Sanctification

The Christian Introvert: Putting Off Social Anxiety, Putting On Serving Others

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?


Additional Resources:

Just Stop It: How to Repent of ____ A Multi-part “Put off/Renew/Put on” series by Clint Archer at The Cripplegate


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?

21 thoughts on “The Christian Introvert: Putting Off Social Anxiety, Putting On Serving Others”

  1. Hello Michelle,
    as a life long introvert, I can relate to what you have written. All the social anxieties you mention, I have experienced in the past and I still positively hate to have to make small talk and avoid it whenever I can. The difference these days is that I am finally at peace with this part of my character where for many years I truly thought I was defective in this area. Since my conversion in 2003 and my subsequent growing into the knowledge of Christ, I now have incredible peace about my introversion and no longer have any fear what people might think of me if I don’t join in the conversations that sometimes swirl around me. God brings us into the places He has for us, sometimes gently, sometimes violently, and without my introverted side I doubt I would love to read and to write as much as I do. I think there is much too much noise in this world already and I do what I can to not add to it. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  2. Clint Archer is doing a series on repentance titled, “Just Stop It” over at The Cripplegate and is using this same text. I love how your post compliments and reinforces his. Like Clint, you give some practical advice that is applicable to more than just introversion. Applying this text to all the aspects of my life will occupy me until I leave this earth. Thanks for making the process a bit easier.

    If you’re interested in Clint’s article —

    Just Stop It: Instructions on How to Repent
    http://thecripplegate.com/just-stop-it-how-to-repent/

    Like

  3. Great article. I often rush off after events and don’t take the time to talk to anyone. I really need to think about others more than myself.

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  4. Introversion and social anxiety *can* be present in the same individual but are not the same thing. Your article speaks more to social anxiety…..and you give good tips. However, I find it frustrating that society in general seems to subscribe to the notion that extroverts are okay and normal but introverts need to become more like extroverts. I disagree. One of the comments on your Facebook post spoke to this issue. Introverts simply get energy or recharge from being alone and are generally more content being alone than extroverts.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Jennifer, I agree with you. I am an introvert, but I am not shy. Because it costs so much mental and emotional energy to interact with people, I struggle to enjoy trivial and shallow conversations that go nowhere. But deep conversations that build stronger relationships, especially when centered around Christ? Those are gold and well worth the effort!

      Liked by 4 people

      1. Julie, I’m in the same boat. I wouldn’t say I’m shy necessarily, however I do feel drained if I have too much social interaction. I need to let my mental and emotional energy rest at the end of the day. I don’t feel this is necessarily being selfish if you avoid a conversation but this when you need to really listen to God clearly. Sometimes he places conversations in our lives that are meant to be a path way to introduce his love to others and that is the conversation you don’t want to miss out on.

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    2. I agree with you, Jennifer. Our aim should be to love other people, but introverts may do this more *quietly*. I would go so far as to say introverts love best when they are being themselves, not trying to be extroverts. And it helps to realize that many church activities are geared for extroverts. (Adam McHugh talks about this in his book “Introverts and the Church.”) Society in general may believe “introverts need to become more like extroverts,” but I have found this to be even more true of Christians, particularly American Christians.

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    3. I agree with you Jennifer. I think this article knocks social anxiety out of the ball park however I agree that there is nothing wrong with being an introvert. Society, as you have pointed out seems to favor extroverts because being outgoing is the popular place to be. I think its the mental health rest that introverts need. I know for me, after a long day of talking, or family socializing, I am ready for just silence. I need to let my mind declutter and feel that peace around me.

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  5. This is so well put, Michelle. Spot on! Small talk is literally like a foreign language. It becomes so awkward at times. And others around just think you’re weird or crazy. I have learned as you said, just show up. Obedience is definitely key in this area (as most all other areas). There is always some way to help, to greet, to lead, to love, etc. You just have to look for the opportunities and have the courage to take advantage of them. Thank you so much for sharing this part of yourself. For this awkward girl, it is helpful and inspiring.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Yes I suffer from this too! Sometimes women’s sunday school can be a challenge when people are giving you the third degree!

