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    Thinking Through The Introvert Advantage {The Long-Awaited Comments Roundup}

    March 3, 2010 by Brandy Vencel

    Thank you all for being patient while I tried to get my act together regarding the comments in the last post. I loved all the comments, but I just didn’t have the time to manage them well. Now, however, I think I do have the time {barring emergencies or unexpected changes in the weather}, and so we’ll go through them a bit.

    Let’s Make Distinctions

    Before we go on, I want to frame the conversation a bit. One of the problems I have with the book is that the author fails to do this.

    There is a difference between being sick and being healthy, between being pregnant and being not pregnant, between being old and being young.

    Even though introverts and extroverts are “drained” by different aspects of life, the author often sounds to me like an 80-year-old woman. She is so worried about her energy all of the time. And then it dawned on me: I am reading this as a 31-year-old woman who is reasonably healthy. When I was pregnant, I couldn’t muster the energy to leave my house without my husband. When I have a newborn, I can’t even think of going to church without crying. When I am sick, there is a lot less of “me” to go around.

    Given this, I think a good question to ask is not just whether advice is objectively good, but does it really fit me? Is it good for me? As I already explained in my other post: when I wanted to run from my motherly duties, it had nothing to do with my introversion and everything to do with my own selfishness, and because of that, such advice as “go take time for YOU” was completely feeding the inner monster. However, when I’m pregnant, having someone remind me that a fifteen minute nap might really help me accomplish my duties such as cooking and cleaning is beneficial.

    I think this points to an underlying principle, but we’ll come back to it later.

    On Private Devotional Time

    Ellen wrote:

    I don’t think women NEED lots of time away from their children, but what about the idea that Jesus took some time alone with his Father from time to time? He spent himself in ministry, but he did take time away when he could. He seemed to model this kind of rest for us. What do you think about that?

    Emily replied:

    Ellen mentioned Christ’s example of going off on his own. I think that it is an example we must follow; we all need to reconnect with our heavenly Father, to be still and hear His voice. Depending upon the circumstances in which God has placed us, that might not be until our heads hit the pillow at night, but it is necessary to our spiritual health and our relationship with the Lord, which affects every other aspect of our being and lives.

    GretchenJoanna added:

    Christ did go away to be alone sometimes, but it wasn’t because He couldn’t be in communion with His Father every moment. Even we are told to “pray without ceasing,” so theoretically we can find strength in the Holy Spirit as Jesus did to meet whatever challenges come to us.

    Rahime chimed in:

    I don’t think the Bible implied that Christ necessarily had time alone {or with just the Father} every day, but He was very protective of that time when he did want/need it. I also don’t necessarily think that’s the same as so-called “me time.”

    I want to begin by saying that I agree that time spent in the spiritual disciplines must be distinguished from “me-time.” In one, the soul is seeking the Lord, and in the other, the soul is, potentially at least, seeking self. Because the author is not a Christian, she really doesn’t engage this question of whether or not a mother should isolate herself from her children in order to pray or read Scripture. That is why I turned to some other sources during the discussion.

    In the book Passionate Housewives Desperate for God, there is a chapter about “weary women.” The primary assertion of the chapter is that a lot of women are overwhelmed because there are so many pressures put upon them {by themselves and by others}, and then the authors suggest that private devotional time is one of those pressures.

    If you are like me, then your heart sort of reared up in objection when you read that. I know mine sure did.

    However, comma.

    As I read on, I began to understand what they meant.

    Take, for instance, a mommy who is in one of those most draining times of life. For me, this was during the first six months after the birth of my third child. Even though this baby, like many third babies I’ve met, was herself a very easy baby, the workload was astounding, a literal shock. All I was doing was mothering, and yet I felt like I was juggling a million balls and if I sat down for even a second, I was going to drop one of those balls.

    I was pretty discouraged and exhausted in those days.

    During this time, I still had the mindset that all communion with God was a solitary endeavor. And I was frustrated. If I got up early, not only was I so sleep-deprived that I felt dizzy throughout the day, but at least one of the children inevitably heard me and decided to rise early, too. If I read my Bible late at night, I fell asleep {and felt guilty about it}. And I already said I never had time to sit down during the day {unless I was nursing while the other two children clamored for my attention even then}.

    If someone had told me that the solution to all of my tiredness and anxiety was to carve out a private devotional time {referred to by some as “Quiet Time”}, I probably would have plunged into despair. Are you seriously saying that even though I can’t hardly do it all, I need to do something else, too?

