Think Outside the Box

For years, I have told people that I’m introverted, that I struggle with vulnerability and emotional connection. I’ve been rather open about my doubts and my depression. And while every bit of this is true, I wonder sometimes if I’ve done more harm than good by broadcasting these “facts” about myself.

My goal all along has been honesty. Especially when I was working as a full-time preacher, I wanted people to understand that I’m a real person with real struggles. As someone who struggles with vulnerability, I was trying to be vulnerable. In the pulpit. In articles and blogs. In daily discourse. As a result, people who know me know that I’m introverted and sometimes emotionally constipated. They know that I’ve battled depression off and on over the years. They know that I’ve had a few crises of faith that have nearly crippled me. And there’s comfort in knowing that people know who I am. I don’t have to pretend, and that’s freeing.

But…

Again, I sometimes wonder if I’ve done more harm than good because I think what has sometimes happened is that people have put me in a box. They’ve attached a label to me and made certain assumptions based on that label that are not necessarily true. Instead of getting to know me better (because of my honesty and vulnerability), they have contented themselves with these labels and stopped short of really getting to know the total me.

And I think we all do this with each other in a variety of ways. What do I mean?

When I tell someone that I’m introverted, they may assume that I don’t like people, or that I don’t like going to parties or events where there are a lot of people. They may assume I’m some socially-awkward hermit that would really prefer to stay home. They hear “introverted” and think “homebody” and “loner.” While there are times when I would prefer to be alone, and while large crowds can overwhelm and drain me, I do not want to avoid people all the time. The fact is, I love people and crave friendship and family as much as the next person. I need social connections and can absolutely enjoy events and gatherings such as church, potlucks, parties, etc.

When I tell someone that I struggle with emotional connection, they may assume that I don’t have feelings or empathy or passion. But let me tell you something, I feel deeply and am probably more emotional than a lot of people you know. I’m not good at saying goodbye to people I care about because I lose it almost every single time. I was watching a TV show last night and teared up half a dozen times. I may not express my feelings to others with passion, and I may not always be convincing when I say “I love you” or “You’re important to me,” but that doesn’t mean I’m not sincere.

And yes, I’ve battled depression and doubt from time to time, but I can assure you I’m a mostly positive person with deep faith in God and Christ. I’m not wishy-washy. I’m not wearing a fake smile to hide a world of hurt and emotional trauma. Maybe sometimes. But usually, I’m a joyful, faith-full person.

I think we’re all guilty of this. I know I am. We hear something about someone and proceed to box them in.

“So and so’s a Democrat, so they must hate guns and babies and America.”

“So and so’s a Republican, so they must hate gay people and poor people.”

“So and so goes to a different church than I do or believes differently than I do, so they must have zero respect for the Bible.”

We pigeon-hole people with mental issues, faith issues, moral issues, drug issues, alcohol issues, and tattoos. We put people in boxes like this all the time and make all kinds of unfair assumptions. Why? Because we want things to be black and white. We want things to make sense.

I’m gonna let you in on a little secret…

Things are rarely so black and white.

Each one of us is unimaginably unique. You can take twenty introverted people, and no two of them will be exactly the same. Some will have higher tolerances. They will all have different triggers. There will be a wide range to their introvertedness. This is just one example.

I have to admit that it’s frustrating when someone assumes that I don’t have feelings just because I struggle with emotional connection, or that I don’t like people or want friends just because I tend to be more introverted. I don’t like it when people can’t see past a label, as legit as that label might be, because there is so much more depth to me than that.

Aren’t you the same? Don’t you want people to take the time to get to know you?

It’s amazing that God knows who I am (better than I know myself), and still loves me deeply. So much so that He sent Jesus to die for me…so that He can spend eternity with me. Me! Wow. I’m worth loving because God made me and loves me. And so are you. And if God can know all of our dirty secrets and hidden struggles and still want a relationship with us, then I think we, as His children, should have the same mindset with each other.

I’ve not always understood this. In fact, I’ve been extremely guilty of boxing people in, making assumptions, and stopping short of really getting to know people. I’m trying to be different. I think it’s a worthwhile journey for all of us.

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