Today, another moral dilemma for an introvert. One of the guys in the company I work for put in his notice, and the managers want to do a “going away lunch” for him — today. Short notice. And it kinda freaks me out. I really don’t want to go. I hardly know the guy, I hate work-related social events, and especially without adequate time to mentally prepare myself. So, should I go or not? “Should I.” That’s the operative phrase.
When chewing on this … and getting texts from a friend who also happens to want to do lunch today … I asked myself an odd question (it just popped in my head, so I ran with it): Which brings you greater peace?
Well, that’s obvious. Not going makes me feel all warm and comfy inside. LOL. Like I said, I hardly know the guy. I interact with him maybe once or twice a week, and he’s decent enough. But I hate these big “to do’s,” these group activities with people who are not really my friends. They’re just work-acquaintances — people I see almost daily but have little quality interaction with. And at these lunches when we go out, we end up sitting at a group of tables, and really only the people sitting closest to guy will chat with him over their gourmet burgers and sweet-potato jalapeño fries. So my being there would just be as another warm body filling a seat, a body count. And frankly, I’ve got a long history here of not going to these things — company picnics, corporate junkets to Las Vegas and Disney World … and the office birthday gatherings in the breakroom, where I make an appearance, give my best wishes, and then make a quiet escape. Nobody is surprised that I’m not a company partier. And luckily for me, I’m not the only one. My officemate is the same way. So when the boss walks in and asks, “You guys coming?”, he already knows the answer. “Just thought I’d ask,” he says as he walks towards the door.
Don’t think I don’t know how lame that sounds. You extroverts won’t get it at all. You’ll think I’m being antisocial, or worse, a snob. That I somehow think people aren’t good enough for me, not worth my time. But introverts get it. It’s not about me being better or worse than anyone else. It’s a lot of energy to expend with people I have little invested in. Is it worth the “cost” to me? Usually the answer is no.
So, if I “go with my peace,” the answer is clear. Works for me. And (hopefully) since my absence won’t be blatantly conspicuous — not likely to hurt the guy’s feelings — I’m okay with that.
But it also made me think of times when “going with my peace” can lead to the wrong decision — especially because I’m an introvert.
What about those times when other people are counting on me, or where it’s important to them? Yesterday, for example, I was all comfy at home, wearing sweats, ready to make dinner, and I get a call from my boyfriend. He’s on the other side of town doing his thing, and he’s gotta come back to the city center for a show he’s doing. But he left part of his costume at home. Could I bring it to him? Of course, I will. It’ll be a 40 minute round-trip for me, but I love him. I’m invested. Doing something for him is like doing it for myself. BUT, my “peace” would have preferred staying home, settling in. (Having people in your life can really mess with your peace sometimes. Just sayin’. 🙂 )
Okay, that one was obvious. We all do stuff like that, we all make little sacrifices for the ones we love. (And if you’re not, you might want to reconsider that. As God once whispered to me, “it’s the little acts of selfishness that destroy a relationship.”)
On a different level, when we run across someone in need — whether financial or emotional or … just needs help with something. Our first reaction — our “peace” — might be to decline. It’ll be inconvenient. It’ll put us out a little. And human nature doesn’t like to be put out. But, if we’re decent people, we override our “peace” and just do it. That’s called being a decent human being. That’s called “good”. That’s part of “love” in the broadest sense. So when my long-time bud is moving out of his house into another place and asks if I’ll help him move the big stuff … yeah, sure. That’s what friends do, right? — even if I may be groaning on the inside.
A friend of mine told me about something that happened to him when we were back in seminary. While I was immersed in my books and study groups and small circle of seminary friends, he was out doing speaking engagements. He even had an agent booking him at events. He was out “doing things.” This one particular time, he was doing a week-long seminar/revival at a church in another state, and he was staying with a family from the church (a horrifying situation for an introvert; but in his case, no big deal. He’s a classic extrovert.) This family had agreed to host him, drive him around, feed him, and then get him back to the airport when the week’s services ended. On that last day, the man of the house suddenly “didn’t feel a peace” about driving him the hour to the airport, and my friend had to scramble to get a taxi to drive him. The guy disguised his own laziness in spiritual language — and armed with sloppy religious teaching that we should always “follow our peace,” he found a ready excuse. And my friend was left out in the cold to fend for himself. Nice.
