Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Where Were You?


Where were you, when the bullies pushed me down
Where were you, when I lay bleeding on the ground
Where were you, when their words cut me so deep
Where were you, when there were no more tears to weep

Where were you, with words of comfort and of peace
Where were you, with loving arms to sit beneath
Where were you, to hold my hand in all the pain
Where were you, when I was crying in my shame

Where were you, I was alone and in the dark
Where were you, separation leaves its mark
Where were you, when I could look no one in the eye
Where were you, when I was just left asking why

Where were you, to celebrate my special days
Where were you, pride just gets in the way
Where were you, to share triumph and success
Where were you, to give me guidance in the mess

Where were you, did you really just not care
Where were you, a child's life their dreams to share
Where were you, I built a wall around my heart
Where were you, for no acknowledgement of your part

Where were you, then Jesus whispered in my ear
Where were you, my child you need not fear
Where were you, I have been with you all along
Where were you, when you are weak there I am strong

Where were you, I died for love upon that cross
Where were you, I took your guilt and shame and loss
Where were you, I rose again you're now my son
Where were you, I'll never leave, forsake, I've won

(I claim artistic license for not putting in the question marks) 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Introverts, Business and the Church - Why is the world geared towards Extroverts? The cost of being an Introvert.

I recently heard an interview on the Simon Mayo Drive Time show on Radio 2 that I found particularly interesting. It was an interview with an American author called Susan Cain who had written a book called 'Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking' (review HERE). We live in a world that, 'she argues, excessively and misguidedly respects extroverts. We make them our bosses and our political leaders. We foolishly admire their self-help books....' (from review linked above). Also from that review the reviewer makes the point from the book that 'We introverts attempt to emulate extroverts, and the stress of not being "true to ourselves" can make us physically and mentally ill'.

Now I work for a large American IT company and I can say without a shadow of a doubt that in the business world that I have experience of that could not be more true. I think it is also fair to say that being an IT Techy I also come across, I guess, a higher number of Introverts than there are say in other lines of business or professions. However, that being said, the company as a whole is very much geared towards Extroverts. The way the yearly personal reviews are measured, promotions gained and generally moving on up are geared very much to being easier for Extroverts than for Introverts to achieve. 

So before I move on let me put some sort of definition to the meaning of the terms Introvert and Extrovert as they are commonly misunderstood to mean a loud person and a shy quiet person which is not at all what they mean. So here is what Wikipedia has to say about the two:

Extraversion

Extraversion is "the act, state, or habit of being predominantly concerned with and obtaining gratification from what is outside the self".[4] Extroverts tend to enjoy human interactions and to be enthusiastic, talkative, assertive, and gregarious. They take pleasure in activities that involve large social gatherings, such as parties, community activities, public demonstrations, and business or political groups. Politics, teaching, sales, managing and brokering are fields that favor extroversion. An extroverted person is likely to enjoy time spent with people and find less reward in time spent alone. They tend to be energized when around other people, and they are more prone to boredom when they are by themselves.

Introversion

Introversion is "the state of or tendency toward being wholly or predominantly concerned with and interested in one's own mental life".[4] Some popular writers have characterized introverts as people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction.[5] This is similar to Jung's view, although he focused on psychic energy rather than physical energy. Few modern conceptions make this distinction.
The common modern perception is that introverts tend to be more reserved and less outspoken in groups. They often take pleasure in solitary activities such as reading, writing, using computers, hiking and fishing. The archetypal artist, writer, sculptor, engineer, composer and inventor are all highly introverted. An introvert is likely to enjoy time spent alone and find less reward in time spent with large groups of people, though he or she may enjoy interactions with close friends. Trust is usually an issue of significance: a virtue of utmost importance to introverts is choosing a worthy companion. They prefer to concentrate on a single activity at a time and like to observe situations before they participate, especially observed in developing children and adolescents.[6] They are more analytical before speaking.[7] Introverts are easily overwhelmed by too much stimulation from social gatherings and engagement, introversion having even been defined by some in terms of a preference for a quiet, more minimally stimulating environment.[8]
Introversion is not seen as being identical to shyness or to being a social outcast. Introverts prefer solitary activities over social ones, whereas shy people (who may be extraverts at heart) avoid social encounters out of fear.[9]

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Introvert)


For me the main difference has to be found in how a persons emotional energy is re-energised. Extroverts tend to be energized by being around groups of people, need the social interaction whereas Introverts are re-energised by being alone and away from social interaction or at least with very minimal numbers of people.

