Learning the true meaning of introversion was one of the most freeing discoveries of my life. On my college campus the Myers-Briggs Personality Test was a sort of collective university obsession and pastime, so it was only a matter of weeks into my freshman year that I attended a mandatory seminar on personality types. Among the many topics covered in the lecture was the true definition of introversion, which I had always assumed to be a synonym for shyness or unfriendliness. That day I learned that introversion simply means that your energy is depleted by people and replenished by solitude. Introverts often love people and the company of others, but require time alone to function healthfully. Finally, someone verbalized how I felt! At last I understood that a need for withdrawal doesn't equate with a lack of love for people. After eighteen years, I allowed myself to lean into my introversion. It was okay to eat alone, to be quiet if I had nothing to say, to decline weekend plans every now and again. That was freedom. A few years later I moved to Africa for a six month internship at a charity. Early in my term I made a conscious decision to say yes to absolutely every opportunity that materialized. I adopted Tina Fey's immortal words as my mantra: "Say yes and figure the rest out later." Orphan care? Yes! Basketball coach? Why not! Maths teacher? I failed Pre-Algebra, but okay! Brothel visits? Duh! Grant writer? I don't know what that is, but sure!
Never have my days been fuller or more fulfilling than those crammed with work and serving and friends and mistakes. Between saying yes always and two roommates, I was never alone. Solitude was not an option and true introvert's rest was rare. Six months wasn't long though, so living sustainably was not my priority. Yes was my priority.
For better or worse, I have slowly learned the art of saying no since returning from Africa. I practiced solitude, sleep, and silence regularly. After moving to England this year, I decided I couldn't live like I had in Africa. This life would require sustainability–the perfect mix of yes and no, a delicate balance of togetherness and aloneness. For the first time I began practicing a Sunday Sabbath free from any obligations besides time by myself and with the Lord. After a while and almost imperceptibly, my Sabbath bled into the weekdays. Then it crept into my existing plans. Then somehow my Sabbath began to include a lot of solitary Netflix and yoga and snacking. To be completely honest, there have been days where I couldn't make myself walk out the door. Solitude was addictive.
I had overdosed on the solitude. I had abused the no's. Ironically, I'd never felt more exhausted in my life.
Each day I read from one of the four gospels, and recently God has put a highlighter to Jesus' habit of saying yes to the invitations He received. When asked to heal the lepers and paralytics and hemorrhaging, Jesus said yes. When asked to recline at the dinner table with Pharisees and tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus said yes. When asked to bless the children, Jesus said yes. When asked to forfeit His home in paradise and to die as a reviled criminal for the justification of an ungrateful human race, Jesus said yes.
As often as He accepted invitations, Jesus extended invitations. He invited some fisherman to "Come, follow me" and a tax collector named Zacchaeus to dinner. He invited the crucified criminal into heaven and Thomas to touch His spear-scarred side. He invited the disciples to his Last Supper and a Samaritan woman to draw Him water from the well. They all said yes because miracles come when we say yes to Jesus.
I'm coming to believe that this free exchange of yes is integral in God's intended design for the universe. Yes leads to life together. Acts 2 provides a picture of life together in the early church: "And all who believed were together and had all things in common." True to my hippy-dippy nature, I have always loved that romantic idea of sharing land, food, money, and space with others. The early church sounds far out to me, man. But something rather terrifying occurred to me as I pondered the idea of life together: having all things in common includes the intangible things as well. All things in common means sharing the ugly stuff – the burdens, feelings, and experiences. All things in common demands me to freely hand over my self and my time and my beloved solitude All things in common means not only inviting others along but also inviting others in. I don't know how to say yes to that.
Today my prayer is to learn to say yes – yes to the invitations to come in and yes to the invitations to be with. Yes to the miracles.
In the anticipation of the world's longed for deliverer, Isaiah declared that the Messiah's name would be called Immanuel, God with us. This with-ness is the source of all the goodness and salvation and hope we have. I'm ready to follow Jesus' example. I'm ready to exchange alone for with. I'm ready to say yes.