Growing up, I was the kid who hated group projects. I wasn’t a fan of team sports. I had no interest in running for student government. I was sure that conferences were the eighth circle of Hell.
I really liked reading. I studied hard to get good grades, practiced the flute religiously and was a two-time Physics Olympics champion.
I remember my parents pushing me to go to youth group events and telling my brother he could only borrow the car if he took me along. I think my parents could see my natural inclination toward solitude and were concerned I’d get lost in it.
I didn’t have a word for it back then, but I am an introvert. I love people but preferably in small doses. I genuinely like being at home. Give me a chair and a cup of tea and a good book and I’m good. Big social events, even really good ones, make my stomach twist with anxiety.
The scene often goes the same way. I’ll get an invitation to go somewhere and when the day comes, I cannot remember why I thought it was a good idea. I stand in the hallway, slowly putting on my shoes thinking, “Can’t I just stay home?” I am learning to put my shoes on anyway and head out the door. Because here’s the thing: introverts need community too.
It is so tempting to believe we can do this thing alone, but we can’t. We desperately need each other. There’s something powerful that happens when we come together. It can be scary and intimate but it’s utterly vital.
I love the way Joshua Radin describes it. There’s a line in one of his songs that says, “I sat beside you and became myself.” Isn’t that a beautiful image? Being with other people gives me the strength and the clarity to truly become who I am, to step into my gifts and my calling. We need to gather because it’s too easy to hide when we don’t.
I do need quiet time to recharge and it’s important to honour that need. But I need to say “yes” and show up too. I’m learning that when I make the effort, it’s always worth it. When I choose community, I get to hear a good friend perform stand-up for the very first time. I get to help feed families here in Abbotsford and I even get to sit on the red couch at SheLoves editorial meetings. It’s getting to be a little less of a fight to convince myself to reach out.
Turns out even conferences aren’t quite as bad as I thought.
A couple of years ago I took a big leap and signed up for the annual RelateWomen conference. Everyone seemed so excited. I was terrified. What if I couldn’t find anyone to sit with? What if it was all rah-rah and hyped up and nothing felt authentic? What if it was all just TOO MUCH?
I should have known better. The conference was incredible. There was someone to sit with and the people were friendly. There were speakers who spoke so well I still refer back to my notes from those days. I got to be part of a group that bought underwear so young girls on the other side of the world could stay in school. I could never have done that alone, but together we did it in a single afternoon.
That’s what I’m learning about gathering: togetherness is a multiplier. Together the dreams are so much bigger.