Now I am a full on Introvert without any shadow of a doubt. I can also be shy when around large groups of people I do not know but Introversion very much defines how I interact with the world. That is not to say I am unsociable, though again I can at times be very unsociable verging on the rude when not in the mood to interact. At work I have to attend many meetings either face to face or over the phone and I am perfectly happy to talk and engage with the matters being discussed. However this is because we are talking with purpose and a goal. I know the reason for the interaction and generally in my work setting I know what I am talking about and can even at times come across fairly vocally aggressively when making a point or disagreeing with someone. This may not seem to be the perceived behaviour of an Introvert but this is where the misunderstandings come in. Introverts are not necessarily quiet and in some situations like I mentioned above are not quiet at all. However the cost comes in the emotional energy it takes to deal with those situations. If I have a day where I have had to attend many meetings or have a lot of personal interaction with other people it takes its toll on me emotionally. I will be drained and need some quiet and space in order to unwind and feel refreshed again. That is one of the main differences between us. An Extrovert may in fact be quite charged up by a day of that kind of social interaction and be ready for an evening of more of the same. The last thing an Introvert wants after a day like that would be to spend more time with people.

This is where I find the business world is not at all geared towards Introverts. Again I point out that IT seems to attract more Introverts than many other professions so I am often with like minded folks. However I am generally required to have that outgoing, confident, expressive persona most of the time whereas often I just want to be left alone and talk to no one. At work I need space, time out from hustle and bustle, to be away from interruption and interaction. I find it incredibly difficult and irritating, if I am focussed on a particular problem, to be required to switch to something else then back again. Now fortunately for me, I can work these needs into my day. I work from home some days which is a particular blessing. Complete peace and quiet. 

So that is a tiny window into life as an Introvert in an Extrovert business environment. But what is it like for an Introvert in a modern large Evangelical church environment? This is where it gets tricky. Shorts of just turning up to a main Sunday service and leaving straight after, church is entirely geared towards social interaction. Even walking in to a large meeting on a Sunday morning can be a daunting task for an Introvert, especially if one is also Shy. Generally at the end of a meeting there is tea and coffee to be had where far greater social interaction is expected and needed. There are mid week meetings with say groups of up to fifteen as well as other opportunities to meet up. 

Remember it is not that an Introvert hates social interaction in large groups, it is that it is an emotionally draining experience for them. There is only so much group interaction that an Introvert can cope with before the desire to run away kicks in and to get as far away as possible from people. For me when I am tired, which seems to be most of the time at the moment since having a child, I have very little emotional energy in reserve. Therefore evening meetings are particularly draining for me when I have been at work all day. Now sometimes I lead a small group evening and do some bible teaching which I greatly enjoy. But the evening is then a known quantity. I am for all intents and purposes in control but on evenings where I am not leading I can easily just sit there and not speak. It comes across as aloof and unsociable but most often it is simply I have no energy to engage socially. On just social evenings I am awkward and don't know what to say to people. I will often latch on to a particular person who I may know or have common ground with and would quite happily talk to them all evening. I am happy and comfortable one on one but not at all when there are many people and the requirement is to socially engage. At the end of an evening like that I will be completely drained and just want to go home and be alone (and sometimes not just at the end of the evening).

Conversely I could spend the entire day with one of my closest friends and feel very energised and not at all drained. The expectation is different and it take far less energy to be with someone who knows you very well. I am far happier in a group of one or two. Any larger than that and it gets draining and unless I am very awake and energized I will not enjoy being in such a group. 

Now I may be a fairly extreme introvert and I am not writing this because I have answers to these issues facing Introverts in a business or church setting. I am writing simply to open the door on the world of the Introvert which I think is often misunderstood. To an extrovert I imagine what I have just written will seem utterly alien. Similar to how I feel when someone says 'Oh I just love being in a large group of people and socialising and could stay there all night'.

The business world and the Church community, though very different, both require of the Introvert a much greater investment of emotional energy to function effectively in and that is the main message I would want to get across. 

To Extroverts, if we are not enthusiastic about another big meeting, another opportunity to socially interact with others then please understand it is not necessarily that we don't care. If we are quiet and don't chat in a social gathering don't assume we are being rude or shy. We might just need a break, some solitude, something smaller. We may have had our fill of people that day, that week. Don't judge us by comparing us to how you feel as an Extrovert. To my Church family, I love you but frankly sometimes I don't want to be with you. Or not at that particular moment. I can also be rather melancholic at times and couple that with my Introversion sometimes the thought of lets face it pretending to be ok (and don't pretend you don't do it) is too much. Regardless of how much we say 'you can come as you are' in church most of the time no one actually does. Everyone wears masks of some sort or another and for an Introvert wearing that mask can be an emotional killer. For an Introvert the church seems full of 'full on' happy, loud Extroverts. Which can be the last place you want to be when you are weary. Either that or you just want to punch them, or is that just me?

“Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.”

