If not for the sign that advertised “Free coffee for an Overly-caffeinated Introvert,” I would have spent a Saturday sitting on my patio and binge-watching videos on the internet for the fifth week in a row. Normally, this disturbs my extroverted friends. But since various levels of lockdowns have made this year anything but normal, I have had a free pass to spend all my free time alone.
But is this healthy? It is certainly good to practice solitude. I would appeal to scripture to show how Jesus rose early each morning to spend time with the Father away from his disciples (Mark 1:35). But my fiancé saw past this proof-texting. She labeled this “solitude” for what it truly was: self-isolation.
It is a universal desire of humanity to be known intimately by another. It manifests in Disney movies, great works of literature, pastor’s sermons, pop culture, social justice reforms and in countless other ways. Our need to be validated, our need for external affirmation, our need for relationship, is one part of the human condition. That Adam looked at Eve and they were “naked and unashamed” expresses not only the fidelity of their union, but the intimacy of their relationship. They knew one another’s bodies as if they were “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24-25). Eve was unafraid of Adam seeing her cellulite, and Adam trusted Eve to gaze upon a weird mole or two. And moreover, they had nothing to hide. No lies. No deception. No make-up or fig leaves. And with this trust as the foundation of their relationship, they spent time with each other.
But something changed when they are lured by the serpent to redefine good and evil in their own terms. Immediately Adam and Eve cover themselves with fig leaves. Fueled by fear of being exposed, they hide from one another and, more importantly, from God.
This is the chief dilemma of mankind. We desperately want to be fully known and fully loved, and yet we find it unbelievable that someone could fully know us and still love us. And so, we hide ourselves from one another and God. Without a foundation of love, we can hardly begin to trust another person to handle the truth of our own depravity, let alone care for us despite them. So, like Adam, we apply a covering to disguise the truth of what we really are.
For some, this manifests in perception management. A pastor once described this as a frontstage and backstage. The frontstage is an attempt to seem perfect to others while the chaos ensues behind the curtain. For others, it manifests at avoiding others to prevent potential hurt and betrayal. This is self-isolation, and it is the fig-leaf of every introvert.
This does not mean introverts are all conflict avoidant deceivers. The Lord has wired people differently for the purpose of his glory, and we should honor those differences while sharing the wisdom of both practices. Solitude is a helpful discipline for a mature Christian, and one that my extrovert friends often have trouble nurturing. But if Christ’s body is the Church, then in some ways we commune with God through the fellowship of believers– even if it is exhausting and scary.
While an extrovert may feel loved and at rest surrounded by community, an introvert rests through introspection and quiet time. Personally, I am much more comfortable alone in my thoughts than surrounded by people. As a teacher, I spend 8 hours a day speaking. While I love my students and adore my school, I often come back home and hardly speak a word. It is in the quiet that I am at rest.
But in this season “under the sun” as Ecclesiastes puts it, we are called first and foremost to expand the kingdom of God, not to be comfortable. In this age of quarantine and lockdown, it is far too easy to accept the free pass given for isolation as an excuse not to pursue a healthy relationship with the body of believers. It is far too easy to idolize comfort and rest rather than to pursue the One who provides those blessings.
So, last week I went to a local coffee shop and graded papers. And after that, I grabbed pizza with a friend, and then reached out to my parents that evening. This small and intentional act broke my routine and led to more opportunities for fellowship. Slowly, it felt more natural to believe that I might be loved by my friends not because of my supposed perfection, but because I am a reflection of the Creator and His beloved. And so the fig leaves fall away.