If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you can probably tell that I am trying to broaden the scope of my posts, to include more than, well, introversion. I have spent about 6 years on the topic, and while I care deeply about it, I do actually think about other topics. Shocking, I know. That’s why my second book, while an extension of the topic, is not the development of a franchise: Introverts at Home. Introverts at Work. Introverts in Marriage. Introverts Who Kill. I’ve enjoyed giving other writers a chance to discuss their experiences as introverts in my Introvert Saturday series, which usually gets more readers than my non-introvert posts. Yet I persevere.
I keep finding myself, however, brought back to the topic. It pursues me. For example, yesterday on Twitter, J.R.R. Tolkien asked me “As an introvert, which Lord of the Rings character do you most relate to?” I’m sure many would assume that it wasn’t the real Tolkien who asked, but someone representing him on social media, but I’m pretty sure logic and experience says that Tolkien has a smart phone and is tweeting me from beyond the grave. Because that is how introversion haunts me. My hope is that he will receive this post as a peace offering and will stop going Jacob Marley on me.
Now, I’m not the guy who reads everything with introvert-colored glasses, looking for introversion in characters, between the lines, or in the open spaces of books. But it did get me thinking about Lord of the Rings, since I’ve read the trilogy annually for the past 10 years or so. I responded to ghost Tolkien and I received more re-tweets than I ever have. Here are my two tweets:
I’d say that all of Hobbit culture tends toward an introverted way of life. Cozy little holes, quiet lives, good friends.
Bilbo’s feeling of being “thin, stretched out, like butter scraped over too much bread” captures the experience of introverts.
I later expanded on the second one on Facebook, in more than 140 characters: I’ve always thought that Bilbo Baggins’ feeling that he was “thin, stretched out, like butter scraped over too much bread” is an apt description for introverts tired out by an extroverted world.
I continued to think about hobbits last night, as I lay awake in bed (I need to talk to my therapist about this), and I had a thought that coincided nicely with something Susan Cain said in her TED talk. Susan said that many of the famous introverts – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and others – often did not choose to be in the public life because it was a natural fit for them, but because they were compelled by a cause. They couldn’t not speak out. Christians would label this a “call” and say that sometimes God calls us to be uncomfortable, to do something beyond our natural capacities for a greater purpose.
I realized that the two central characters of Tolkien’s hobbit tales – Bilbo and Frodo – show some of the most introverted tendencies in the books, which is what makes their stories so compelling. They did not choose their adventures or their missions, they were chosen for them. They were small, short, unlikely, uninteresting creatures who tilled gardens and smoked pipes, but they became central figures in the plot to save the world from evil.
When I talk about leadership in Introverts in the Church, I say this:
God’s gifts are not conditional on our worthiness for receiving them or our fitness for using them, and they are certainly not conditional on personality type…
God may have a vested interest in giving gifts to people who seem ill-suited to possess them. God delights in reversing expectations, in choosing the most unexpected people to lead, prophesize, and proclaim…
God has always been about the business of shattering expectations, and in our culture, the standards of leadership are extroverted. It perfectly follows the biblical trend that God would choose the unexpected and the culturally “unfit” – like introverts – to lead his church for the sake of his greater glory.
Perhaps introverts in our culture are the equivalent of hobbits in Middle Earth. And maybe tomorrow you will open your door to pick up your Amazon shipment of books you plan to read by yourself…and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no telling where you might be swept off to.
Have you ever been so compelled by a cause that you chose to do something that felt unnatural? Have you seen God’s power work through you in a way that convinced you it wasn’t your own strength that did it?