Would you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? If you’ve never thought about that question, let’s define what it means. An extrovert gets their energy from hanging out with people. If you spend a ton of time alone, you start to climb the walls. You recharge your batteries by spending time with others. On the other hand, an introvert gets their energy from being by themselves. If they spend a lot of time in social situations, they’ll likely need quite a bit of downtime to recharge. They have no problem not seeing a single person sometimes even for several days.
So, what happens when these 2 types of people get an invite to a party? Well, here’s a visual:
I for sure can speak to this one because I am definitely an introvert. This is me at parties:
Usually my first reaction is “Who’s going to be there? Do I know them? Will there be cats?”
Just kidding, kind of. Those thoughts are closely followed by “what can I do? I’ll feel more comfortable if I have a job to do.” A lot of people are surprised when I tell them I’m an introvert because of how much public speaking I do but here’s the deal- public speaking is a job to do in a room full of people! You put me in a room with a bunch of people that I don’t know very well and expect me to mingle (?!) WITHOUT a job and I have a really hard time. But with a job? I come alive and I actually appear a lot like an extrovert. When I start to feel overwhelmed in a crowd of people, I will usually look for something to do to put myself at ease. Over the holidays all my family were over at my parents’ house and between 8 people and 3 large dogs, I started to feel overwhelmed so I went straight to the kitchen and started doing dishes. There’s something about having a task to do that just calms me right down. I think that’s just because I’m a natural “do-er”. I was made to get stuff done. Many of us would probably say that about ourselves. For me though, my “doing” turns into an unhealthy need to perform really quick.
There are probably multiple reasons for this but there was a particular moment in my early childhood that I think kicked it off. When I was in first grade, I was a pretty smart cookie if I do say so myself and I was reading at a 6th grade level. But it took me a long time to complete tasks so one day, some adults barged into our classroom and hauled me off to take some tests. I didn’t know what they were for at the time – I just knew it was really embarrassing to be pulled out of class like that. It turns out they were testing me for learning disabilities because of how long it took me to complete my work. You see, not only am I a do-er, I’m also a do-er who wants to be perfect.
The tests that these folks ran came back with no indication of learning disabilities and everyone moved on – except me. That experience taught me that I need to produce work not only perfectly but even faster and better than my classmates. From then on, I would get anxiety if I wasn’t the first person to turn in an assignment or complete a test. This followed me after those days and expanded into nearly everything I did. I had to be faster and better than anyone around me. Group fitness classes were particularly exhausting with this condition. I honestly think this is also why I could never stick to CrossFit… I nearly died!
There’s a character in the Bible that is near and dear to my heart because she had similar struggles. Her name is Martha and she is mentioned a couple of times in the gospels. So is her sister Mary but we’ll get to her in a second. During Jesus’s ministry, he was close friends with Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus. In fact John 11:5 says “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” Yes, that Lazarus that got raised from the dead. Can you imagine being a part of that friend circle? Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “squad goals” right?
Anyway, one day Jesus was staying with Mary and Martha and it was time for a meal. Martha, being the doer and my soul sister, was busting her booty in the kitchen making sure everything was absolutely perfect. I mean, JESUS HIMSELF is eating in her house. Can you imagine the Pinterest board for that?! So she’s working and probably stressing…. in fact I’m sure she was stressing because she tells Jesus “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work myself? Tell her to help me!”
Let’s pause here for a minute. Martha is a doer and her intentions are great. She wants everything to be perfect for this meal and she’s upset that her sister does not share her sense of urgency. See, this is the thing about being a doer – when we get into the frenzy of performance, we take our eyes off of the important in favor of the urgent. And then, like Martha, we come to Jesus and say, “Don’t you care that I’m drowning over here? Doing work for YOU?” Sound familiar? It sure does to me.
