“While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed. Simon and those with him went looking for him. They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you.” (Mark 1:35-37)
Someone once said to me (and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a fortune cookie) that “You either live in an outwards or an inwards direction.”
Like all aphorisms, it’s over-condensed. He or she (or it) didn’t mean “You’re either an extrovert or an introvert,” tout simple. But there’s still some truth there. An “outward direction” would involve noticing, caring, sharing, giving. An “inward direction” would be brooding, centring on self, over-thinking, sulking.
Speaking as a member of the latter set, I’d like to “come out” (Ho Ho) in defence of the introvert. I find I’m like a phone that needs careful and constant recharging. My personal ratio seems to be about two hours Alone-time for every hour of Together-time. This isn’t antisocial. It isn’t a sign of depression. It doesn’t call for pills or even Pils. For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restful as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.
When I discovered that truth, I realised that my insomnia was actually a blessing rather than a curse.
But we live in an Extrovert World, and there’s something of an aftertaste to that verse above, (“They found him and said, “Everybody’s looking for you”) which suggests the conflict between the two “directions.” Extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but it may have turned into an oppressive standard to which we feel we must conform. Everyone’s looking for you! You must come now! Celebrity awaits!
Susan Cain challenged that impulse to conform thus: “Spend your free time the way you like, not the way you think you’re supposed to. Stay home on New Year’s Eve if that’s what makes you happy. Skip the committee meeting. Cross the street to avoid making aimless chitchat with random acquaintances. Read. Cook. Run. Write a story. Make a deal with yourself that you’ll attend a set number of social events in exchange for not feeling guilty when you beg off.”
It’s good, healthy self-help, isn’t it? Be who you are. Relax in your own skin.
The only danger would be to go so far inside yourself that you find it difficult to come out again.
The recharging that Jesus found necessary was not the exclusion of everyone else (in the selfish style of Scrooge) but the close intimate fellowship with his Father. “While it was still night, way before dawn, he got up and went out to a secluded spot and prayed.” J.I. Packer took this up: “The healthy Christian is not necessarily the extrovert, ebullient Christian, but the Christian who has a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul, who trembles at God’s word, who lets it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it, and who tests and reforms his life daily in response to it.”
That’s exactly what Jesus was doing.
Speaking of Packer, I read that last Christmas (2015) macular degeneration struck so that he can now no longer read or write. Rather than being paralyzed by fear or self-pity, he expressed confidence (in a recent interview) that “this comes as a clear indication from headquarters. And I take it from him…. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:21). Now that I’m nearly 90 years old, he’s taken away. And I won’t get any stronger, physically, as I go on in this world. And I don’t know how much longer I’ll be going on anyway… The author of Ecclesiastes has taught me that it is folly to suppose that you can plan life and master it, and you will get hurt if you try. … The message of Ecclesiastes 12 is “Get right with God as early in life as you can; ‘remember the creator in your days of youth’ (Eccl. 12:1). Don’t leave it until some time in the future when you’re not likely to be able to handle it well at all.”
Do you see the point? Packer himself “handles it well” because he has “a sense of God’s presence stamped deep on his soul.” He has learned in his long life to “tremble at God’s word, [and let] it dwell in him richly by constant meditation upon it…” And now that the power of outward movement fails him, he can rest upon the resources of the inward.
As we all do.
So it’s both, isn’t it? We need both the “secluded spot” of reflection and the intimate fellowship with the God who sustains us, plus the summons to action, and the call upon our time, energy and love.