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

My Story and Journey to Faith

Note from the Author: This narrative, or Testimony, has been completely re-written from its original published form. This was one of the first things I ever wrote on my Blog and as an inexperienced blogger I was so eager to share my story, that I included some unnecessary details and wrote it in such a way that some of the parties mentioned took some considerable offence when they read it years later. That was never my intention and I deeply regret the insensitive way I presented certain facts. I have endeavoured to re-write this taking out certain details that were not necessary to the narrative. That being said there are certain facts that are necessary to share, are obviously public knowledge, but may still make uncomfortable reading for some involved. It is never comfortable for us to read about the impact our past decisions and choices have had on others. I reiterate that in sharing my story the intention is, that those who have faced similar experiences may find hope and be encouraged, not to point a finger. This is what, in my experience, has happened when I have shared what is written below and when it has been heard by those of similar experience. 


So Why/How did I come to a point of calling myself a Christian?

I guess the easiest way to answer that question is to give some background to me. Sorry this is quite long but stick with it!

Early Years

I grew up in a non church going family, apart from the annual trips to my local C of E church at Christmas and Easter. I guess I always believed in God as a child. I had been told He existed and knew some of the story of Jesus through school nativity and RE lessons etc... My early pre-teen childhood was a pretty standard Middle Class upbringing. I was educated in the private school system with very little negative aspects to my school or home life. Up to the age of twelve I would decribe my childhood as a 'normal' (whatever that is), for the most part happyish experience. 

Then one Friday evening my Dad took me for a drive and told me he was moving out to live with another woman. This was obviously initially a huge and very devastating shock to me and he moved out that evening. As time went by however, I got used to him not being around and for several months I would visit him every Saturday.

Teenage Years - The Dive into Depression

Eventually I left my primary school and started at an all boys public school at age 13. This meant being at school on Saturday so I stopped seeing my dad so regularly.  The main contact being our weekly phone calls.

During my first year at public school the bullying started. This started with mainly name calling and general nastiness. Constant and unrelenting verbal digs which started to get very wearing over time and made my life utterly miserable. This from my year group as well as people from school years above. The second year this eased a little but this was just the calm before the storm. During my 'O' level year the bullying intensified with three people largely responsible and one in particular. He took it upon himself to make my life hell. In class, in the dayroom, every where. Costantly being told 'I was ugly', 'no one would ever love me', 'I'd never get anywhere' and such like. Being pushed and shoved, stalked almost and wherever I went it was relentless.

Eventually I used to just pack my bag full of books for the whole mornings class and then run back at lunchtime, missing lunch, to get in to the dayroom and out before everyone came back. My study books were defaced repeatedly and no one did anything to stop it. I felt utterly alone, isolated and helpless as none of the teachers seemed to care or notice. Only one person stood by me during this time and didn't get involved in it all. My thanks always to you Mr P.

One incident sticks in my mind so clearly. I was in the 5th form dayroom and trying to ignore the comments when the main antagonist picked up a chair and started poking me with it in the back. I stood with my back to him for a while gritting my teeth getting more and more angry. Suddenly I turned round and ripped the chair from him and raised it with every intention of slamming it through his skull. Something in that split second stopped me and I put it down and walked out. I knew if I had let go of the rage I would have killed him. The anger was so strong within I would not have stopped beating him with it. I must never let it out!

Thankfully I am not sure I paticularly internalised the negative things being spoken over me, in believing the lies, but intead it just fuelled the intense anger within me. Instead of feeling the hurt and pain of parental Divorce and non stop bullying Anger served to protect me from those deep rooted feelings. I would escape into a fantasy world where I was the hero and severe justice would be metered out at these people. To age me I was into Rambo, Dirty Harry and Miami Vice to name a few. 

As I am sure it is obvious that old adage 'Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me' is total and utter nonsense. At least physical bullying is obvious, scars on the outside so to speak and can be dealt with. The scars left by verbal abuse are all internal and no one can see them.

I survived my 5th form year and got average 'O' level results.

Over this period my relationship with my Dad and his partner deteriorated over a particular incident to the point of me refusing to speak to him. My very angry, deeply hurt and very proud adolescent self seized an opportunity to hit back. To my Dad's credit he did persist in ringing when I persisted in refusing to talk to him.

Then during that late summer of 87 I started to develop severe acne on my back and face. I am not talking about teenage spots I am talking very severe chronic acne. With swollen back and face and weeping sores. I would wake up stuck to my pillow. Sitting on chairs was painful when I sat back etc... Fortunately 2 of the main 3 people who bullied me left and the other person grew up a little as there were girls in our 6th form at the time. However that fact of girls made me feel all the worse and I walked everywhere looking down, avoiding the gaze of anyone. I felt ugly and hated the fact children stared and made comments to their parents out loud when I was out in public. After seeing a skin specialist I was put on 6 tablets a day of a drug called Roaccutane, to deal with the acne. They made me tired and dried my skin out. They did eventually bring down the swelling and dried up the condition after 6 months of taking them. Leaving my skin red for a long time and scarred for life!