    Thankfully, no one told me anything, I just muddled through it, and came out on the other side just fine.

    So when I read the paragraph describing how Quiet Time might be a burden placed upon mothers, I completely “got” it.

    The solution in the chapter, though, is not to skip God until you have time for Him. Not at all. The solution to to learn how to get through those hard, busy times, those weeks when all of your children are sick, your husband is in the hospital, or your family has suffered some emergency or trauma. It is, in a word, to learn to be with God together. Pray together, sing hymns together, read Scripture. Rather than waiting for every child to go to bed, Mommy lives her spiritual life with her children.

    Does this mean Mommy never reads or prays alone? No. It just means that during those hard times, things work out a little differently. I really appreciated this advice, and I think that, spiritually, at least, I might have been less overwhelmed had I heard it during those early months of mothering more than two children.

    God’s Word and sound doctrine is referred to as life-giving food, with which the believer is nourished. On top of this, we are told that we are spiritual beings which require spiritual food. Remember? Jesus Himself quoted the Old Testament to remind His followers that Man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.

    So now we can ask the question: does a person have to “eat alone” in order to be nourished? And also, does every meal have to be a big one?

    To this day, there is a phenomena in my house regarding food: if I pull out a snack for me, the vultures children immediately appear and try to snatch a bite. I am ashamed to say that whereas my instinct with actual food is to share, my instinct with God’s Word is often to close my Bible and put it away in frustration. What if, instead, I learned to share a bite? What if I remembered that my children, too, cannot live on bread alone and need the nourishment as much as I?

    Using the food imagery has been good for my perspective. Our Savior definitely set an example of spending time in solitude and quiet with the Father. However, He never commanded us to always “eat alone,” and embittered spiritual anorexia was not the proper response to my being interrupted by my children. Instead, I needed to learn to share the meal.

    I think herein lies a guiding principle. What I see in Scripture is that there is a time for eating alone and a time for eating together. In young motherhood, there are days, and weeks, and even months sometimes, where time alone is in very scarce supply. No young mother gets a lot of time alone. Period. So, we can either quit eating, or we can learn to eat in company, so to speak. Whether that means sharing aloud what we are reading, or reading Scripture while nursing, or whatever seems to work, I had to learn that daily uninterrupted devotional time was not part of the order of that stage of life.

    Now that I have learned this lesson fairly well, I am no longer frustrated when we have a week of sickness. I still, to be honest, am annoyed when someone interrupts my reading, but I am learning to {1} train them not to interrupt {a la Susanna Wesley}, {2} recognize their need for spiritual food and share with them.

    Motherhood has its busy times, and also its slower times. I want to take advantage of the slower times by spending more time in study and prayer, but also learn to survive the busy times by being capable of staying connected to God throughout the day: small simple prayers, verses posted by my kitchen sink, reading the Bible with my children.

    I do not think that seeking God is the same as seeking self, as I said before. However, there are ways in which our seeking of God, if we do so at an inappropriate time, in a way that is detrimental to the life God has assigned to us, could potentially be selfish. We can only judge our own selves at that, for sure. I liked what Stacey McDonald wrote:

    [W]e’re not to knock ourselves out trying to get away from everyone to meet with God. We need to learn to find Him in the commotion of everyday life.

    I would say that both finding times of solitude and learning to live in the fray are both part of art of living well.

    Define “Me-Time”

    This is a toughie, folks. I once thought I had a handle on it, and then I read a blog comment that implied that some women somewhere out there include basic acts of personal hygiene {such as taking a shower} as me-time.

    I was astounded.

    Culturally, we often talk about pendulum swings. My guess is that, since my generation was primarily raised as neglected latchkey children {I wasn’t, but my peers were}, some of us now swing the other way and feel guilty for everything. Because we never beheld a living example of a homemaker, a mommy, a wife, we focus on some aspects of the job to the detriment of others. One of the best remedies for this is to read Proverbs 31 over and over with an aim at grasping how broad and full is the life of a virtuous wife. {We are not young mommies perpetually. Or, as a friend of mine reminds herself, this, too, shall pass.}

    Now, yes, figuring out when to take a shower is difficult during the first days of mothering when the baby is awake around the clock. This destroys Mommy’s sense of time, and suddenly she discovers it is 3pm and she is still in her robe. However, comma, figuring out when to take a shower is different than categorizing showers as selfish, no?

