Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Reading in the day.

This last week, I read a book (the one I reviewed in the previous post).

I’m a slow reader, except when I skim-read something because I have to for some professional obligation. I like to not only read and absorb every word, but stop and think from time to time, about the ideas offered me, the perspective I’m asked to share, the new things I’m learning, this vision of how life might really be.

So reading this book occupied a lot of hours.

I became aware, about the time my Kindle told me I was 82% of the way through, that I wasn’t breathing properly. Usual problem. I felt anxious. Why? Anxious because I was reading and I wanted to.

I was brought up to be conscientious, and fell early into the hands of devout Christians. At 22 I had become a mother. I am not great at managing money. I am an extreme introvert.

As a result of this combination, I feel chronically guilty.

Let me give you an example. This week, I am conducting a funeral. It’s work I like – an opportunity to make a difference at a time when people are very vulnerable; to listen properly and help sadness heal – but it’s psychologically costly. Spending time hearing the stories of the next of kin of the person whose funeral it is, I find myself stretched, stretching – s t r e t c h i n g – to stay there, to remain calm and focused, to allow their energies to travel through me like electricity. When it comes to the funeral itself, I feel confident in the work, but again it is so spiritually and emotionally costly that near the end often my voice begins to fade – it’s something that happens to me when a situation is too much for me; my voice gives out.

So I took on the funeral knowing that this week I have no other obligations similarly demanding. With space around the two events of the prior interview and the ceremony itself, I felt sure it would be okay.
Then, in between the interview and the funeral, my Badger asked me if I would go to the bank and cancel some direct debits – a transaction proving difficult online.

I said, no. How unco-operative that seems, when my days (by my choice and the consequence of those choices) are so empty and his (by his choice and the consequence of his choices) are so full.

How could I explain in a manner capable of being understood, how exhausting and costly it is, to drive through traffic, park in the town centre, interact with the bank clerks? It would soak up all the safeguarded power I need for the funeral. So I said no; but I didn’t explain.

This is the kind of thing that twists and wrings me with guilt. And I find it fuelled every which way I turn in the Christian Church. Preachers demanding dolefully week upon week, have I visited the elderly (not if I can avoid it), have I reached out to anybody (probably not), have I taken on jobs in the church (no chance). They ask, who am I, why am I here, do I believe. Well, as it happens, I’d been wondering that too.

I wonder about the sheep and the goats. In the story, the sheep don’t know they’re sheep and not goats, and the goats don’t realize they’re goats, not until it’s too late and the sheep are led out to lush pasture while the goats are sent off to be fried for curry. Away from me, ye evil-doers.

It would appear the criteria are, basically, how well did you do at becoming an extrovert. It all comes down to what you did with people. What I do with people is avoid them. They soon find out why if they push it. I am prickly, rude, impatient, too candid, easily exhausted, and I hurt people. Especially when they frighten me.

The human race wrings me. Here, in the little room over the street where I read and think, some of the time, in the houses opposite, in the coming and going of families, I hear children wailing, crying, pleading, and parents shouting, chiding, swearing at them. I hate it. If you were thinking of commenting about how you understand the way the parents feel, and how you find a little supportive word and some gentle encouragement is just what they need, forget it. I couldn’t even bring myself to speak to them, so much anguish is set loose in me by the way they carry on.

The more persistent people find, in the end, I just bolt. I remember one time in the days when I was a church pastor. I had just taken the funeral of a church member and afterwards the large congregation filed through in line from the sanctuary to the meeting place, where tables of refreshments were laid out for the social interactions following the ceremony. I tried. I stayed in line and walked towards the social place. But we were walking slowly, and passing an open door. A way out. I didn’t even give my feet permission. They just took me through it.

Everything I have to do with the church makes me feel guilty. That I read in the day time. That I have almost stopped doing housework. That I don’t believe in hell. That I find most preaching tedious. That I only like the hymns. That I don’t want to hear any more stories about the war. That I haven’t much money to give. I am not thrifty, or cheerful, or loving, or kind. I’m not at all sure I have enough oil in my lamp to keep burning until midnight. I fall asleep. I get bored. I wander off.

So restful the direct amber gaze of a vixen, only herself. So cheering the social visits of the crow who sits on the post and wants only to spend some time with me when he’s eaten his breakfast. So peaceful the quiet breathing of the cat curled nearby on a cushion.

I do want to go to heaven. I can’t bear the idea of hell. But I want, also to breathe freely on the earth, to read in the morning. I like sunrise and the night air. I like the shining of blue purple flowers in the dusk. I love the stars and the silent moon. I don’t want to turn on the lights and start up one of those conversations, like crossing minefields, dodging inappropriate remarks, pretending I don’t think what I do, so as not to give offence.

I love water. I love light. I love silence. I love the sky.


Patricia Yandell said...

And God saw all that He had made and it was very good.....and He rested.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

Southern Catholic said...

