A lot of people don’t believe me when I tell them this, but I’m kind of an introvert. On Sundays, after Sunday School, church, then Sunday dinner with my extended family, I usually go home and get straight in the bed for some quiet time and a nap, often with muscles aching from stress. I love my church, my family, and spending time with people, but for some reason, social interaction can be a bit draining for me after several hours.
And interacting with people I don’t know very well? Don’t get me started on all the different levels of anxiety that, for me, go hand-in-hand with introversion. My gut-level reaction to walking into a room full of strangers is to turn around and run as far away as possible.
But all of this sort of thinking is very self-centered. When I entertain those anxious thoughts and feelings, I’m focusing on me. My fear of man. My worries about what others will think of me. My discomfort and desire to be somewhere else. Me. Me. Me.
So how do we handle introversion and/or social anxiety in a godly way? Ephesians 4:21-24 gets right to the point:
assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
We’re to put off our old, corrupt self, renew our minds, and put on the new, godly self.
First, we “put off”, or stop giving in, to those feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of anxiety:
“There are plenty of people talking to that person who’s visiting our church this morning. She doesn’t need to meet me. I’ll pass.”
“I need to go to that meeting, but I really don’t want to, so I’m going to stay home.”
“Nobody at this fellowship would be interested in talking to me, so I’ll hang out in the kitchen and ‘help’.”
Next, we “renew our minds” with what Scripture says about how we’re to regard ourselves and how we’re to regard others.
Giving in to me-centered fears and anxieties is the exact opposite of God’s instruction to Christians. We are to be about the business of putting others first. Dying to self. Serving others. Encouraging others. Loving and focusing on others with the intensity of the love and focus we lavish on ourselves. Philippians 2:3-4 puts it this way:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests,
but also to the interests of others.
Notice that, while the world’s solution to introversion would be that you need to improve your self-esteem, and think better – and more – about yourself…
…that’s not the Bible’s solution. The Bible instructs us to be humble, stop the navel-gazing, take the focus off ourselves, and put the focus on loving and serving others.
Putting off and renewing our minds is where a lot of us stop when we’re dealing with sinful thoughts and behaviors. But if you’ve ever stopped there, you’ve probably gotten stuck and frustrated in the sanctification issue you’re dealing with. That’s because a vacuum demands to be filled. When you take something away, you have to replace it with something else, or you’re just going to go back to your old ways again.
That’s where putting on “the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” comes in. What, exactly, does that mean? Let’s break it down a little bit.
🆕Since we’re new creatures in Christ, we don’t wallow in the old self, we put on the new self. Whereas our old nature was about pleasing ourselves, our new nature desires to please, obey, and imitate Christ.
🆕To understand what it means to be created after the likeness of God, think about what God is like. Does God fearfully hide Himself away from people? Does He avoid interacting with us? Quite the opposite! God “put Himself out there” to the extent that He became flesh and dwelt among us. He tells us we are welcome to confidently approach His throne and talk to Him non-stop.
🆕To walk in true righteousness and holiness is to imitate Christ. It’s to put shoes on being “created after the likeness of God”. How can I walk in the same way in which He walked in this situation? How can I best obey Christ’s commands? How can I die to self in order to live to Him?
Putting on the new self is proactively looking for ways to carry out the “do’s” of the Bible in place of the “don’ts”. To act instead of react. To seek opportunities to do the opposite of what the old self would do.
What are some practical ways to die to self, and to love, focus on, encourage, and serve others as an introvert?
Go. The first step, and sometimes the hardest one, is just showing up. Obviously, you don’t have to go to every social event, meeting, or activity in existence. You know the ones you need to go to. Make yourself go. Simply seeing your smiling face in the room might be an encouragement to someone else who struggles with social anxiety. And your presence sends the message to the host that you care enough about her and the activity to attend. That means a lot to people.
Smile and say hello. Small talk. Ugh. If you’re an introvert, it’s probably near the top of your list of anxiety-producers. Do it anyway. If it’s extremely difficult for you, before you arrive, set a goal of a minimum number of people to greet, shake hands with, and exchange a few pleasantries with. Can’t think of anything clever to say? “It’s nice to see you,” or a simple, genuine compliment like, “You look great,” or “I love those earrings,” makes people feel valued and worthwhile.
Help out. As long as you’re not using helping out as a way to hide out or avoid people, channeling that nervous energy into an activity can work wonders to get your mind off yourself and your fear, give you a topic of conversation with others who are helping (“Wow, I didn’t know our church had this many folding chairs!” “I think we need more cups at the beverage table.”), and tangibly serve people.
Listen. When I was working on my master’s degree in family counseling, I learned an extremely important skill. Listening – really listening. In a counseling situation, you can’t let your mind just drift off. You have to be laser focused on what the client is saying, paying attention to every word. Occasionally, you encapsulate in your own words what she has said and reflect it back to her, or ask an open-ended question that will lead her to expand on a particular aspect of what she has been telling you.
For therapists, this is called “active listening” or “reflective listening”. In Christianity, I would call it “compassionate listening” instead, because this same kind of listening is a way to show Christlike compassion and concern for others. You’re not listening because you’re getting paid for it, you’re listening because you care. The more I compassionately listen to others, the more I realize how much of a need for it there is.
We live in a noisy, fast-paced, sound bite, 280 character world. People have a need to be heard. Angry people ultimately scream, not about an issue, but out of a need for someone to take the time to listen. Lonely people need to know someone cares about them.
There aren’t many people in the world who take the time to sit down with someone, show an interest in what she’s saying, and let her take the time to express herself completely. When you do that for someone, you are serving her by giving her a rare and precious gift. Maybe one that she’s never received before. When you sacrifice your time to pay attention to someone, she might be doing most of the talking, but she’s hearing something important, too. She’s hearing, “I love and care about you,” “You matter to me because you matter to Christ,” “You are valuable in God’s eyes and in mine.” How can we withhold that kind of kindness and compassion from someone just to give in to our fears and make ourselves more comfortable?
Pray and check in. As you’re compassionately listening to someone, make a mental note of something you could pray for her about. Make that part of your prayer time until you see her again. The next time you cross paths (or if it’s going to be a long time, call or text her after a few days), let her know you’ve been praying for her and ask her how that situation is going (and listen compassionately as she tells you!). Think about how much it would mean to you for a sister in Christ to listen to you, remember what you said, take the time to pray about it, and then ask you how things were going. That’s how much it would mean to her.
It can be easy to give in to social anxiety and introversion, avoiding people and situations that make us uncomfortable. But Christ doesn’t call us to do only the things that are easy. He set the example for us of doing what’s godly even when it’s difficult. Obeying Christ when it’s hard helps us to grow in spiritual maturity, and gives us opportunities to serve others. And isn’t that really what following Him is all about?
Do you tend toward introversion or social anxiety?
What are some practical ways you’ve found for “putting off”
those things and “putting on” serving others instead?