Spiritual Discipline Tips from an Introvert and Extrovert
The first time I (Steph, a raging extrovert) tried spiritual disciplines was at an InterVarsity Chapter Camp. I remember being introduced to the concept of a retreat of silence and thinking, how in the world am I supposed to not speak to anyone for three hours? Sure, if I’m napping, that’s an easy feat. But to spend time around people but not interact seemed impossible and, quite frankly, boring. I remember, as I was walking around trying to find a place to sit, I could tell who was an introvert and who was an extrovert. The extroverts were smiling, nodding, and doing anything to make eye contact with people. The introverts were in heaven, soaking up the silence and averting their eyes from the extroverts, who were deprived of human contact for the last eight minutes. I eventually found a little trail and sat away from everyone on a rock that had a beautiful view and spent unrushed time with Jesus.
Ironically, though this was my first, it wasn't my last retreat of silence, because now I know how good it is to sit at Jesus’ feet and leave enough space to listen and allow him to speak to me. In my silence, his voice refreshes my soul.
When I (Andrew) was 15, I had the privilege of being invited into a small group hosted by my youth pastor. In past groups, we’d read a book, discuss some topical questions, and share prayer requests, but this group was different. Here, I was introduced to the discipline of memorization as we internalized the entire first chapter of James a couple semesters into meeting! Week after week, we’d go around the circle jockeying to go fourth so we could hear the passage a few more times before we actually had to say it out loud. This group was also my introduction to the discipline of confession. I’ll never forget naively agreeing as a group to read a book called Every Young Man’s Battle and then being asked questions like, “So, did you masturbate this week?” Um . . . what?!? As embarrassing as some of my responses were, this group taught me disciplines like weekly confession, intercessory prayer, and devotional reading that profoundly altered the trajectory of my life. Even when I didn’t know the phrase “spiritual disciplines” or fully understand their impact on me, my youth pastor was experientially introducing us to them.
What spiritual disciplines have most profoundly shaped you in different seasons of your life? What spiritual practices come most easily to you, and what disciplines beckon you when you unexpectedly find yourself with some time to waste before the Lord? How much thought have you put into how your personality—particularly your extrovertedness or introvertedness—influences your choice or regular practice of spiritual disciplines?
As an ISTJ (Andrew) and ENFP (Steph) couple who has been married for nine years and in ministry for eight, we want to suggest some disciplines that both introverts and extroverts might incorporate into their lives. Though many excellent resources exist on spiritual disciplines and practices, we have drawn much inspiration from Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook and would highly recommend it as a broad survey of possible spiritual practices no matter where you find yourself.
“Easy” Disciplines for Extroverts
The hardest thing about spiritual disciplines for me (Steph) is my need and desire to be around other people. I enjoy the physical presence of people, and that desire has often made it harder for me to connect with God. As of today, Jesus hasn’t snagged the seat across from me at Starbucks yet, so one of the most impactful disciplines that I have enjoyed as an extrovert is spiritual direction.
Spiritual direction is generally a one-to-one scheduled appointment that takes place in a comfortable lounge or office. Often, a spiritual director and directee will meet monthly for a period of months or years. A spiritual director practices a sort of “dual listening” to their guest and to God. These appointments usually include time for quiet contemplation but also space to respond to critical questions from the director. My director’s questions have helped identify important barriers between me and God and have pushed my relationship with him to new levels. This is ultimately the goal in spiritual direction—for the director to help their guest hear from God more clearly and see his work in their life. In her book, Adele explains, “In the busyness of everyday life we can become blind and deaf to the river of life that flows in and around us all. A spiritual director listens with one ear to God and the other to the directee, always encouraging the directee to recognize where God can be found throughout the journey” (p. 11). Andrew and I highly encourage interviewing multiple directors before deciding who to meet with so you can find a best fit for you.
If you have financial barriers (spiritual directors often charge a fee for each appointment), a similar discipline you might consider is spiritual friendship. “Spiritual friendship involves cultivating a covenant friendship where I can naturally share my life with God,” Adele writes. “It is grounded in relationship to God and a commitment to support, encourage, and pray for one another” (p. 151). Spiritual friendship might not be on the same level as spiritual direction simply because neither of you are probably trained to that level, but nonetheless it can become a place to spur each other on intentionally in your walk with God while also growing your friendship with someone you already care about. Spiritual direction and spiritual friendship are both “easy” disciplines for extroverts because of the opportunity to process externally while also having an intentional focus on growing deeper in your relationship with God.
Other easy disciplines to consider: prayer walking, worship, an accountability group, or breath prayer.
An “Introvert Discipline” for Extroverts
If you are anything like me (Steph), I can go days without slowing down or leaving margin to recognize God’s presence. It’s so easy to get caught up in work, family, friends, chores, entertainment, social media, etc. As author Lynne Baab explains in her book Sabbath Keeping, “Our hard work and busy pace can make us strangers to God” (p. 20). In order to stay connected to God daily and his presence in our lives we must be intentional.
