Our 6 year old daughter, Hannah, is a born extrovert. Almost every day on the way to school she will ask if she can have a friend to play – she will then work her way through her ‘favourites’ list beginning with her ‘best friend’ down to anyone who might possibly be willing to come and play. She would rather have almost anyone than be expected to play on her own (or with her Mum!)
I recognise very clearly where she has inherited this particular trait from! I relentless fill every moment of every day with interaction. I have a people focused job and I love building relationships with diverse and interesting people. My ‘spare’ time I fill with a myriad of friends and family – I will always choose coffee with a friend over time on my own.
And yet, one week into my sabbatical, and I feel as if I am shaking off my extrovert clothes and allowing a quieter more inward part of me a brief look-in. Letting go of the hubbub of people and stuff felt really hard. My last week at work my head boomed and the e-mails flew as I tried to organise the world for my absence and I faced the space of letting go.
But it’s good! My head is slowly emptying and I begin to discover the joy of slow thinking – not the breakneck speed thinking that I am used to where everything has to be decided now and done yesterday.
I went to an art class this week and painted for the first time in 13 years (my eldest son is 12 and half, need I say more!) I was reminded of the person who would disappear into art for hours at a time.
I am an extrovert and I love to spend time with people, but to put down for a while the people responsibilities is liberating. To be ‘allowed’ to spend the morning sitting in the sunshine reading and writing and losing track of time, is blissful.
Before children and full-time job my extrovert, super organised self was balanced out with time on my own travelling with no pre-planned agenda, with time reading and painting. Since children (who inevitably make the most introvert person more extrovert) I have simply relentlessly increased the pace of life and lost many (but not all) the counterbalance to my natural extrovert self.
Many an introvert would look at my sabbatical; the communities I am visiting, the people I am seeing, the socialising I am fitting in, and think there was little space in it to ‘be’. But, for someone like me, the people stuff is crucial as a balance to my new found discover of ‘personal space’.
I have just finished reading a great book. It is a book to be read slowly and it explores silence as the heart of prayer. The book speaks of the way that silence is the way into the heart of who we are, it is a way of letting go of all the clutter that fills mind, and heart and soul. And that as we go deeper into ourselves, and into silence, it is there, at our core, that we meet the God who loves us and transforms us.
I am rubbish at finding time for prayer, for silence, for stillness. That is probably why I organise Sacred Space, the weekly alternative worship group, because through organising it I make myself stop and be for a while.
But as my chattering head quietens down for a while, so everyday life is more immersed in silence and my awareness of God’s presence becomes more attuned. I am still not very good at making ‘time’ but it doesn’t seem to matter so much any more.
There is a great quote from Mother Teresa who, when asked, what did she say when she prayed to God, answered “Oh, nothing, I just listen”. The questioner then asked, “So, what, then, does God say to you”. She replied “Oh, nothing, He just listens”. That tuning in involves some of the noise in my head stopping.