It’s not easy being an INFP, period. I wouldn’t trade the way I am for anything, though. I might like to change the way the world is, but I like myself just fine the way I am. It’s splendid to be able to spend hours in my own company and be happy. I would hate to be dependent upon the presence of other people for my happiness. I know so many people who can’t stand to be alone, ever, who can’t tolerate silence for longer than about thirty seconds, who never seem to stop talking, who always have to have either the TV or the radio on in order to drown out their own thoughts. I don’t have any desire to be like them.
But it has really been hard adjusting to “church life.” I had a bit of a crisis at one point, feeling like perhaps I didn’t belong, didn’t fit in. The constant emphasis on “community” and on doing things with people and on serving in active, visible ways was starting to make me feel quite alienated and misunderstood.
But I’m coming out of that, thanks be to God, and I mean that literally. I realized that God made me this way, and He is the one I need to be talking to about it. So I started praying about it, and several things have happened.
I was led to investigate what it can mean to be a hermit, in the spiritual sense, while making one’s way in the secular world. I started learning about “Rules of Life,” and decided to work at establishing a habit of regular prayer – morning, noon, and bedtime. Insights and new thoughts started coming to me. Then, for Advent, a class was offered – four sessions on “Contemplative Prayer.” I could hardly believe it. I signed up. The parishioner who led the class is a wonderful, gentle, introverted man who, having been ordained as a Roman Catholic priest at one time, has had lots of training and guidance and believes that mystics and contemplatives do have a place in the church, and do serve in an important, albeit invisible way, through prayer.
I’m starting to finally believe that you don’t have to sing in the choir, or serve on the Vestry, or be in the Altar Guild, or volunteer for everything, or help with the feeding program, or make small talk at coffee hour, or lead the youth group, or teach Sunday School, or attend every single meeting that comes up, in order to be a good human being and a good Christian. Don’t misunderstand me – these are all wonderful things to do, and I’m glad there are people willing to do them. But there are also “invisible” ways to serve and they are perfectly valid and valuable.
I’m serving when I drop money into the collection plate, and when I contribute to special needs that arise. I’m serving when I pray for others. I’m serving when I take photographs for use in the newsletter or on social media. I’m serving when I update the church website, which is a job I’ve just agreed to take over from Cat, because I finally feel confident enough to do it. I’m serving when I bake cookies for the Kairos prison ministry or for a bake sale. Let the more extroverted folks have a get-together to pack them – it’s fine for me to drop them off and leave.
I sat in my pew on Sunday, drinking in the sight of the altar before me. It was beautiful – the stained glass windows behind it, the big gold cross shining in the middle, the warm light of the candles, the beauty of the flowers. The white linens, and the big red Gospel, and the figurines of the Three Wise Men, carefully arranged there in honor of Epiphany. I had my own little epiphany as I sat there letting the beauty and power of it all wash over me. To me, all of those visual symbols are mysterious and magical. If I were on the Altar Guild (which I have been approached about) and had helped to arrange all of it, if I’d unpacked the Wise Men and set them into place, if I’d laid out the linens and arranged the flowers and placed the candles, the whole scene would have lost its power, for me. My proper place is in the pew, in the congregation, where I can lay down the burdens of life for a week, and commune with my God, in my heart, in my own way. I can best appreciate the liturgy from that perspective, as one of the “people.” It’s how I recharge my spiritual and emotional batteries. After a week out “in the world” dealing with all the pressures and hassles of my job, I need to come and sit and be reminded that there’s more to life than stress and noise and rushing around. I need to be refreshed. The gifts I have to offer need to be nurtured and cared for; if I allow church to become another job, I won’t be able to serve God the way I’m suited to do.
It’s interesting that it’s in church where I’m finding a way to free myself from the extroverted majority’s opinion that you have to be social and busy and outwardly productive in order to matter. And I’m grateful.