In our first church plant in 2008, we experimented with mid-sized groups called Missional Communities (MCs). MCs are kind of like extended families: groups of fifteen to forty people focused on a relational network or neighborhood.
The experience of doing life together, of living a life on mission with a group of people, was life changing for our family.
Eating Alone in Community
As our Missional Community grew, we observed an emerging pattern in our daughter, Ella, who was around seven years old at the time. We hosted a weekly gathering in our home for our MC, which usually began by eating together. During this meal, we noticed that Ella would quietly drift away from the group, taking her food up to her room to eat alone. Later in the gathering when we’d all come together, she would still be up in her room alone. We encouraged her to come down to join us, but she usually said she was tired or not feeling well. We thought maybe she was coming down with something. However, we noticed it was how she typically behaved every week.
So we decided to ask her to share with us what was going on. Eventually, she told us that she really was tired and not feeling well, but it wasn’t because of germs.
Ella told us that she got really tired from being around lots of people. So she really “didn’t feel well,” but it was because her people-meter had gotten maxed out!
Of all of our kids, Ella seems to be the most introverted, which just means she gets recharged by being alone. She will disappear for hours, eventually emerging like a happy, little butterfly full of energy! I totally get this, being an introvert myself.
We realized Ella was struggling to manage her energy when we had Missional Community gatherings. This was the reason she was tucking herself away into her room to eat. She was trying to recharge, but she wasn’t really sure if it was okay to do that.
So we talked with her about it, helping her name what was happening in her heart. We explained that this was how God made her and it’s okay. We told her that some people recharge externally, like with solar energy, and some recharge internally, like with batteries. We affirmed that there was nothing “wrong” with her; she was just drained and trying to recharge her batteries.
[Tweet “Some people recharge externally (think solar energy); Some recharge internally (think batteries)”] After this conversation, we decided to help her by implementing three things. These were designed to help her manage her energy levels so she could participate in the community.
1. Give a heads-up the day before our Missional Community
The day before we had a Missional Community gathering, we would give our daughter a heads-up about it. “Hey Ella, don’t forget! Missional Community is tomorrow. Lots of people over for brunch!” This helped her prepare mentally. It’s sometimes hard on introverts when we are surprised by a large group of people. We love people, but they wear us out. Having time to prepare helps us conserve energy so we can be fully present when they come over.
2. Offer time alone beforehand to charge up
The day of our gathering, we would again remind Ella about Missional Community and then give her some special alone time to charge up. We made it fun by gathering some comfy pillows in a corner for her to sit on while she read or got out a favorite puzzle to do at daddy’s desk.
3. Release at a specific time
During the gathering, we didn’t just let her come and go as she pleased. She needed to be with us during our time together, but as the gathering began to wind down and became more informal as people drifted out the door, we released her to go up to her bedroom and close the door to recharge if she needed to.
[Tweet “”We love people, but they wear us out.” @DebSternke #introverts in #missionalcommunity”]
A Lot Happier
After a few weeks of doing these three things, we noticed that Ella would sometimes go up to her room to be alone and other times feel fine to stay with everyone. We empowered her to notice her own energy levels and make choices, and it seemed to help her regulate her own energy.
She was able to be with others more consistently. She was more able to be blessed by our community and to be a blessing to our community. And she was just a lot happier!
She seems to carry a greater security and confidence in who she is and how God has made her. I’m really thankful for this conversation. Even now, almost five years later, when she’s drained she’ll say to friends who want to play, “I just need some alone time first, but I can play in an hour!”
How about you? Do you have an introverted child who sometimes disappears during large gatherings? What are some things you have found to help them recharge and be around people?
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