“I hate sabbaths!” I exclaimed one evening after a long and rather harrowing day at church. It was only when I had uttered those words and seen the horrified expression on my husband’s face that I realized not only what I had said, but what had been in my heart for a while.
My husband assumed that my frustration was due to exhaustion. His role as the union director meant that Sabbaths started early and finished late. That particular morning we had left home around 6 a.m., and by the time we returned it was nearly 11 p.m. Besides adjusting to a young baby who hadn't quite settled into her nightly routine, I was trying to hold down a full-time job. And being out for more than 16 hours a day, especially on a Sabbath, was not my idea of rest!
“You’d enjoy it more if you’d mingle and be more sociable,” my husband replied tersely.
I felt the tears rise to the surface. Once again my outburst was dramatic and apparently unexpected. "Mingling is the problem," I continued, as the tears now flowed uncontrollably. "It's absolutely unexpected!"
“Then you shouldn’t have married a pastor, should you have?” he challenged.
I retreated, something I’d wanted to do all day. I sat alone in the darkness of my pain, feeling physically tired and emotionally drained as the demons of low self-esteem and failure gnawed away at my confidence.
For several years I was challenged every Sabbath. I dreaded the “day of rest.” Clothed in the appropriate dress, I would paste a Sabbath smile tightly on my face. In determination, I'd whisper to myself the mantra, I will be the best pastor's wife today.
But I would return home deflated, drained, and utterly miserable. To the outside world, I was bubbly and outgoing. I played the piano, I sometimes preached alone or with my husband, and I put on a good act of enjoying the hustle and bustle of energetic church life. Wrong, wrong, wrong!
I was comfortable participating in church, but I found that the "fellowship" that is so often promoted in church made me feel totally out of my comfort zone. I recall an incident when four people were speaking to me at once. Not only did I not understand what they were all talking about, but I felt completely overwhelmed by the necessity for each of them to “vomit” out their concerns to me all at once. Trying not to be rude but wanting to escape the trauma of the situation, I excused myself and settled in silence in our car parked nearby.
The emotional pain became so intense that I began to feel sick every Sabbath morning. Despite praying about my inability to “be sociable,” nothing happened.
Then a few years ago I stumbled upon a book entitled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain. In the book she states: “Introverts recharge their batteries by being alone; extroverts need to recharge when they don't socialize enough."*
That book changed my perspective on my identity. I realized that I am a closet introvert, and my husband is an extrovert. While he gets energized by people, enjoying being around church members, friends, and family, I find that large group settings drain me of emotional and physical energy. I am best suited to meaningful and intimate conversations with like-minded people. My energy comes from times of creativity, contemplation, and silence.
This epiphany enabled me to refrain from "breating up on myself" and start appreciating the unique person that the Father created. This “lightbulb moment”not only changed my perspective on who I am but also allowed me to develop coping strategies to handle my weekly Sabbath blues.
First, I’m able to fully appreciate that being a pastoral spouse means that I need to socialize with other people. I accept that as part of my role. However, I now understand that my soul needs to be nurtured in order for me to be whole and balanced.
So I begin to prepare myself mentally through prayer and contemplation a few days before Sabbath. . I ask God to help me have the emotional strength to cope with the Sabbath day ahead.
When I get to church, I ensure that I meet and greet as many people as possible with as little conversation as is necessary. Instead of avoiding people, I actively seek them out, listen for a few moments, smile, and move on. This ensures that I do not alienate myself from the members, while still protecting my sanity and energy levels.
I always carry a book with me to read and one in which to write. After I've completed all the pleasantries, I retire to a corner (or the car) to recharge my emotional batteries through solitude. If that fails, I often sit at the piano and play as this discourages unnecessary chatter and socialization.
Being an introvert doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in people. Nor does it mean that I’m unable to listen and help those who are in need. In fact, some of the greatest blessings I’ve experienced have been ministering to others, seeing them come to faith, or having their lives transformed. There is no greater joy than serving God by helping others. But now I’ve found other ways to connect with people that are more suited to my biological makeup and temperament.
I currently write a daily Facebook devotional. Through this medium, I have been able to pray with those of faith and also with my secular friends. I have been able to offer support and mentor in a way that is more fitting to my personality. Social media has enabled me to minister while being contemplative.
If you, like me, are an introvert, find a way to engage in ministry that suits your personality. Pray that God will show you how to be “the best you can be" as an individual while fully supporting your spouse in ministry.
*Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, p. 10.