Wow. You have struck a nerve with this post. Why is it we are all judged by the extrovert standard? I, too, am an introvert and have been subjected to the most thoughtless comments by other people my whole life.

"You are so quiet," "you don't talk much in meetings," and my personal favorite at an awards banquet after I made a comment, "Oh, so you really can talk." Seriously? Why are people so rude simply because I am different from them?

I have never said to an extrovert who suddenly becomes quiet, "Oh, so you actually can shut up." Perhaps I should. But, no, I was raised to be polite and considerate of others so while I may think about making such a rude statement I will likely never do so.

I am currently enrolled in two-year program to become a spiritual director so that I can meet with people one-on-one for spiritual direction. The program consists of eight online classes and four one-week residential sessions. The program is great, but I find the residential sessions to be quite trying.

At the residential sessions the religious sister in charge of the program, who is an extreme extrovert, constantly repeats the statement that she wants us to be "stretched" during the week and so she has designed the week to be rather intense. Each day begins at 7am and classes continue until 4pm, then we are expected to participate in the social activities every evening. This equates to 14 HOURS a day with other people. I told her there was a difference between stretching and snapping and if I spend that much time with people every day I will snap.

I don't spend 14 hours a week with other people, let alone in one day. I am taking the spiritual direction course because I want to work with people one-on-one, not 60people 14 hours a day.

Anyway, during the residential sessions I take naps during lunch and after 4pm I retreat to my single room (for which I pay an extra fee - the introvert tax). I do make an effort to socialize for the first two evenings but after that I find myself becoming increasingly irritable and I retreat.

An extrovert reading this may think I dislike people. I happen to like people very much but I generally like them one at a time and for relatively short periods of time. Meeting with someone for an hour for spiritual direction is ideal and I enjoy that, but I will never schedule myself to meet with people all day long.

I also enjoy sitting on my back porch with my cat listening to the birds or taking long walks in the woods, and I spend a good deal of time in solitary prayer either in my prayer room or at a nearby church. I like quiet.

BLD in MT said...

I struggle with feeling I should be more "involved" in my community. Serve on boards, claim membership to clubs and organizations. I do have a few, but more than that pulls me apart, zaps me rather than enlivens me. I need my time to pet the kitty, read, have tea--with no music, radio, TV. I do feel guilty about it with regularity though--that I should be doing "more" somehow instead of spending 15 minutes gazing at the garden with a cat on my lap. As if contemplating and being kind are not enough....its interesting and thought provoking.

And, as an aside, I am a slow reader, too. A good, dedicated, passionate lifelong reader, but a slow one.

Sandra Ann said...

No need for guilt Pen you do what you can and I am sure Mr Badger would not need an explanation :-)

I don't mind social occasions but they do knock it out of me since having had the ME and I am always grateful for the silence.

San x

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello friends - thank you for your comments.

San - Mr Badger is ever understanding, the turmoil is all of my own manufacture!


Elizabeth @ The Garden Window said...

Dear Pen,

At times like this, I remember the enclosed monastics who spend a large amount of their daily life in study, manual work, prayer and that blessed, blessed peace and silence. It truly is not necessary to be extrovert to be in the Church; most of my dear friends are most definitely introverts, myself included, and we all find we need to make sure we have very regular and often lengthy periods of peace and quiet, preferably in solitude, in order to recharge our mental, emotional and spiritual batteries.

Ganeida said...

Oh, Pen. I found this distressing to read simply because I know your pain so well. I have 2 thoughts ~ probably of no help whatsoever.

Firstly last time we ministered in the Park a lady came over & requested prayer. No problemo. I will pray for anyone, any time, any where. It was after. The majority of our ministry team are introverts so we stood like stunned ducks, wordless & awkward. Thankfully our lone extrovert breached the gap by making small talk & introducing herself. So simple yet it never once crossed the introverts minds. *sigh* Sometimes I wonder about me. I really do. This is why the church is a body.

For years, as a Christian, I struggled with prayer. The needs of the world seemed just so overwhelming & how could I prayer for everything that needed prayer? So I didn't pray. Then one day the Holy Spirit said to me."If you just pray for those things I give you to pray I will raise up people to pray for the other things." That was so freeing! I think it holds for everything in Christ. We do the work He has given US to do & He will raise up others to do the other things. We were never meant to do it all. There is really only a problem when people aren't doing what they are called & equipped to do leaving the few to carry the full load ~ & that is wrong.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) Hello Elizabeth - did you see my post before this one, about "All The Light We Cannot See"? I thought of you when I'd read it - you'd like it, I think. x

Pen Wilcock said...

Ganeida - ah - yes - this is where I think we lost something important when we moved from the King James Bible to modern translations (though we obviously gained much that's helpful and good). When we took away thee/thou and ye/you, replacing all with 'you', we unfortunately eliminated the distinction between what was meant to be undertaken as individuals and what was a shared undertaking for the church *community*. It would have been helpful to have kept that. x

Susan said...

