I'm learning something about myself – the older I get, the more introverted I become. I've always known that I have introverted tendencies and it may be the result of being an only child where I spent most of my time with myself and never really longed to need or be with other people all the time. (I wasn't one of those children who begged my parents for more siblings or more playmates. I had plenty in cousins and that was enough.) While I have more extroverted personality traits and function well, I still find that I do not always want to hang around people every second. I actually treasure my alone time. . . look forward to my alone time. . . even become agitated if I feel as though someone is attempting to barge in on my alone time. I have a friend who says she is more energized by people and find she needs to be around them for that energy. I, on the other hand, become drained by people after a while and look forward to solace and spending time in my own space. I guess it should not be surprising really. After all I was a journalist and most tend to be slightly introverted, if not full introverts. They are slightly more comfortable with their writing, reading and sitting with their thoughts and engaging in stimulation that way. So as you can imagine this has become somewhat of a challenge as I attempt to do ministry here . . . in a community where people look forward to getting together with each other . . . and are with each other seemingly all the time . . . going between house and house . . . sitting for hours with each other's company . . . and asking questions when the pastor isn't out all the time every day.
I came across an article a few days ago entitled, "Hospitality for Introverts". It was written by a pastor's wife who classifies herself as a full-on introvert and how she has manages to share the gift of hospitality in spite of her introverted personality. After reading, I felt some of the suggestions could be applied to pastoral care. The writer suggested concentrating on reaching out to one or two people. I've done that. I allot different days that I will do pastoral care visits and plan out early who I will visit on those days. Usually it is two or three people.
The other suggestion is to set boundaries on time. I'm not so good at this. I usually find myself sitting for hours -- usually two or more -- with some in the community. I find myself feeling guilty if, after I have drank my tall glass of water, wanting to leave. This happened recently and the couple got me another glass of water, saying, "Now you can't leave until you've drank your other glass."
Pastoral care is essential in doing effective ministry. I did it last year, on a smaller scale. While it was one of my responsibilities as part of my pastoral internship, it wasn't a key responsibility as it is here. In a community like Cherokee Sound, where many of the 200 residents are older and the culture is one where visiting is a norm, it is a non-negotiable. Many of the residents are not able to get out as much and look forward to the visits. . . the conversations. Granted, once I'm out and about, I'm fine and enjoy them. It's just the initial getting up and going out to be with other people that sometimes challenge me. There are times my introverted self wants to take over.
I enjoy hearing the stories and learning about the lives of the people here, just like the recent story about the visit of one's grandson. This grandfather, who had never seen his grandson, largely because he had disowned the child's father years ago, saw his 22-year-old grandchild for the first time on his 84th birthday. He said to me: "He called me up and said he wanted to come see his grandpa!" I could see the emotion and joy on the man's face as he told me the story and proceeded to tell me more about his life in Cherokee and Marsh Harbor. I'm sure he hadn't told those stories in a while and my being there was a chance to live in his memories . . . recall a life of both joy and sorrow and blessings and regrets.
At that moment, I was glad I had pushed myself to make the visit . . . stop and even sit for a while. Apparently, so was he.
"Thank you for talking to me," he said, after about an hour or so, and after I got up to leave and head to the next house.
I have to remember that God knows all the peculiarities I have and knew them when I was called and knew there would be some things in ministry that would be more challenging to me than others. I have to believe those things make for a much richer ministry experience. The encounter was a reminder that what I do or attempt to do is so much bigger than me and that the ministry of presence is sometimes all that is needed. It was a reminder of why I have to, at times, push through my moments of introvertedness. . . cause in the end it'll be a blessing to all involved.