    Like

  7. Although I am a pastor, I would prefer to be the introvert I grew up being. I came out of my shell over time. It is still difficult for me to put the energy into social interaction, but I do love people and what to minister into their lives. My preference would be to hide out, but I keep stepping out by God’s grace.

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  8. Aggressive tendencies, consciously recognized, it leads to repentance, to the peace and security of divine pardon,and in that way to a progressive refinement of conscience and steady weakening of aggressive impulses.

    Peace be with you.

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  9. I don’t like crowds. I’m usually a speak when spoken to kind of guy. And, I normally don’t have enough to say in any conversation. Yet, the Lord called me to be a Sunday school teacher! And even gave me sermons to preach a few times! 😳 lol all He wants is a willing vessel. Great post!

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  10. “My gut-level reaction to walking into a room full of strangers is to turn around and run as far away as possible.” You really hit home with this line! I have been an introvert my entire life, but knew I was always being called to get social! It took me years to actually listen and follow through! It’s so important to reach out to others, no matter how scary it may seem. And you’re correct, it’s always for selfish reasonings “What if they don’t like me?” “What if they think I’m weird?” But it’s not about us, it’s always about God!

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  11. You introduce good points that I would like to address. Please know that this reply is going to expand a bit on what you said, not address only what you said (but hopefully not veer too far either). Introverts in the church is a particular interest and concern of mine and your post offers a perfect opportunity to expand the subject, perhaps further than you had intended. 😀 I apologize if I go too far.

    You are right!! Anyone who has a fear of man (and I have struggled with that too) needs to repent of that. It is not holy.

    But it is also not introversion. 🙂

    I would offer that there is a huge difference between introvert and social anxiety. Some introverts are anxious and shy. But that is not a function of introversion, but a problem elsewhere. Most of the introverts I know are not at all anxious or shy. In fact, when you get them going, they are hard to stop 🙂

    Introverts can have social anxiety. But so can extroverts (and that might make them think they are introverts).

    Actually, what is really “selfless”? The extrovert who uses the energy of other people to have energy themselves? Or the introvert who requires only solitude to have energy? (Neither, really, it is just brain function, not morality)

    Might we not also, if we are going to be bold and cheeky, say that an introvert, with their dwindling energy reserves, is actually doing more sacrificial work when they go work with people than an extrovert who wants to be there anyway? And that perhaps our extroverted brothers and sisters, when they tsk tsk our nature, would understand better what a sacrifice it is if they were forced to spend day and night by themselves for months on end, say, hand copying the Word?

    An introvert’s brain uses different chemicals and different pathways than an extroverts. It does not make them less friendly, less sociable, less eager to help.

    In fact, I find that healthy introverts, like healthy extroverts, love to help people, and that unhealthy extroverts, like unhealthy introverts, engage in behaviors that are self serving–we just mistake all extroversion for friendliness, when really it can be friendliness or it can be attention seeking, wholly manipulative, or narcissistic .

    There are godly roles, I believe, in which Christian introverts might shine: drawing out the quiet or shy, sitting for hours with the ill or suffering or mourning, extensive studying and teaching the Word, behind the scenes service, extensive prayer, “coming alongside”, etc. That does not mean extroverts cannot do this. Or that all introverts will do this! However, the introvert brain, with its longer cognition paths and general desire for quiet, intimate fellowship and service will find themselves less wearied by duties in a Christian life that require long periods of quiet, study, immersion, investment.

    It might not look as flashy to extroverts, but there are introverted Christians doing good introverted work for the Lord. I think that is why many of us cringe in the church–we are supposed to believe that introversion is a perversion, the “old man”, and we are supposed to fix that because “Jesus was an extrovert” (well…..I would argue that He was perfect and His brain followed both pathways and He was complete, but I digress)

    So I would offer that, perhaps, it might be more reasonable to say “Is fear keeping me from doing the work of God?” instead of “Is introversion keeping me from doing the work of God?”.

    Also, I would offer that sometimes Jesus did withdraw from crowds and encouraged His disciples to do the same. Not out of fear, but for recharging so they (and we) can get back out and do the “loud”, or meek, work of the Lord.

    Thank you so much for your patience with this reply 🙂

    Like

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