The discipline of examen has been one of the best ways for me to be intentional, to keep track of where God is and what he is doing in my life. While not easy, examen is something I have grown to appreciate. Adele writes that it is “a practice for discerning the voice and activity of God within the flow of the day” and “a vehicle that creates deeper awareness of God-given desires in one’s life” (p. 52).
Examen involves finding a regular time—perhaps at the end of each day—to ask yourself two questions that will help you recognize God’s presence throughout the day, week, month, etc. Here are some sample questions offered in the Spiritual Disciplines Handbook:
What was the most life-giving part of my day? What was the most life-thwarting part of my day?
When today did I have the deepest sense of connection with God and others?
Where did I experience “desolation”? Where did I find “consolation”?
Other “introvert disciplines” to consider: retreats of silence, memorization, detachment, and meditation.
An “Easy” Discipline for Introverts
Nearly 10 years ago, my life dramatically changed when I (Andrew) stood on my church’s stage and said “I do” to a beautiful and spontaneous young woman named Steph. In the days and weeks after, Steph had different ideas for our TV usage (i.e., much less Madden on my PlayStation 2), she was present at my dinner table daily and in my bed nightly, and she even seemed to have this growing sense that my apartment wasn’t actually my apartment. Five years later, another human had the nerve to come home from the delivery room with us, and two years ago another child escaped from Union Hospital into our Toyota RAV4. These two amazing love monsters take great joy at pulling my fingers when I’m reading a book and peeking their heads into a bathroom I’m occupying, and have generally misjudged me as a jungle gym purposed with their pure enjoyment. Ah solitude, where have you gone?
It’s only been in recent months that I’ve come to understand what Richard Foster knew 40 years ago when he wrote Celebration of Discipline. He says, “Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place. There is a solitude of the heart that can be maintained at all times. Crowds, or the lack of them, have little to do with this inward attentiveness.” Though my life, home, and affections have become exponentially more crowded over the past decade, my “inward attentiveness” as an introvert is very much alive. And though I cherish moments when I can enjoy physical solitude (often at 6:15 a.m. before anyone else has gotten up!), I’ve come to appreciate the five minutes I have on the playground while my boys play together where I can breathe deeply the presence of God and take joy in simply being attentive to what’s happening within me.
Perhaps you find yourself with a roommate or in an office with many coworkers constantly in your physical space. How might you practice solitude as “a state of mind and heart” rather than a physical space to retreat to? What if you were prepared and ready to instantly capture moments of inner solitude when your coworker unexpectedly excuses themselves to go to the bathroom or when you realize that your kids are independently playing for the moment? Every introvert needs physical solitude, so, in my humble opinion, you’re crazy if you’re an introvert and you’re not protecting regular space to be physically alone. But how might you embrace a more holistic “solitude of the heart” on a daily basis no matter your physical environment?
Other easy disciplines to consider: praying Scripture, journaling, meditation, or silence.
An “Extrovert Discipline” for Introverts
Adele has us pegged when she pens that “we are a society with acquaintances, colleagues and allies, but no real friends. We may know how to work together to get things done, and we may be gifted in small talk, shop talk, and weather talk, but we trust no one with the last 10 percent of our lives.” Ouch. As introverts, we could be more prone to this than most—especially those of us who work in people-intensive jobs where we come home zapped from conversations and people overload. Adele has an “extrovert discipline” for us to counter our natural posture: covenant groups. These are “a particular kind of small group designed to take participants to a deep level of the soul with one another. They provide a vehicle for continuity and development of relationships that attend to our stories as well as the hard questions concerning lifestyles, priorities, goals and spiritual well-being.”
Though I wouldn’t have called it a covenant group at the time, this was exactly what my high school youth pastor was creating for us. We had a fixed day, time, and location where each of us committed to be with a promise to prioritize this above other commitments (i.e., a covenant).
Such a group need not last a long time (as many spiritual friendships might), and certainly each unique group can be structured around different priorities, but the goal of such groups is to let others know us well enough to encourage, challenge, and speak truth to us in the ways we most deeply need. Covenant groups extend beyond simply catching up on life or sharing prayer requests into the realm Paul’s letter’s invite us to: “carry each other’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2), “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24), and “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). A covenant group can move us from being around people to being known and grown by people.
Introverts might think that “people disciplines” are only for extroverts, but the right people on a regular basis are crucial for our growth as introverts. Rather than immersing yourself in a volume of voices, what few Christians could you begin to covenant yourself into deeper relationship with?
Other “extrovert disciplines” to consider: prayer partners, compassion, discipling, or truth telling.
What discipline do you need?
Spending time with God within our natural bent can be effortless and refreshing. However, we would encourage you to stretch yourself from time to time. While the thought of some of these spiritual disciplines might give you a guttural reaction of dislike, you might actually end up finding one that helps you connect deeply with the Lord and brings life to your soul.
Andrew McCarty serves as an Area Director with Mid-Indiana InterVarsity. His lovely wife, Steph, grows more lovely with each year of marriage, and his boys, Josiah (4) and Ellis (1), are great fun 95 percent of the time. He loves to play sports of all kinds and be outdoors as often as possible. He also loves to read, so he awaits your comments with new books he should add to his shelf.