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Engage, Disengage

“It would be good if you could come.”

A friend recently invited me to an event that sounded amazing – fun, restful, joyful, and good. Her words were accurate: it would be good if I could come. It would provide rest, develop relationship, and give me time to think, meet, and connect.

It all sounded great.

But I had a nagging feeling I shouldn’t go.

Do you ever feel that way? Do you ever think, that sounds incredible, or, I should go to that, because you know it will be so good for you, and yet, deep down, also know you shouldn’t go?

Over a year ago, this same friend had challenged me to engage more with my surroundings. She showed me how much richer my daily activities would be if I put more effort into the people I saw everyday.

I can’t count how many times this past year I’ve thought about her challenge and felt  grateful that she spoke those words. They prompted me to a thousand small actions that added up to a larger safety net of community to lean on when other not-so-pleasant things came in these twelve months.

But, like all good advice, we can take things too far.

Those of us in faith-based organizations are especially prone to this. Somehow, somewhere along the way, we’ve gained this maxim, that more involvement is always better.

But, is it?

This past week I’ve gotten my seemingly annual kidney infection – this time with a few complications – and I’ve spent a few days flat on the couch, comforted by my heating pad, Buscopan, cranberry juice, books, and … Elliana.

Noelle joins us when she comes home from school, and we read books, do puzzles, and talk about, well, everything.

And since I’m a do-er, this enforced tranquility doesn’t come naturally.

But its good.

We’ve recently entertained the discussion of homeschooling, and I have to admit, David and I have both been humbled by the overwhelming evidence contrary to our previous assumption that all kids should go to school, and homeschooling is weird.

We’ve been so, so wrong about that.

And while I don’t believe that every child should be in exactly the same environment as everyone else, and while this post is not about the virtues and downfalls of each type of schooling, in our journey we’ve run into a common ‘yes, but…’ comment from those who’ve heard about our plans.

I think you all know what they’ve said.

Aren’t you worried about your kids’ socialization?

About the thirtieth time I heard that objection, I was starting to lose it. For there it was, again – that idea that if you’re not around lots of people, all day long, all of the time, there’s something weird about you.

Which makes all of us introverts weird.

But then, we already knew that.

If you extraverts only knew just how much effort it requires to constantly battle our introvert nature and fit society’s expectations, all while knowing we likely will never fit anyone’s expectations! I confess, I sometimes fantasize about a society in which all extraverts are pressured to be more internal and less relational. Because, then the rest of us geeks could say, ‘ha HA, SUCKERS!‘ and laugh while they are being made fun of for talking too much.

But we can’t help it, they’d whine.

Yup, we’d fire back. Sucks, doesn’t it?

And while us introverts are used to fighting our inner nature just to be – relatively – ‘normal,’ we can occasionally get tripped up by our over-involved, over-connected culture and think, I don’t want to do that, but I can’t trust myself to listen to what I want to do, because I’m an introvert and I need to be more social.

But this week, a very wise friend pointed out to me that not all socialization is good.

To someone trapped in the insanely-connected suburbs – seriously, everyone is in everyone else’s business here, which can be great but also, really not – this idea was a breath of fresh, salty, Vancouver Seawall air.

I have an amazing support network. I know who I can trust. I know who will make me laugh, cry (good tears), and smile. I know whose day I brighten with a single word or tiny action.

I hope you each have a group like this.

But the downside of rich relationships is that we can feel funny when we’re not with other people. Since our friends can make us feel so good when we spend time with them, we can let them – or people, period – distract us from opportunities for balance, peace, and renewal.

Think about it: how many times have you been presented with quiet-time and immediately thought you should fill that time with other people?

Be honest.

It might be natural, but it isn’t always good.

Because not all socialization is good.

Just like not all alone-time is bad.

This week I’ve learned that homeschooling is radically different than it used to be. The activities, the opportunities, the level of connection – not to mention the growing number of families who are choosing this option – are far healthier than the idea I’d had of a homeschooling life. I know that if we chose this option, our girls would have more quiet time and less busy work. We’d avoid the scramble for a parking spot during morning drop-off or pick-up. And though they’d be around less kids all day, every day, we’d get to help our daughters develop intentional, quality relationships.

Isn’t that what we’re all looking for anyways – quality relationships?

