The activity of writing, especially writing something longish like a book, requires extended periods of time alone, so it’s a good fit for an introvert. And that’s what I am: an extreme introvert, one who feels happiest and safest when I am alone at my computer. In order of magnitude, think: introvert…hermit…recluse…me.
But recently, this introvert was stopped short by a brief comment in a minor scene in a movie about something else.
The movie was “God’s Not Dead” (yes, I finally got to see it) – which, as I said, is about something else. But in a subplot, a pastor bemoans doing mundane ministry in the U.S. while his visiting friend does real ministry “in the trenches” of Africa. When the two encounter a weeping girl in need of help, cast out by her Muslim family for converting to Christianity, the African tells the American: “Well, you said you wanted to be in the trenches…”
That’s all he said.
Yet those words, like an X-ray, exposed an inner fault: my reluctance to leave my haven of solitude. What does it mean to be “in the trenches”? Do I really want to be there?
It’s easy for me to pray, “God, use use me for whatever you want” – and then tell myself he is doing so, even while I keep doing whatever I want. It’s harder for this introvert to be willing to be with people. In fact, it’s a challenge for me to be around people who “have it together.” Will I be able to be around people who don’t?
But God is redefining my trenches. In fact, as shown by my past, he has violently redirected my whole future away from achievements in postgraduate education (where I thought I was headed) and toward a new focus on failure. Instead of bright ivory towers where academic people reach for dreams, my new future seems to be geared toward dark bloody trenches where broken people reach for any shred of hope. Those trenches aren’t as safe and sanitary as the faculty lounge, but at least I won’t have to learn as many big words.
My wife, also a writer and an introvert, asks me, “Is this what you really want?” She understands that if I bare my brokenness to others, they may respond in kind. In fact, they may even want to connect with me on various levels. Am I ready to associate with other losers like me? Am I willing to stand with them in their heartaches? I am ashamed that this piercing X-ray, this fragment of dialog in a fictional movie, has uncovered my inner hesitation. But I don’t want to hide or pretend the hesitation isn’t there.
In truth, I wonder if that may be one reason my academic career went south. Maybe I just needed to fall into a big ol’ steaming pile of humility. To reach broken people, I can’t perch above them, spouting a five-step plan for picking up the pieces. Instead, I must join them where they are—down in the muck.
I don’t know exactly what that will look like, but I suspect it will continue to involve sharing my own loser story and supporting others in their stories too.
So, can God use introverts to help others? Can he use them in the trenches? And is that where I really want to be? I’m starting to suspect (though I have no idea how all of this might play out) that the answers are yes, yes, and yes.
I want to join others down in the trenches of brokenness and look up, not for easy answers but for God’s hand of grace.