    My struggle has never really been with me-time per se. At first I thought it was, but I see that really, it goes deeper than that. Let’s look back at the advice we’re talking about for a moment:

    If you are introverted and need time away from your infant, adjust your schedule accordingly. Don’t feel guilty. Find the temperature zone you require and make the time to nurture yourself. Your infant and you will be better for it.

    Motherhood is not some sort of recreational activity that I can back off of if it is “too much” for me. Everything about the nature of a mother’s body cries out that infants are made to be with Mommy, to be cared for by Mommy.

    As an aside, my husband once wondered aloud what it would be like to do my job. If I remember correctly, he had missed something eventful that day. I jokingly told him if he could learn to lactate, I’d hand the job over, otherwise he’d have to keep on doing what he was doing.

    Ahem.

    Now, we all come to this table with difference associations, so I will say it again: whenever I personally “need time away from my infant” there is usually something else going on. Something about my life has become unlivable for me, and escape is not the solution.

    Alternately, some infants just need Mommy.

    A lot.

    Sometimes the tension in our hearts comes in not accepting what a particular infant requires. My daughter A. needed to be held constantly when she was a young toddler. This was because of her food allergies, but I didn’t know this at the time. My father was kind enough to come over almost every day and hold her while I made dinner, right where she could see me. The rest of the time, I held her.

    And held her.

    And held her.

    And by the end of it, I regretted not holding my first born quite as much as I could have.

    Building a Livable Life

    Susanna Wesley is famous for, among other things, putting her apron over her head when she needed a moment to pray. It is said that her children were trained not to interrupt her. She, who had four or five times the number of children I have, managed to build a livable life.

    This is something that the author speaks to also, and I think she would agree that this is important. The only difference is that she, not having a spiritual perspective on this issue, considers a person’s energy to be a closed system. There is no room for God to intervene and refresh a Mommy so that she can continue doing the hard things until the day is over.

    One of my objections to the “you need some time away from your children” which has become standard advice has to do with its lack of understanding. There are so many reasons why a young mother might be overwhelmed, and this, like any other pat answer, fails to deal with root causes.

    There are hours and days and, I am ashamed to say it, sometimes weeks when things go badly around here and I begin to make comments to my husband about sending the children to school. This is my way of saying that I want to run away; I don’t want to face the problems any more. And yet, very rarely is my introversion the root of the issue. There are so many other causes that I can see in such weeks: I was sick, my children were in need of extra discipline and training, I had built a schedule that just wasn’t working for the family and trying to force it was introducing too much tension into our home, a special allergy diet was overwhelming me with its demands on me and its expense, I had let the cleaning get away from me and felt like I was drowning in it, I had added too many unnecessary items to my to-do list, and the list goes on.

    In the past, when an older woman has looked at me and told me that I look tired and suggested that I “take some time” for me, I have been very frustrated. I wondered if this was some sort of substitute for real Titus 2 coaching. After all, weren’t these women supposed to teach me to love my husband, to love my children, to keep my home, to be sensible and kind, and to submit to my husband? How in the world was running off for some coffee with my friends {the most popular suggestion} going to solve the problem that I was lacking in some of these areas? That was what I wanted to know.

    Building a “livable life” for our family is my personal alternative to me-time. The phrasing alone takes the focus off of me and puts it back on the world outside of myself, a very good start for me. Building a livable life means that when I feel that sick-to-my-stomach-overwhelmed-I-want-to-run-away feeling, I first try to figure out where it is coming from. Sometimes, I’m just being selfish, but most of the time my problem is logistics. Something is just not working and my desire to run grows daily as the problem builds. Sometimes I have to add an activity {like napping when the children nap instead of trying to catch up on household matters} in order to fix the situation, and sometimes I need to subtract {pare down the schedule for a season}.

    Sometimes, I seriously need help, and that is when I pray hard that God will provide it.

    Once upon a time, I was in a ministry that was really a better fit for an extroverted person. However, I only had one child when this began, and he was a toddler, not an infant. I had few responsibilities  my husband worked at home, I was only 25, the pressures of life were few, and so on, and so I functioned fine in the position, other than occasionally needing to give myself a pep talk before making a phone call. When we added another child, I began to slip in my duties. I couldn’t do the job as well as before, plus I found it extremely draining. Personal phone calls became personal emails became mass emails. By the time I became pregnant with my third child {when the second wasn’t yet a year old}, I was almost relieved to find that the ministry was no longer mine.