I love your thoughts because they are *exactly* like mine. I am so very tired of feeling guilty about my personality. My whole life I have done my best to pretend at being an extravert, and it has made me sick in body and spirit. I live a quiet, secluded life (some say anti-social), but really my family provides all of the social interaction I can tolerate. As Christians, we are called to love God and love our neighbor and also to "make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you." (1Thessalonians 4:11). I think one of the most loving things I can do for other people is stay out of their path. : )

Pen Wilcock said...


I love the beautiful photos of butterflies on buddleia on your blog, Susan. x

Ros said...

I remember long years ago, some time after I went down with the ME, coming to the sudden realisation that just about everything we hear in church is about doing. In the place where I had been, even praying, meditating or reading counted as 'doing' and were often impossible. Most of my days had been spent in dark and silence. Reflecting on this, It occurred to me that we needed to have a bit of a rethink about what being a Christian is. What is it that God truly values in us? If it is what we do, then that's going to exclude anyone who is profoundly disabled. So I'm thinking it's got to be all about being...

I'd like to say that this realisation sorted everything out for me. But things are rarely that simple. Even very recently, I was confronted again with the guilt/shame that seems to come so easily to those of us who, for one reason or another, are prevented from doing. And I saw Jesus on that cross - carrying the ultimate shame - and doing nothing more than being done to. And I was humbled and grateful.

'I love water. I love light. I love silence. I love the sky.'

Yes. Me too :-) And I'm thinking such appreciation is one of the many things that make God happy.

Anonymous said...

I'm so glad that you write all of this. To me it just illustrates how wrong we have gone in the world, entire civilization. Every religious tradition knows this, even in Islam there is the ideal of the peace in the desert. We are living so unnaturally, in our cities and crowds. It was not lovers of God who built them up or who made necessary for people to build them up in order to defend and survive. I suppose my own thoughts and feelings turn more darkly than what you've written here...even a nomadic family unit would probably be too oppressive for my poor spirit and I would have to flee into complete solitude...but still your sharing it comforts me. :) My own problem is that I am such a friendly introvert, in my limited exposures when one on one, that people can never understand why I don't navigate social duties on larger scale.

Anne said...

I have found a gentle path, the wholistic Christianity of the Celts. With the likes of books by David Adam, John Phillip Newell and Ray Simpson, especially their prayer books. I think it suits nature loving introverts. My home is becoming my monastery with a great selection of prayer and devotional materials, a cozy area with candles and incense and some beautiful treasures on my little table from nature.

Pen Wilcock said...

Hello friends


Ros, thank you for writing that. One of the things I learned from years working with nuns in the care of profoundly disabled people, and from the work of Jean Vanier, was the sense of people with disabilities as Christ in the midst. And I love the thing Diana Lorence said, "In your disabilities and in what you decline to do lies your way home." xx

Anonymous - ah, yes, my thoughts turn more darkly too, but hey, you know, this is a public blog! The darker days are the quieter ones!! God bless your quietness, God be the peace in your solitude xx

Anne - I will look for those authors - thank you xx

Jen said...

I have a bit of a medical explanation about this, but I normally draw it as I speak, so it might not come across well.

Pain and fatigue happens because our nervous system essentially has the volume knob turned up high.

Everything that is a stimulus is input into nervous system: sound, touch, visual. people's responses to us, our responses to everything, our expectations/guilt/anxiety is also a stimulus.

Then our oversensitive system put all of that through the process, but with the volume knob way up high.

So what is a small amount to one person is a huge amount to those of us with pain and fatigue.

I know you are talking about introversion and I do not want to medicalise it, however for those of us with CFS/ME/Fibroylmalgia (sp), EDS, HMS etc this has been medically proven.

When I am over stretched I react even more strongly to things.

I need a huge amount of alone time, a good walk for me is one where I don't see anyone. The problem I face I want to do so much in that precious morning time before the rest of world arrives and I just can't fit it all in. I get up at 5.30am as it is!

Pen Wilcock said...

Thanks, Jen - that's most helpful. xx

MaryR said...

Gosh, Pen, there's that guilt again, and mine just leapt up to join yours. My Catholic upbringing made me very introverted, and very guilty, because if you say you're good at something you're full of pride. My mother compounded this by constantly finding fault. Is it any wonder I learned to keep my mouth closed in case I said or did the wrong thing? And yes, even today the church - my church - compounds this. But being retired, I find my peace in books - and in prayer - and in making cards - and in writing quotation books for people as gifts - and in writing. All peaceful activities that my husband has no problem with. I see people on a one to one basis, never crowds. I flee the latter, even a college 50th anniversary which is coming up. Why would I want to face so many people? Can't do it! So I won't! Be at peace, Pen. Put aside the demands that expectations that ruffle that peace, God's peace. There has to come a time when we live for God and for our own peace of mind and well-being, and for those who might need our help if we can sit quietly with them and just be, as I do when I take out communion to the sick and elderly every week. Like you, I like peace, I like silence, I like the sea, I like sunsets, I like trees.

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx

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Pen Wilcock said...