I was introduced to Jesus in high school and for many years, my faith was about performance too. This really became apparent when I started to get involved at church here in Vegas about 13 years ago. I decided to get way out of my comfort zone and see about joining a small group… and they said they had a shortage of leaders. I thought to myself, Ok, I guess I can lead a small group. The church opened a new campus near where I lived- I can help with that! Someone needs to coordinate small groups and manage the groups table every Sunday- I can do that! They needed someone to step in and run the hospitality team- I can do that!
Now let me be clear – I’m not saying that any of this stuff was bad in any way. I actually felt super close to God when I was serving like that. Here’s where it went off the rails though: I started to feel like I had to do MORE, that what I was already doing wasn’t enough. That maybe I wasn’t enough unless I was working harder, faster, and better than everyone else. I would constantly ask my pastor for more things to do and those of you who run ministries, or any kind of volunteer organization, know that there is always something more to do! So I did. And pretty soon I burned out.
At the time, I was mad. I was asking Jesus, “Don’t you care that I’m drowning? Doing work for YOU?” And I can imagine the look on his face as he told me something similar to what he said to Martha, “Martha, Martha (Erin, Erin), you are worried and upset about many things but only one thing is needed.” After he says this to Martha, he then paints a much different picture about her sister Mary. He goes on to say, “Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
So let’s talk about Mary. What was Mary doing this whole time? In her sister’s eyes, absolutely nothing. But the truth is she was sitting at the feet of Jesus. Listening. Absorbing. Seeing and being seen. Learning. Martha was the more compliant and hardworking of the two, yet Jesus says Mary chose the good portion. This is because there is a BIG difference between compliance and surrender.
Whenever I read this story, I am always dismayed at how often I’m Martha and how seldomly I am Mary. And I’m probably speaking to a room full of women who have felt like Martha more than once in their lives. And it’s easy to read this story and think, “yeah, yeah, yeah… be still, listen, and don’t be in such a rush. I get it.” But do we? Do I?
It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve started to see how much my constant need to perform has affected my faith. I burned out of that first ministry role that I had, I walked away for a while and then found The Crossing, which has been my church home since 2013. I was much wiser this time and was intentional about where I was serving. I found myself coming alive again and really felt like I was where I was supposed to be. There were definitely some Mary moments…
…Then I started that familiar pattern. Over the course of the next 4 years, here’s what happened:
- I was so good at volunteering that I actually ended up on staff part time in addition to working a pretty demanding full-time job with travel.
- I decided to pursue a second master’s degree in instructional design.
- I got involved with Ignite Life and was soon on the leadership team, speaking, and teaching the speaker’s workshop.
- I enrolled in a pretty intense, 2-year-long Spiritual Direction course.
- Oh, and in March of 2018? I got a puppy.
To say I was busy was an understatement. I was also running on empty during a lot of it. The lie that the enemy gets me with is that in order to be worthy of Jesus I need to do more, that I don’t have anything to offer besides my performance. And the fear created from that lie makes me feel unsafe. And so I return to my safe place, which is a frenzy of activity that seems to drown out the fear and quiet the endless voices telling me I don’t measure up. I might be compliant in checking all of the “Christian” boxes but this constant need to perform robs me of the opportunity to live surrendered like Mary.
This can become a vicious cycle where I maniacally perform, burn out, cry out to Jesus, jump into more stuff, then repeat the whole thing all over again. The guilt and shame that come with this are sometimes overwhelming. But I think it’s important to note that Jesus doesn’t slam Martha for working so hard. He doesn’t tell her she’s a terrible person and needs to get her priorities straight. Instead, he gently corrects her and reminds her of what’s important. We don’t see this part of the story play out but I imagine that his response to her opened the door for her to rethink her priorities and maybe she was able to sit at his feet right alongside Mary. He responds gently with me too. Even when I feel like I’m flailing all over the place, he gently reminds me of the abundant blessings that have come out of this – and other – seasons of activity.
