As many of you know, I am an introvert. That doesn’t mean I’m shy or not talkative, it just means that I am energized by being alone and tend to be drained by being around large amounts of people. This has always made living in community interesting for me. As much as I appreciate socializing, having accountability, and spending quality time with people, I have to withdraw sometimes to keep a balance. Not everybody is like that, in fact, there are some of you that like to be around people all the time, and that’s great, good for you! But is there such thing as being around people too much? Even for extreme extroverts? Is there such thing as being alone too much? Even for introverts? Bonhoeffer argues there might be in Chapter 3 of Life Together.
“The Christian community is not a spiritual sanatorium. The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion, no matter how spiritual this diversion may appear. He is really not seeking community at all, but only distraction which will allow him to forget his loneliness for a brief time, the very alienation that creates the deadly isolation of man.” (76)
This can be true for introverts and extroverts alike. Why? Because true Christian community can be work. We often have a vision of Christian community that is unrealistic and rosy-eyed. Many of us think that Christian community should always be fun, interesting, filled with people who see the world the same way we do and have all the same viewpoints as we do, never argue, cook dinners for one another, and so on and so forth. What they don’t tell you is that true Christian community is full of actual human beings who screw up and aren’t always pleasant.
This is also how people can get “burned” by the church. Many times we rely too much on fallible human beings who make mistakes to complete our vision of what church and community should or should not be. When those expectations aren’t met and come crashing down, we can project that onto God and never step foot in church again. So how do we redeem this vision of community while also being realistic? We have to be comfortable being ourselves and letting other people be themselves, too.
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. He will only do harm to himself and to the community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (77).
You cannot escape from yourself just as you cannot escape from who other people are. We need to carve out time for ourselves and we also need to carve out time for others. This requires work depending on where you may find yourself on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. In order to be a balanced and whole human being and a healthy follower of Jesus, you need to get out of your comfort zone.
“Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.” (78)
This is an important point that Bonhoeffer makes, because either way we look at it, we’re not only doing this for our own sake but so that we can be energized and be able to pour into other people. In other words, how we spend our time directly affects how we treat one another.
“The individual must realize that his hours of aloneness react upon the community… Every act of self-control of the Christian is also a service to the fellowship… Blessed is he who is alone in the strength of the fellowship and blessed is he who keeps the fellowship in the strength of aloneness.” (88-89)
If you’re an extrovert, be sure and carve out time for yourself to spend alone and with God. If you’re an introvert, stretch yourself a bit and spend some time investing and getting to know others. Both are good for the soul, and you can always retreat back to your wheelhouse to fill yourself back up. But if you’re spilling over, it’s time to pour some back out.