Perhaps that’s why we can get over-involved. Perhaps we feel the lack of quality – maybe our favorite people are thousands of miles away – and substitute what we’re looking for with lots of sub-par interactions. How many ‘relationships’ do we maintain simply because we’re afraid to let them go? How many events do we attend just because we know we should?  And though, sure, sometimes we need to make these social sacrifices, I wonder if we often continue things that should have been discontinued… long, lonnnnngggg ago.

Because not all socialization is good.

While stuck on the couch this week, I read a story from an ancient book where a group of people had been told to spread out and establish their families in different parts of the world.

They didn’t.

Overwhelmed by the scary idea of being alone, nervous about the idea of losing their friends, bored by the possibility of so much less to do without all these people around, they said, instead, let’s build a great big tower and see if we can make it as high as heaven.

Wait, you probably know this story. It’s in a very old, very famous book. The tower is called … Babel.

You probably also know that tower never got finished. But even before their language became confused, these people were caught in a mess of confusion, because they all had this stubborn idea that they needed to stay together, no matter what.

We still perpetuate this idea. How many movies have been made on the premise that we can do anything together, or together we prevail, or teamwork conquers all?

And though it’s a heartwarming, comforting, empowering idea, we can take it too far. We can sacrifice what is best for what is good.

I can’t tell you exactly how much social activity is best for you. You know that. But I know that some of you, like me, are either over-involved or headed towards over-involvement. And we are often reluctant to pull back, either because we’re scared we’ll miss out on something, or because we’re scared of being alone, or because someone told us, it would be good if you could come.

Last year, I needed to develop a new discipline. I needed to engage.

But this year I need to reestablish a discipline sorely lacking in our attention-deficit culture – the courage to occasionally disengage.

I hope you learn to do this before life does it for you.

Don’t be the people at Babel. Know when its time to leave. Know when it’s time to move on.

Know when its time to say no.

And say it – without guilt.

Brave the fear or boredom that comes with those initial moments of being alone.

You might find you actually like it.

And though so many will raise their eyebrows, know there’s at least one person who will applaud you.

12 Comments Post a comment
  1. I love the ideas here Lana. Great post!

    January 25, 2012
    • Thanks Sarah! So glad you liked this! Hope all is well with you!

      January 26, 2012
  2. Really great thoughts! Love your writing!

    January 25, 2012
    • Thanks Jo-Ann! I so appreciated your thoughts and encouragement this week!! Made me think about a lot of things!

      January 26, 2012
  3. Even though I enjoy being by myself and actually crave it when I have to spend time with family, I find myself sometimes extremely lonely after I have spent a lot time with family and almost like I have to be around people. That’s when I go to Starbucks or the library and realize that I just want to be by myself and go home.

    January 26, 2012
    • I totally agree, Melissa. When we are over-stimulated, we can actually feel lonelier than if we’d been physically by ourselves! It’s good you know this about yourself. It takes courage to intentionally break off and have time alone. But I think we’re better able to engage with others when we’ve had enough time to recharge by ourselves. Even my extroverted husband thinks so!

      January 26, 2012
  4. Kalina #

    Love reading your blog, Lana! And this post reminds me of why, during college, I’d always wait at least five days before seeing any friends when I came home. It would take me that long to recuperate from the intensity of dorm life to feel the desire to see my friends, even my best friends that I really, dearly wanted to see. Homeschooling sounds like such a restful choice when you consider that you have so, so, so much more control over your schedule. . .

    January 26, 2012
    • What a wise discipline you developed, Kalina! I remember the hustle and bustle of dorm life and how I almost felt depressed when I came home for the summers. I’m so glad you enjoyed this. Look forward to seeing you guys again soon!

      January 27, 2012
    • And yes, I DO love the idea of more control over our schedule – there is flexibility and lots of choice! Of course, with lots of choice comes lots of work, but for some people (and that might include us!!) that’s more than worth it. I’d want to pick your teacher-brain for ideas, though…!

      January 27, 2012
  5. My dear introverted friend Sara just posted about a book entitled Introverts in the church.
    Her link…much ado about something….is on my sidebar. You might enjoy reading about what she shared, and what the author shared.

    March 16, 2012
    • Thanks Jill! I will check that out for sure.

      March 17, 2012

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