    Seasons of life require reassessment. My husband is often extremely helpful when I need to do this, because his perspective is often more objective than mine, with my sense of attachment to the old way of doing things.

    Last week, the children and I read through part of I Timothy. I was fascinated by the financial responsibility of men–that first, before they take care of anyone else, they must take care of their family {which includes extended family members–widows–in need}. The King James calls this first practicing piety at home, a phrase I adore. As I was thinking about this, I thought of the temptation so many of us feel to pour ourselves out to the detriment of our families. Within some churches, the perception is that young women with young children are totally available for ministry all day, and they are constantly being asked to volunteer. {I once met a young “stay-at-home mom” who had her children, including a very tiny baby, in a church’s day-care three to four days per week so that she could volunteer, and this was encouraged by her church.}

    Practicing piety at home is one of those first principles when it comes to judging a schedule. I am not good at juggling a lot of balls, and so I stay home a lot. The second I commit to regular out-of-the-home activities, our home and school become a disaster, so I don’t commit to those things at this stage of life. However, I have met women who can do twice as much as I do and still have their ducks in a row. I envy them, but I have a firm grasp of the fact that I am not like them. That is life.

    Other Basic Principles

    I loved what Emily said:

    What is boils down to, I believe, is dying to self. Sacrifice. It would not be sacrifice if we did not have to give something up.

    We must be very, very wary of any advice that encourages us to be selfish. With that said, I think that when we build livable lives, those moments we get to ourselves or out with friends or in service to others or whatnot, because they are not a form of escaping, we can enjoy with purity of heart. As I have written before, I want to build a life that doesn’t need a vacation so that I can really enjoy a vacation when I get one.

    Running away isn’t ever completely satisfying. {Ask me how I know.}

    So my basic rule of thumb becomes the verse I used in the previous post:

    Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

    Philippians 2:3-4

    I know when I am being selfish, or tempted to be selfish, and so I must then do what God requires and flee from temptation. The hard thing with principles is that each person is going to look a little differently, and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. However, God made people, not interchangeable widgets. We just can’t make a rule that says that all women must manage their time in a certain way. Instead, we must trust that we are all given the Spirit to guide us, a husband to lead us, and {for the lucky ones} an older woman or two to teach us.


    Possibly Helpful Additional Reading:
    -My original post, How Are Strong Women Made?
    When Mama Has Limited Energy
    I’m sorry; I can’t do that.

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    10 Comments

  • Reply Mystie March 19, 2010 at 8:11 pm

    “Once upon a time, I was in a minstry that was really a better fit for an extroverted person. However, I only had one child when this began, and he was a toddler, not an infant. I had few responsibilites, my husband worked at home, I was only 25, the pressures of life were few, and so on, and so I functioned fine in the position…”

    Ok, actually, this clarified for me what’s going on in my life. I have kept (actually, within the last year, taken on again) several responsibilities that I handled just fine in the past. But now I 1) have more children, 2) have a bigger house, 3) am doing real school, 4) have higher expectations of housekeeping (when we were first married I had lots of outside responsibilities but didn’t do dishes until they’d been in the sink for 3 days), 5) what? not being 23 counts as a factor? I guess so. πŸ™‚ But I’m still not 30.

    So not only do I have more responsibility at home that leaves me with less time for other stuff, but those other things are energy-draining to this introvert who already has to pep talk herself for lunch time after getting school accomplished.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts March 8, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    Mystie,

    Forgot to say: yes I agree that the author loses her focus. She also continues to equivocate on the definition of introvert, which I think is why I find myself agreeing and then disagreeing with her over and over. When she limits the definition to “is energized by solitude and/or ideas” I agree, but when she starts to add in other qualities, I find her conclusions more questionable.

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts March 8, 2010 at 11:52 pm

    GJ,
    Your anecdotes are always welcome. πŸ™‚

    Mystie,
    Too bad she didn’t tackle the subject. It seems to me that an introvert could inadvertantly drain their own energy through technological overuse, even including television. This would be very individual-specific, but I still think it is possible. I know that cutting out phone, television, and sometimes talk radio depending on my stress level, hugely impacts my energy supply for other things.

  • Reply Mystie March 6, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I got off FB because it was mostly just adding unnecessary noise to my life, and I haven’t missed it at all — except when I want to waste time on the internet, I don’t have an easy outlet anymore. πŸ™‚ But that’s a good thing.