Also, over the summer of 87, a friend who I had known since I was 2 came back from Ireland and along with the aforementioned Mr P. and another good friend we got into playing music. Saturday nights were jam sessions, drinking and occasional dabbles in other things. I got drunk to numb the pain and not think about things for a while. There was no question that I was depressed. My good friend Mr B has said since that I was horrible to be with over that period, as anyone who has known a person in depression will know. But I thank God to this day they stuck by me and accepted me anyway! Thanks guys!

When God comes Calling!
During some of the aforementioned rough times I had started having the occasional chat to the sister of my 3rd friend Mr M (are you keeping up? ). She had become a Christian at university and she showed me immense kindness. I just felt she cared a lot.

So by this time this leads us into the New Year of 88/89. My three friends and I were invited to a New Years eve party of some people who were friends of the person who led my mate's sister to God. I didn't know what to expect at this party. It was full of Christians who were very friendly etc and I spotted a person I knew from school. Someone who had always been friendly to me and not got involved with the bullying! Whilst there I also noticed a particular girl a few times. I didn't speak to her but chatted to a few folks who were nice and seemed to just care, so different to the type of people I was used to seeing at school. I found out a lot of them went to a Christian youth group called Crusaders and some of them to a church just up the road from my house.

A couple of weeks later I plucked up the courage to visit this church one Sunday evening and walked in on a Baptismal service. Several members of the youth group were getting baptised. I had never heard young people talking about God or Jesus or about being able to have a relationship with Him. It was a bit freaky I have to say, especially as this was full immersion baptism and not something I had ever witnessed. I didn't like it when the pastor said during his sermon that people need Jesus rather than leaning on other things. One of which being music which was a big factor in my life. I didn't really understand what he meant but it annoyed me enough to tell him at the end. At the end I also noticed the girl I had seen at the party. I, out of character for me, went and chatted to her. She was the same age as me and doing A levels like me. As we left I for some reason noticed what car she was driving and that was that. Though having got her name at the time I looked it up in the phone book as you do (No I am not a mad stalker! ).

The week after, my Granddad died and after the funeral I was out riding around on my motorbike as I used to do and found myself in the general area of this girl's road, suddenly I recognised the car the girl had been driving parked outside a house. I know again this sounds horribly like I was stalking her but out of the blue I went and knocked on the door. She was there and invited me in for a cup of tea. I started telling her about my life and woes and she listened intently and when I left she gave me a book to read called Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz. I started reading it and it affected me deeply. It is about a young gang leader in the Bronx who is eventually led to Christ. His journey touched me deeply. His feelings of anger, loneliness and isolation even around people spoke to me. During the part of the book where he becomes a Christian and breaks down weeping I did the same, which freaked me out at the time as I didn't know why. I went to the church that Sunday and talked to the Pastor and the girl again. I was being told about a God who loved me unconditionally, who totally accepted me, died on a cross for my sins and who I could have a real living relationship with. He was standing at the door knocking, I only had to let him in.

So on 1st February 1989 I gave my life to Christ sitting in the office of the Pastor of the church.

I remember walking home afterwards. I felt light, like a weight had been lifted from me, cliched I know but true. I knew a love in my heart never before experienced. The unconditional love of the God of the Universe. He loved little old me! He was my Dad, my Lord and friend. I was no longer depressed like I was. I had hope for the first time in my life!

I wish I could say that everything was all fine after that but that is not the reality of being a Christian. I started to have to deal with issues of forgiveness and restoration associated with family and schooling. Not a quick and easy thing to do I have to say. The desire to hold on to our hurts is very strong but God has been gracious to me over the years in dealing with my heart and my attitude to people. It is a lifelong journey this Christianity. Learning about my identity as an adopted son of the Living God, releasing pain and anger over time, being healed. The consequences of my teenage years are still impacting my life even now as it all takes time but God is gracious and merciful in His dealings with His children. Thank you Lord for rescuing me from the slimy pit. (Psalm 40)!

And that folks is the story of God coming calling! Of God stepping into my life and saving a very lost soul. I have now been a Christian some 23 years. It is not always easy and sometimes it can be very hard. However my life has been forever changed. I know I can always fall back on the knowledge that God loves me unconditionally with a Love so incredible that I can never fully grasp it. That is where my security, significance and self worth come from. God is the most beautiful satisfying Treasure in the Universe and source of all pure Joy. In the most blessed times and the most terrible sorrowful times God is always the most glorious being in the Universe to me. Worthy of my love and worship whatever happens in my life.

Even if you cannot relate to anything I have shared please consider that you need your sins forgiven and that is only possible through a living personal relationship with the one true Lord Jesus Christ, who paid an unimaginable price to make a way for you to know God. God is knocking at the door of your life and I plead with you to open it (Revelation 3:20)

ps: No I never went out with the girl!