“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted” (Psalm 25:16).
By nature, I am an introvert. I can spend large amounts of time alone, lost (yet content) in my own thoughts. One of the advantages of being introverted is that your self-image is not dependent on the applause or apathy of others. Introverts tend to be self-motivated. In other words, introverts do what they want to do regardless of what others are doing or what others say they should do. This can be positive when the introvert is also self-disciplined. But it has negative consequences if the introvert lacks discipline and is lazy. Also, introverts are not afraid to think outside the box. Introverts can be great problem solvers. Introverts can have incredible imaginations and can be extremely creative. But often, introverts are afraid to share their thoughts and ideas and creativity with other people, opting instead, to keep to themselves.
This is a great irony! While not needing the applause of others, an introvert fears what others will think of their thoughts and ideas. Why? Because while introverts love to be alone, one of their greatest fears is feeling lonely. Isn’t it odd how our greatest strengths lead us to our greatest weaknesses?
Being alone versus being lonely. This is the daily struggle of the introvert.
I entered the ministry when I was 15 years old. I started pastoring when I was 23. I am now 50. One of the hazards of ministry is loneliness. Over the past 35 years of ministry my introvertedness (I don’t think that’s a real word) has sustained me through difficult times. On the other hand, however, over the past 35 years I have fought more than a few battles with loneliness.
Experts in ministry warn against “Lone Ranger” leadership. These experts tell you that a minister (especially a pastor) who approaches ministry as a lone ranger will not last. It is imperative, they say, to do ministry in community with others. And by “others,” they mean people outside your church, as well as those within your church. I want to agree with these experts. I want to believe they are right, and I have strived to connect with others and do ministry and life with others. The difficulty is introverts have very few friends.
About 10 years ago I finally became comfortable in my own skin. I finally realized who God created me to be and who He did not create me to be. I am an introvert; I am eccentric. (the dictionary defines eccentric as “unconventional and slightly strange”); and my primary spiritual gift is teaching. What this means is I love being by myself. I love to think. I think outside the box. I tend to be contrarian. I am passionate about what I believe. I unintentionally make people uncomfortable with my passionate, contrarian, out of the box thinking. But I love sharing my thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Ultimately this means while I am comfortable with who I am, I have difficulty fitting in and finding my place in the larger world of ministry. Thus, while I love being alone, I have periods where I struggle with loneliness.
I feel most loved by my wife and kids. I feel incredibly loved by my church family. But as hard as I have tried, at times, I feel isolated and lonely in the larger church world. I don’t know where I belong or where I fit in. Most of the time, I feel more comfortable around the homeless, the drug addict, and the prisoner, then I do around other ministers and in large religious settings. I feel like I connect more with those on the margins then I do with those in the mainstream. I feel more accepted by people society has rejected then I do by many ministers and pastors.
I am not sure why I am sharing this. I guess I am just trying to clear my mind of some of the clutter that has built up over the last several days. Maybe someone who reads this will understand what I am saying. Maybe something I have said will help somebody else. If not, well, so be it. Just some convoluted thoughts rambling around inside my head on a Monday morning.
And yes, you guessed it. I have recently had a bout with loneliness. I am feeling much better now.