Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Challenge of Being an Introverted “Do-er” Living a Worldview That Demands Relationship

I am easily pleased. If I could spend every day with a newspaper and a couple of drinks in front of the football or a U2 DVD I would, in a second. That is my “ideal life” I guess. If I could have any job, it would be data entry. Give me a computer, a bunch of data to input, as long as I could have my music, I’d be set.

From the above paragraph, you would guess correctly that I am not a people-person. There has never really been a serious girlfriend. I never “mucked around with a bunch of mates” in my teenage years. I don’t really do the “catch up with friends over coffee” thing. Conversation is not my favourite activity. I am a “doer”. I enjoy and relate to people a whole lot better if we are doing something together.

However, just because I would call myself a “lone ranger” doesn’t mean I shut myself away and avoid the world. Over the years I have been actively involved in churches, Bible studies, coaching and refereeing basketball, teaching music, doing stats at football and basketball clubs. All involving social interaction. I’ve just never been comfortable with it.

A few years ago, so desperate was I to make friends that I even auditioned for a death metal band led by a mild-mannered guy I knew from doing stats at a football club. Needless to say it didn’t work out, since while I was rockin’ out on the bass I spent the whole time wondering why they would devote themselves to a worldview obsessed with death, destruction, chaos and hate.

Considering all this, my social struggles and contentment with being on my own, it is quite ironic that I ended up embracing and living out a worldview that demands relationship. I am a Christian, and I believe the best summary of Christianity is “Love God, love others”. I am called to love. Not just accept, tolerate or interact with others. But LOVE them.

Also surprising was that teaching ended up being my career, considering I’d ideally settle for data entry. Regardless of what “experts” (ie every schmuck who’s ever been to school) might think, after 5 ½ years I can tell you that teaching is a profession that is relentless in its demands, and requires everything that a person has to give. I am single and I am barely keeping up. I could not do it if I had a family, and I salute those who do. You have to be able to form positive relationships with students, parents and other staff. It is really a job for a people-person. In teaching, every day is a challenge for me, but God sustains me in His grace.
For the first 25 years of my life I lived the comfortable me-life that so many people do, even though I had been a committed Christian since I was 21, and had grown up in church and known about God all my life. Something had to change, and God used Compassion child sponsorship to make that change. How could I ignore verses in the Bible like 1 John 3:17 “If anyone has enough money to live well, and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help them, how can God’s love be in that person?”

Growing up, I felt like I lived in the shadow of my two younger siblings – physically, academically, sportingly, socially. I desperately wanted to find something to make my life count for eternity, and God provided that thing.

Despite my flaws and weaknesses, God has chosen to use me to impact many lives. This has been mainly in the lives of little people. Over the last seven years I have sponsored 54 children with Compassion, and been able to visit 29 of them. I have taught hundreds of children in schools around Victoria as a classroom, music and emergency teacher. I have taught after school music lessons, as well as coached and refereed basketball for 11 years. I also have five little nieces and nephews who I’m blessed to be able to see and play with regularly.

Looking back over my life so far, the Compassion child sponsorship is what sticks out to me the most. As much as I’d like to say I do it because “it was the right thing to do” or “I’m a good person”, the only plausible reason for it is the overflow of the love of God in my life. His mercy and grace has flooded my life, and I can’t help but pass it on to those who need it most.

My first trip with Compassion was in 2009, when I ventured to Bolivia, Colombia and El Salvador. At this point I was still a relatively new sponsor, and it was still really just a good deed I was doing. However, it was still an eye opener for me, as I experienced poverty for the first time and got a “kick up the bum” for not writing enough.

In the last nine months I have been on three more Compassion trips, to nine different countries, most notably the Central America trip in January, which took in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Ecuador, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It was mind-boggling and heart-breaking to see the harshness of the reality of life for these families who God has connected me with, and at the same time, see the difference God is making in their lives through Compassion.

While I certainly have not (and never will) become an outgoing, extroverted party animal, it is clear that God is working on me and changing me through my experiences as a Compassion sponsor. This trip took me way out of my comfort zone, with the added complication of communicating with people from a different culture, who speak a different language.

There were definitely moments of silence and awkwardness, but God gave me courage to ask hard and honest questions and interact with these families I was connected with previously only through writing and God’s love. They responded in kind, and we were able to have many deep and profound conversations, filled with joy and gratitude.

I was able to show them that because of God’s love in my life, I cared enough to come and visit them and be involved in their lives, rather than remain at a distance, which would have been the easy comfortable way out for a quiet introvert like myself. In return I have been repeatedly shown what true faith, hope, joy and contentment looks like, and been humbled by incredible hospitality and generosity.

I have laughed, cried, hugged, played and prayed with these precious people, all because I made the decision to follow God outside my comfortable little life, stop making excuses and immerse myself in the lives of the people God connected me with. It hurt, and still hurts, but Love demands action.

As uncomfortable as it is for me, God’s love also demands relationship. He demands that if I call myself a Christian I am to love others: friend, family, foe or stranger, because of His extravagant love for me: unearned, undeserved. I’m definitely a work-in-progress, and still wouldn’t say no to the data-entry job and the day in front of the TV with the newspaper and a couple of drinks, but thanks to His grace and mercy, I am doing what I can to make an eternal difference in the lives of others.

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