That first ministry gig that burned me out so many years ago? It was one of the most important times in my spiritual walk. I actually got to know Jesus in a more real way than I ever had. It also led to an entirely new professional career and I made some of the BEST friends from that first small group I led. I often credit that time to my staying in Vegas when I really felt like I didn’t want to.
The job I have now that’s demanding and requires travel? It’s allowed me to connect with friends I haven’t seen in years because our company just happens to do business in the places they live. I also get to work for a dear friend who is one of the best leaders I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
The second degree? It taught me that I can do things that feel impossible. I’ll never forget slaving over a paper that I thought would never be done, nearly in tears many nights because of frustration, but I persevered and with God’s help got it done.
The volunteer and then staff position at church? It humbled me in so many different ways and opened my eyes to the beautiful people who make ministry their full time work. It is not an easy job. I also worked for some of the most impactful leaders I’ve ever met who cared for me not just as an employee but as a human being. I also got to make more of some of the best friends of my whole life.
The puppy? Well, he has taught me SO MUCH. For one, he has taught me that I struggle with patience and grace. Another big lesson has been that I can’t control the outcome of everything. We can make a checklist and decide what we think the outcome should be and then that little creature is going to decide who they are and what they’re about all on their own. Those of you with kids should know exactly what I’m talking about. I didn’t fully know the depths of my control issues until I got a puppy. That’s still a work in progress!
My involvement with Ignite Life? It has been one of the most valuable spiritual development opportunities of my adult life. The Executive Director Vanessa Hartsell is an incredible leader who leads directly from her relationship with Jesus. I’m grateful for the example she sets for the ministry and for me personally. Also, more of the best friends ever. Jesus likes to bless me with awesome friends!
And spiritual direction? I could probably write forever about everything that God revealed to me through 2 years in that program. One specific experience comes to mind though.
During one of our retreats, our facilitator asked us “what is your primary operating statement that hinders your experience with Christ?” I had already been wrestling with my performance in my faith life but this question really made me face it head on. Spinning my wheels with so much activity left me feeling like I had nothing left. I determined that mine was “I don’t have anything to offer.” During our quiet time, he asked us to find Scriptures that directly contradicted the lie that we wrote down. As I was combing my Bible for verses, I came across Ephesians 1:18 and it took my breath away. It says,
Ephesians 1:18 MSG
“I ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing Him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of the glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength.”
The UTTER EXTRAVAGANCE of his work in us. What a contrast to the utter exhaustion that I consistently found myself in! I realized that I could only experience the utter extravagance of his work in me – that endless energy and boundless strength – if I was first SURRENDERED to him. Now, this was not a new concept to me. As a Christian for almost 20 years, I had heard that a time or two. But what I realized was I had NEVER ACTUALLY LIVED IT. I felt SO GUILTY. That guilt actually led me to shut down and question everything I had ever done and believed for and about my faith. It was a really dark time. Then I remembered another verse I had found – the last sentence of Isaiah 43:4,
“you are honored and I love you.”Isaiah 43:4 NLT
Just like he had with Martha, Jesus was gently correcting me and bringing me back to the truth.
The truth is that it takes a feeling of protection and safety to be able to focus, seek, and learn effectively like Mary did. And the larger truth is that no one and nothing other than Jesus can give this. No one but the Savior of the world, the one who says, “Let me die on the cross in your place, and enable you to rise up and resume your victorious life for me.” That debt is now paid, we can boldly pursue that call He has placed in our lives.
Friends, THAT’S what he invites us to come and see. It’s what he’s already done for us, not what we have to do for him. Thank goodness this whole thing doesn’t rest on our shoulders! And let me tell you, that gives this do-er peace. I don’t have to know it all, do it all, be everything to everyone. I can rest. With him, I can let go of mere compliance and live my life surrendered like Mary did. Any doing that follows will be led by him, not me. So, my prayer for myself lately has been this:
Spirit lead me. Lead ALL of us. Whether we’re introverts, extroverts, Mary’s or Martha’s, love us and lead us.
Special note: you can watch a video version of this post below!