  • Reply Mystie March 6, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    You’ll have to think about it and write about it yourself, I am afraid. It seems like an obvious subject for the book, but she doesn’t really address it. It really did seem like she lost her focus on introversion more and more as the book went on.

    Another thing that struck me about the book was that she is a therapist, so all her examples come from people who are seeking counseling. How useful are her examples and solutions for people who aren’t messed up to begin with? πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts March 6, 2010 at 7:18 pm

    Mystie,

    You touched on something that I keep considering writing about, but I am wondering if the book will cover it by the end, so I’ve been waiting. What I mean is, I have been wondering what the relationship between the introvert and, say, something like television should be. Or the introvert and Facebook. Etc. I understand that technology is, in many ways, a refuge for the introvert. I know that Twitter was a huge assistance to me when Si was sick. However, I DO wonder whether these things backfire on us. I can’t help but think that the modern technological world takes a lot out of introverts, while simultaeously overstimulating extroverts. These are the things I think about when you say something about choosing how to spend the spare time you DO have. You sound wise in this regard; I want to ponder the issue some more.

  • Reply Mystie March 6, 2010 at 4:50 am

    I’m so disappointed I missed out on these discussions, but the posts and discussion in the comments section were great.

    I have also found a lot of “me-time” discussions suffer from lack of clear definitions. Does showering count? Does taking a break without guilt during nap time count? Does leaving the kids home with Dad on Saturday for an hour count?

    And, I think it comes back to being willing and able to enjoy such breaks as they are possible, but treating them as special gifts rather than demanding them as your right or need. And the thankful heart can receive more rest from such times than the selfish heart.

    Also, relating back more to the introversion aspect, I’ve learned to use down time I may have in ways that are actually restful. Unfortunately, this has meant for me *not* listening to conference talks or sermons or music when I get a chance at quiet, because I found I hit sensory overload by 3:30 or 4 if I go from one kind of noise to another all day. And I have learned I can set up the day to diminish that overload sensation. The last half-hour before my husband comes home is when I’m most likely to hit the wall while trying to finish dinner, and that is the time the kids are most likely to start going crazy and be rambunctious and loud. So now I try to have them pick up just before that time and then they can sit and look at books. Then I am more likely to remain composed and the house is peaceful and pleasant when Matt walks in the door. And, if for whatever reason I have hit overload, I have learned to say, “I need 10 minutes before dinner.” and a 10 minute rest in the dark, when I’ve just had too much as an introvert — not if I have a sin issue like bitterness or anger — is enough to recharge me to enjoy family meal time and bed time.

    And it is good to remember there are different seasons in life, and each person’s situation is going to be different, so you can’t make one-size-fits-all proclamations. Going from one to two was the hardest transition for me, but part of the reason for that is that my first two were the closest together (I had a newborn and a little boy hitting the stage needing intensive attention & training, which I’d never done before) and my second didn’t sleep through the night until he was 9 months. And sometimes you don’t even have the energy or space to realize that you’re in the middle of a transient difficult stage.

    And, now, I have no idea how to wrap up my comments, so I’ll just stop. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Brandy Afterthoughts March 5, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    Jen,

    Are you using the SNS? That is such a hard, hard thing to do. I am glad that I did it with E., but it really does make nursing…cumbersome. I will be praying for you. I didn’t realize you had decided to go for it with the SNS. If you ever want to talk, let me know. I don’t know if you saw that I emailed you earlier this week.

    Can I bring you a meal sometime? Or is there another way we can help you guys? The first six months with three children were my hardest, as I said. It doesn’t last forever.

  • Reply Jennifer March 5, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    Wow, Brandy. Thank you for you thoughts on how to biblically and practically serve first the Lord and then our family (without slipping in the mental department). This post reminds me of your very balanced thoughts on food and diet. I am currently struggling through my lack of personal schedule as I try to schedule the baby and my other children, and I have felt guilty about trying to study Scripture while nursing while using the supplemental nursing system and eyeing the other children…blah blah blah! I am encouraged to continue to serve the Lord during whatever time the Lord gives me, and to do it with all joy.

  • Reply GretchenJoanna March 4, 2010 at 3:57 am

    I think you did a superb job of wrapping up all those many comments in an organized fashion that clearly lays out our Christian priorities. Thank you very much for the whole discussion and for moderating it to the end. (But–is it the end, really?– I am sorely tempted to throw in a few more anecdotes here. πŸ™‚ )

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