Chapter 5: Building Relationships

One of the things that you’ll quickly figure out if you spend very much time around me is that I’m pretty introverted. I’ve had some people tell me that they don’t believe this about me, but trust me, it’s true. I’m an introvert. I just hide it well. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about why people might think I’m not introverted, and I’ve realized that’s because we’re working off different definitions. To many people, I think an “introvert” is someone who sits in his room all the time, has no friends or social life, probably because he has no social skills. But I don’t think that’s a fair or accurate definition.

I have quite a few friends; I don’t spend all my time holed up at home, and in fact my social life is pretty active (I often have events happening four or five nights every week). My social skills aren’t great, but I’ve put a fair amount of work into developing them, and they’re a lot better than they used to be. I talk to people I don’t know, and (especially at conferences) I’m able to “network” pretty well. And yet, I’m still an introvert.

So what do I mean by that? I mean simply that being around people drains energy from me; the longer I am around other people, and the less familiar my companions are to me, the more energy it drains. It’s tiring to try to make small talk with people, to commiserate about the awful weather or laugh and fake knowledge about the latest sports news that I don’t care about. And sometimes, when it’s all said and done, I just need a break. So the next time you see me at a big public gathering, and I’m off in the corner by myself, or we go to a dinner party and I don’t say a word the entire night, it’s not because I’m not having fun, or because I don’t want to be there. It’s just that I need a break from being actively engaged.

Eventually, if I don’t get time by myself to recharge and recover, I start to go crazy. I start snapping at people, and pushing them away. It’s not because I don’t like them, or that I want to hurt them, my brain just needs to recover. I know a lot of people who are the exact opposite of me, who are extroverts. Unlike me, these people don’t just enjoy others’ company; they need it, as strongly as I need to be alone sometimes. Extroverts recharge themselves by being around other people; if you stick them in a room by themselves for too long, they go crazy.

It’s not particularly easy being an introvert, but I like it nonetheless. And I suspect that being an extrovert is just as hard. I’ve certainly had my own challenges to work around; when I was in seventh grade, the only reason I made any friends at all in school is because my mom made me talk to other people (thanks, Mom!). However, once I got over the initial hurdle of making friends (with my mom’s help), I was off and running. I may not have had many friends, but the ones I did have were very close.

I remember countless times growing up sitting on the fence on the border of our property eagerly waiting for my friends to come over to our house so we could hang out, and I would have activities planned out down to the minute — I didn’t want to waste a second of time once they arrived! We would run around and play games and tell stories for hours. I loved every second of it. And when it came time for us to part ways, I remember plotting how we could distract our parents so that we could get just a few more minutes of time together, and when inevitably it didn’t work, I remember a feeling of intense sadness that it was over. That didn’t last too long, though; half an hour later, I’d be back in my room, planning out activities for next time.

I didn’t really understand why at the time, but as I look back on those times, I realize that something bigger was happening than just the silly make-believe games we played. We were building relationships. And relationships are important.

As I moved into college, my relationships changed. I didn’t run around outside playing games as much any more, but instead stayed up until 2 in the morning, talking about nothing and everything, laughing at stupid videos on the Internet, sometimes crying together. I played Dungeons and Dragons with a group of friends almost weekly, and while the game is fun, the relationships were what drew me back. The feeling was the exact same thing I felt growing up — the act of relationship-building ignited something inside of me that I craved and wanted.

I don’t believe that my experience here is unique; I believe that, introvert or extrovert, the desire to be in relationship with each other is an essential part of our humanity. I want to know that I am cared about, and that people are invested in the things I say and believe. And because I believe that this feeling is universal, I want to care about others, and be invested in them as well. I want people to experience the same feelings I experienced sitting on the fence, anxiously watching and anticipating the warmth of friendship.

This is something I see reflected in the Bible a lot, and especially when Jesus was around. Jesus, I’m convinced, was both introvert and extrovert. I don’t know how that works, but we see times when Jesus just withdraws and sits by himself to meditate and pray, because he is tired. We see times when Jesus is around thousands upon thousands of people, and is more refreshed at the end than when he started. We see Jesus beg his friends to keep him company on the night before he is brutally killed. But the only time we ever see Jesus truly alone is when he’s out in the desert, fasting and being tempted. I think there’s something profound in this. If Jesus needed those relationships to sustain him, how much more do I? If Jesus was weakest when he did not have his friends around him, how much more so am I? And how weak and vulnerable are my friends if I am not there when they need
me?

I still don’t have too many friends; it’s still difficult for me to talk to people I don’t know, and I still get tired easily when I’m around a lot of people. But the friends that I do have are the ones that I still can’t wait to see every week, the ones that I stay up until the wee hours of the morning with, the ones that always make me feel sad when they leave, even though I know I’ll see them again soon. But these relationships that I have I won’t stop pursuing, because I believe they are a gift from God.

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