comfortable but communication is free. How effective you are at communication has very little to do with how much you talk. Quality counts ahead of quantity. Sometimes the more you talk the less you communicate.
4. I have many extrovert friends whom I love dearly.
5. I’ve learned to laugh at myself, and it’s great to have fellow introverts to laugh with me; we can laugh together at the silly things we sometimes need to do to cope with the silly world out there that can’t stop talking. We can chuckle like fellow conspirators while swiftly making good our escape from the crowd after a large meeting.
6. To my fellow introverts: Don’t feel guilty about using the coping strategies you need. The book Quiet tells the story of an introvert who was a well-known public speaker. Because of his dynamic speaking capabilities, most people would not have guessed that he was an introvert. But between speaking sessions at a large conference, he hid in a bathroom stall in order to avoid talking to people. He needed to have time alone in order to recharge and to have energy for the next speaking session. I laughed out loud at this story because I could so easily identify. I know how to find quiet spots. Going on long walks alone can be a life-saver. Coping strategies like this can help us to recharge and to be ready to engage with people again afterward.
7. As image-bearers of God, all of us are made to portray various aspects of God’s character. We should never be ashamed of playing our part in the image-bearing, and we are foolish to try to live out of something we were never meant to be.
8. Ok, I’m finished talking. Excuse me while I go read some books now.
What is the ideal Christian personality? That is a terrible question. I remember Mr. Coblentz saying last year in psychology class, “Personality is given; character is made.” No personality is superior to another, and we should never try to change our personality. But we should work to change our character. That means that all of us will sometimes need to do things that do not come as naturally for our personality as they do for some other personalities. Jesus transforms personality, but He does not turn us into someone different. In fact, He makes us more ourselves than we ever would have been otherwise.
Yet, how many of us look at extroverts and imagine that they are the best Christians? After all, they are often the ones who appear to be most passionate about serving the Lord. They have the charisma for dynamic preaching that brings people to God. They are not shy about talking to people they meet on the street. They are the evangelizers. They are the ones with vision and energy for starting missions and getting involved in all sorts of projects. But we forget that the people who work quietly behind the scenes are just as important.
Think of characters in the Bible. Moses needed someone to talk for him! Yet God was able to use him as a powerful leader. We hear all about the apostle Paul and think, Look how many people he won to Christ. If only I could have the bold personality that he had. Yes, Paul’s work was important, and God used Him in mighty ways. But God also used Luke. We don’t hear much about Luke, but without him we wouldn’t have the meticulous accounts contained in the books of Luke and Acts. Paul and Luke had very different personalities, but the work that both of them did was equally important in the kingdom of God.
As Christians, we need to get rid of all subconscious assumptions that any personality is better or more spiritual than another. Talkers need thinkers. Thinkers need talkers. Why don’t we all try just a little harder to understand each other and to capitalize on each other’s strengths?
Look for a concluding post next time.