I’m an extrovert. Simply put. I don’t know if there is any more that I need to elaborate on (now the introverts are shaking their head). Actually, funny thing is all the roomates I have ever had (except for one) were introverts, and they were all very devouted Christians. I always was slightly jealous of them (although I know as a Mennonite I shouldn’t have been), but it seemed like their quiet times and their devotional life came to easily to them. Whereas, here I was struggling to keep my mind from wandering to the next thing. The increasing silence suddenly enveloping me like an unwelcomed friend. Thankfully, had it not been for the example of these roomates I don’t know where I would be today. Although it was very difficult to find the rhythm and although it’s something I’m still working on and struggling through, eventually silence became a welcomed friend. A singing bird which brought me hope in the constructs of my busy day. The funny thing is that once spiritual disciplines (especially silence) became more important to me I actually started understanding why introverts can get drained after a long day of work or school.
The process began with a simple sheet of paper that was circulated to us on our first day of formation class at AMBS. The paper included some simple questions about the spiritual disciplines that we wanted to hold that year and how we were going to go about practicing them. The professors wanted us to choose corporate as well as personal disciplines. Now the corporate disciplines, those were easy. I had come 3 months before school even started and already was attending every potluck, every chapel, and every group prayer meeting. I had become a member of a small group early on and was loving my new church. The personal disciplines… well, they didn’t come so easily. I’ve always been skeptical about spiritual disciplines. They harkened back a time in my teenage years when Lectio Divina were two words with very little meaning, when I dreaded youth events that centered around prayer and when I though “Guided Meditation” were two words that signaled in “New Age”.
Nevertheless, I begrudgingly wrote down a few disciplines I was going to try. The nice thing was that two of my classes also required disciplines and so I just used the same ones for all of them – rather than doing 50 different disciplines I had isolated just a few of the ones I hoped would become important to me. Above all, I wanted to practice hospitality to others in our community – including through my personal interactions. When I was at Tyndale I used to pray this prayer every morning, “Father God and Mothering Spirit, thank You for this new day with the new opportunities and challenges that it will provide for me. I pray for everyone that I come into contact with today that I would serve them as Your hands and feet. That I would provide a cup of cold water when they need it the most, a word of encouragement when all they see is pain, and a word of hope when the darkness envelopes them.” And that prayer changed my entire life because it changed the way I viewed people – especially the ones who seemed to have no agenda than to make my life difficult (I will pause here and say, I’m sure others prayed similar prayers and could say the same about me – the extrovert who was driving them completely crazy all the time!). I wanted to truly learn how to listen (something I admit to still have a bit of trouble doing) and to truly care about what they were feeling and going through (again, something I’m working on).
Among my key disciplines keeping the Sabbath became very important to me and transformed my way of thinking. And then there was one more – it was the discipline of prayer and silence. At first that was really hard for me to do. I’ve never been much of a prayer. Up until this year my disciplines have been solely spiritual direction and journaling. Yet, I began to pray first using “Earth Gospel” by Sam Hamiliton-Poore and then using the Anabaptist Prayer Book (both very well written and helpful guided meditations). I began to pray three times a day – first thing in the morning, sometime in the afternoon (just taking a pause in between classes) and then in the evening. I tried at first to be silent and found that to be almost impossible. I’m not too down about it, though, because I have learned that silence is a practice you build up to. You don’t start with 1 hour of silence, you start with about 5 minutes. Those five minutes then turned into 10 and eventually 15. They were times of praying using the rosary, repeating the Jesus prayer, and listening to Taize. One of my favourite disciplines has become listening to “O Lord Hear My Prayer” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f51n-yb11dY) stopping the song after each phrase and offering my own prayers to God.
To all the extroverts out there who might be reading this – I know that silence is hard! But it’s also so important! In fact, after my semester of spiritual disciplines I have become very interested in taking a silent retreat for a weekend. I know I was “hate” it, I also know that’s all the more reason to do it. When I started being silent before God and actually trying to pay more attention to listening and to prayer (both definitely still areas I struggle with) I was able to hear His voice more, discern direction, and even felt calmer. I’m a pretty hyper active person, but listening to Taize or praying the rosary even for 10 or 15 minutes completely calmed me down and recharged my batteries.
If you’re an extrovert, or even an introvert who needs a bit more encouragement, here are 5 very easy things you can do to help making your disciplines a habit:
1) Find someone to hold you accountable and to check in with you on how your disciplines are going
2) Start small – if you start too big you’re just going to get discouraged when it doesn’t happen. Start with an attainable ideal and build up from there once you get comfortable with that goal.
3) Be realistic – don’t try to do 15 spiritual disciplines in your first go. Try to isolate one or two practices that are important to you. You can even have a “discipline of the week”.
4) Know yourself – if you’re an extrovert who easily gets distracted in the presence of others removing yourself from being with them. Set aside a certain time each day (praying at a certain hour makes it more likely that it will happen versus those who do it more spontaneously though everyone is different). During that time, go to your room, shut the door, and pray. Or go out into nature with your journal, sit down, and don’t take your cell phone with you.
5) Most importantly – DON’T BECOME DISCOURAGED!!! I cannot say enough how important this is. There may be days that you forget to do your spiritual discipline, don’t make the next day’s twice as long. There may be times when your spiritual discipline seems to be more meaningful than others (this is completely normal). After 6 months or 1 year you might be struggling in much the same ways as you were before you started disciplines – maybe you still talk too much, you still are hyper, or whatever – be patient with yourself. Habits like this take a long time to fix, but the important thing is to be aware of them and to try your best to improve upon yourself.
Hopefully these suggestions are helpful to you in your spiritual journey. Happy silence!
Martin Luther, “I’m so busy today, I’ll have to spend the first three hours in prayer”
Space for God (By: Don Postema)
A Heart Exposed (By: Steven James)
Anabaptist Prayer Book (Edited By: Arthur Paul Boers, Barbara Nelson Gingerich, Eleanor Kreider, John Rempel, Mary H. Schertz, Willard M. Swartley)
Earth Gospel (By: Sam Hamilton-Poore)
Sacred Pauses (April Yamasaki)
Draw Near to God: Youth and Spiritual Practice (By: April Yamasaki) http://aprilyamasaki.com/2013/07/03/draw-near-to-god-youth-and-spiritual-practice/
Too Busy Not to Pray (By: Men of Integrity) http://www.christianitytoday.com/moi/2011/006/december/too-busy-not-to-pray.html