To everybody except himself, that man’s behavior was reprehensible. Totally unchristian. Lacking common decency. But he followed his “peace” and I’m sure he had a comfortable Saturday morning. Maybe even managed to squeeze in 9 holes of golf.
As people of faith, we must learn to be sensitive to our gut, to the promptings of the Spirit. … that also means we have to be able to discern the difference between a “spiritual peace” — one guided by the Spirit’s leading — and a “selfish peace” — rooted only in our carnal laziness.
When someone is counting on you, when it’s your time to step up, following your peace may not be the best option. That is, unless you know for absolute certain that God is leading you in a different direction. As people of faith, we must learn to be sensitive to our gut, to the promptings of the Spirit. Lives can depend on it. But that also means we have to be able to discern the difference between a “spiritual peace” — one guided by the Spirit’s leading — and a “selfish peace” — rooted only in our carnal laziness.
What about when we need to stretch for our own good? Back to my boyfriend. He’s an extrovert, and he’s heavily involved in social activities, for his job, for his vocation … for his quality of life. My default tendency (my “peace”) is to let him do his thing while I stay home doing my thing. But if I’m not careful, I could easily slip into the life of a recluse. I need sometimes to break out of my comfort zone and do things with him. It’s important to him, for me to share in his life, and it’s important for me, to be a part of his life as well as to broaden my exposure to new activities, new experiences, new people. Sometimes I need to say yes — because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s a good thing all around.
In those cases, my “peace” has to take the back seat. It’s uncomfortable for me to do those things — something Jake doesn’t really understand, but makes an effort to accept about me anyway. They take a real toll on me, and I often need time afterwards to recover, re-energize, find my balance again. But almost always, afterwards, I’m glad I did them. They enriched me. They added to my life. And that’s worth a little discomfort and inconvenience now and then.
It’s all a matter of discerning the difference, knowing when your peace is spiritually guided and when it’s just based in physical or emotional comfort. We gotta know the difference: Is this God telling me not to do that, or is it just me? And if it isn’t God, then it becomes about priorities. Is helping someone out worth losing a little “peace” over? Is doing good, doing the right thing, acting in love, worth the sacrifice of a little comfort? Most times, yes.
I’m an introvert. And I have shy tendencies on top of that. It’s a horrible combination sometimes. But most times, I can tell when it’s just me not wanting to be stretched or inconvenienced, and when that lack of peace is legitimate divine guidance. You know what I mean: like when you’re thinking about buying a new car, and you’re wrestling inside about it. Tapping into which answer gives you peace can be a good indicator of what’s right for you. Or if you’re choosing between jobs (as I did), that sense of peace showed me which one. Or when we’re considering whether we should date someone, or get into a relationship with them. Your spiritual sensitivity can be crucial. But honestly, in most everyday cases, that “sense of peace” for me is more often just my own personal preference: Do I want to do this or not?
I admit, I do tend to “follow my peace” in most things. When the outcome isn’t important. When people aren’t relying on me. When it’s not a matter of love or simple goodness. And when it isn’t a potential growth opportunity. That’s how I stay balanced, how I stay sane. But I also know that if I give in to my natural tendency toward “peacefulness” too often, I’ll miss out. Life will pass me by while I’m comfy on my couch watching Netflix. Cuz life and personal growth happen mostly outside our comfort zones.
For me, barring a sense of input from the Spirit, when I recognize that the “peace” is more about my own natural inclinations, I have to weigh the cost versus the benefit. And as a general rule, if it involves helping someone, the expenditure of energy is worthwhile. Other times … ya know, God gave us wide latitude in deciding things for ourselves.
And this company farewell lunch … yeah, I think I’ll pass. This time. I’ve got a lot going on right now and really don’t need that extra stress this afternoon. Would Jesus go? Sure. But then, Jesus loved parties. Me? I get more restorative peace from a quiet cup of tea — with or without friends.
STEPHEN SCHMIDT is the Teaching Pastor at Expressions Church in Oklahoma City. He is a graduate of the seminary at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, OK, and holds two masters degrees in Biblical Literature and Divinity. He did his doctoral research at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York.
He is editor of IMPACT Magazine, and blogs at Cafe Inspirado. Plus you can find him making random comments about food, theology, and life on Facebook.