I have a confession to make. Sometimes, being a member of the church makes me feel very uncomfortable. When I stand to bear my testimony, I feel a bit embarrassed. When I’m scheduling appointments with my visiting teaching sisters, I sometimes secretly hope that they’ll cancel or postpone. Missionary experiences? I don’t often pray for them, and if I do, I pray that I’ll see them coming a few days ahead of time so I can prepare.
While I realize the Church is not always about being comfortable—it’s about changing and growing which are both very uncomfortable processes—this kind of discomfort is different.
The truth is that I’m an introvert, and as a member of a very social and outgoing church, I sometimes feel pretty awkward. I’m not the only one. A lot of brothers and sisters in your wards are introverts, too. They’re the ones who listen more than they speak, who don’t mind being alone, and who interact with people best one on one. Sometimes they’re shy, but most often, they’re simply quiet. Social interaction and attention are like exercise for them – rewarding, but exhausting.
In many ways, navigating the very social culture of the Church can be pretty difficult for us introverts, and even more so when introversion is misinterpreted as aloofness or even arrogance. It may be impossible to make church entirely comfortable for your introverted brothers and sisters all the time—especially when our doctrine stresses missionary work and stretching yourself through service--but there are many ways to rethink your activities, habits, and methods to make members like me feel more at ease. Here are a few things you can do:
1. Understand our limits and don't spring things on us.
Most introverts do not like being surprised, so if you drop in on us unexpectedly to do visits or put us on the spot in Sunday School, we may feel pretty uncomfortable. It’s not that we dislike you or don’t want to contribute. We just prefer time for preparation. If you want to stop by, let us know. If you want our help in class, pull us aside beforehand and ask if we'd be willing to share. Visit with us one on one to find out what we think, and most importantly, get to know us and what we're comfortable with so that our church experience is not awkward, but fulfilling.
2. Let us bear our testimonies in our own way.
For a lot of introverts, bearing a testimony can be very uncomfortable. Most of us deeply believe in and love the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but sometimes, we struggle to vocalize it in such a public way. More often than not, our testimonies are shared quietly, in the strokes of a painting or the words of a poem. Realize that just because someone doesn't bear a testimony vocally, it doesn't mean they don't have one.
3. Plan individual-focused activities, not just group-focused activities.
One thing we're excellent at as a church is planning social activities. From enrichment nights to mission farewells, we Mormons like to play, talk, and work together. That's not a bad thing, but sometimes, having so many social activities on the calendar can be daunting for an introvert.
Why not try to switch things up? Find out what individual members like doing, and accommodate those interests. Plan a trip to an art museum or a play, for example. Book some time to explore your local library and what resources it has to offer, or have a night where ward members can purchase canvas and just paint. Not only do these types of activities offer a comfortable setting for those who are more introverted, but they spark interests and refine talents. They help us grow as individuals as well as brothers and sisters.
4. Plan regular temple trips with your ward.
Something I really appreciate is when my ward plans frequent temple trips. Nothing beats sitting silently in the temple and just thinking or reading scriptures. In many ways, it gives back all of the energy I sometimes lose during the three hour church block and equalizes me. My advice would be to make temple attendance a priority in your wards. There are so many obvious benefits to going, and one is that it will give your introverted brothers and sisters a beautiful, peaceful break.
5. Keep our needs in mind when you teach.
A classroom setting is a great place to share ideas and learn, but if you're like me, a lot of your participation happens internally, not externally. It can take a whole two hours for me to vocalize a thought that I've been mulling over from a previous meeting, and often by the time I have something to say, the teacher hasn’t allowed enough time. Here's one fix for that: instead of giving all of the Q&A time in your classes over to basic questions like "What is the first principle of the Gospel,” give more time for deep, personal questions and allow silence as you wait for answers. It might be awkward, but it will be conducive to the spirit, and you'll be surprised at what insight will come when you give it time.
Furthermore, instead of creating an environment that only demands vocal and time sensitive participation, make your lesson extend past the classroom walls. Continue class discussions on your ward's Facebook page or your own. Encourage and guide continuous study from student manuals, or incorporate new technology, like polleverywhere.com where students can actually text their thoughts and they'll appear on the screen. You might be surprised at the depth of focus and insight that can come from allowing members to write their thoughts out instead of just speaking them. Many of us can write out what we think much better than we can speak it.
6. Respect our need for alone time, but also make sure we aren’t lonely.
Sometimes, we introverts just need our space. Period. It's not weird. It's not creepy. It’s just how we are. Allow us some downtime.
On the flipside, keep checking up with us. It can be very lonely to be an introvert in the Church. Often, members of our wards who don’t understand why we aren’t super social just assume that we don’t like them, and in many instances, that assumption leads to avoidance. Few things are as painful as being misunderstood and passed over by your ward.
The reality is that introverts don’t hate people; we just deal with people differently. We usually feel more comfortable in smaller groups where we’re allowed to get past small talk and discuss things that matter deeply to us. Talk to us face to face when you get the chance, instead of in a big group setting.
7. Recognize that sometimes introverts will say no. Don't hold that against us.
Sometimes, you might ask an introverted sister or brother if you can visit them, if they'd be willing to help with an event, or if they'd speak in church, and they'll say no. To most people, being told ‘no’ in a church setting is extremely off-putting and a little offensive, and you may be tempted to get angry with them. Realize that you’ve probably done nothing wrong. Maybe they're just not quite comfortable with certain things yet. Don't negatively pressure them and don't judge them harshly for it. Introversion, like most things, comes in different degrees and stages. Have patience with them and keep loving them. Always keep loving them.
Arianna Rees is a featured contributor for LDS Living. She's a recent Utah State graduate with a Bachelor's degree in English who loves reading, writing, and adventuring more than just about anything--excepting her family and the Gospel, of course. She can most often be found bushwhacking in the mountains, scouring Deseret Industries for classy shoes, or jamming out to a Beyonce song in the privacy of her bedroom.
Arianna is also a blogger and author of the popular LDS posts 5 Things You Should Know Before Going Through the Temple, 9 Conference Moments No One Saw Coming, and Why I Took Returned Missionary off My Checklist. Read more from her at igobyari.blogspot.com or find her on Facebook.