Not Disqualified

not disqualified

I have always been quiet and reserved, preferring a small group of close friends or a good book in a coffee shop. I HATED being called on to answer in class because I process information internally, and that can take awhile. I am happy to be the listener rather than the talker, particularly in large group settings.

For a long time, I felt like my personality disqualified me from cross-cultural service.

All the amazing workers I read about growing up seemed fiery and determined, pioneering entrepreneurs who could preach to the crowds with ease. I am nothing like that. Who was I to join their ranks?

My years of overseas service were stretching, to say the least. My introvert tank was regularly depleted by relational, “front porch” ministry, which meant sitting and chatting for hours at a time. Starting up intentional spiritual conversations created knots in my stomach and tension in my shoulders, requiring a long recovery time and abundant chocolate.

So often I longed to be someone else. To have been created with a different personality. I found myself praying regularly, “Lord, I feel like you called me, but couldn’t You have made me more outgoing and less fearful? Where is my place?”

I wish I could tell you story after story of how God used my personality specifically for His glory, or how being quiet somehow actually came in handy. I wish I could tell you my prayers no longer contain questions about why I am the way I am, or that I’ve grown and matured so much that all the negative aspects of my personality are gone.

But I’m not there yet. I’m still navigating what it means to live authentically for the Kingdom in all the expressions of an Ennegram 6, ISFJ, introvert- all that makes me who I am. I still question, still shrink back and stumble and try to take another courageous step.

For me, part of taking those steps is celebrating when I do. As I try to become at home in my personality with grace and humility, I look for areas of growth and cheer myself on there.

It also helps to have other cheerleaders on the journey, people who love us for who we are and also desire to help us keep growing. My teammate in Cambodia knew how hard it was for me to speak in the local language, let alone jump in to a conversation with strangers. While we were still in language school, we visited a fishing village and stayed with a local pastor. The pastor’s wife took us around to meet different families, and in one area a group gathered around to check out the two foreigners. An opportunity opened up where we could share Truth, and everything in me wanted to shrink back and let someone else do the talking. My teammate nudged me forward, pushing me into the spotlight and giving silent encouragement that I could do it. And I did.

When I stop thinking about becoming someone else and really look at the beauty and diversity of all the personalities God has created, I marvel at how He desires to use each of us. Not one of us is disqualified from serving Him, whether we feel like we are too much or too little, the wrong combination of letters, or disliking those labels altogether. He pulls us together to be strong in the areas where others are weak, to be filled with His Spirit when our own strength is gone and to journey together as we figure out how to be all He made us to be.

Have you ever felt like you were disqualified from serving the Lord because of a certain aspect of your personality? How do you celebrate your growth steps along the way?  

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11 Comments

  1. Kristen May 15, 2019

    Yes! As also an Enneagram 6, ISFJ, and an introvert, and a Highly Sensitive Person (www.hsperson.com), it is such a struggle to be in an extroverted culture. Especially because small talk is such an energy-killer (and boredom enhancer), but my language ability only allowed for that in the beginning. I found myself (and still do sometimes) shying away from speaking, not because of fear, but because I couldn’t take what seemed like a surface-level conversation.

    It’s discouraging to feel your personality is too much and not enough at the same time- a challenge to overcome. I remember 12 years ago someone basically pointing out that I was an introvert and saying, “Maybe now that you know this, you can do better.” It took a while to say (and believe) that introversion isn’t a weakness or disability.

    It has definitely given me a greater appreciation for the Body of Christ and how He uses us together for His glory. It has also helped to find safe, mature friends/teammates who valued what I did bring to the table.

    1. Ruth May 16, 2019

      “Maybe now that you know this, you can do better.” Oh, that makes me mad. But it is an attitude people have. How many of us were labeled “shy” as a child, and that was always a bad thing. Like I said below, it’s so cultural though!

      1. Kristen May 16, 2019

        It is! That was an American student I was discipling, haha.

        Yeah, sometimes I’ve wished I were in a more introverted culture, but honestly, there’s something about living out of this struggle that gives greater dependence (for me) on God.

    2. Sarah Hilkemann May 16, 2019

      Kristen, so many good thoughts here! When we learn to celebrate the diversity of personalities, it definitely can increase our appreciation for the way God puts us together in the Body. My teammate in Cambodia and I didn’t start talking about our personality differences until several years in, but it was SO helpful in striving toward unity and greater compassion for each other. We have to be learners of each other in the Body, rather than discouraging.

  2. Maria May 15, 2019

    There is so much truth here – we are all needed. I love the story of how your teammate gave you courage to share truth that day. I’m sure you gave her/him courage to do the right thing quite often, too.
    And I am so with you on this being a process where we need to give ourselves and each other grace. I like your question about celebrating growth steps. Something I think this experience is teaching me is how to save my voice until I hear from others first.
    Thanks for sharing, Sarah!

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 16, 2019

      Maria, that’s a great growth step/lesson for you! I love that’s it’s so personal and unique, and something you can celebrate. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Ruth May 16, 2019

    I can definitely relate, as an introverted, highly sensitive person. There are many times I have felt like I am less equipped and less useful because of my personality. I am home all day with loud children who LOVE to talk, and I’m often zapped before I even go out the door. Everything seems to require extra energy. A book that really helped my perspective is Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Won’t Stop Talking. Among other things, it talked about how extroversion is so valued in America, but not in every country. It was the first time I realized extroversion is a cultural not universal value. I think it especially affects us in our line of work because we get the idea that being extroverted doesn’t just make you more fun and social, it also makes you more effective and better equipped. That is a lie, but it takes some real effort to convince myself otherwise. Someone pointed out to me that many of the people around us have the same personality. We are uniquely gifted to reach them and model what it looks like to be a follower within our personality. It is like Sarah said yesterday: My God is not a God who makes mistakes.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann May 16, 2019

      Such good points, Ruth! Extroversion is definitely seen as the better quality here in the US but that’s true, it’s not that way everywhere.

      Have you heard of the book “Introverted Mom” by Jamie C. Martin? It just came out and my sister was telling me about it. I’m not a mom, but I’ve always wondered how I would do it as an introvert.

    2. Grace L May 17, 2019

      Thank you for sharing, Ruth. I am a highly sensitive introvert and my husband is an extreme extrovert. Sometimes I am jealous of him because he can go out and talk to anyone and everyone, even when he only knows a little bit of the local language. And they all love him. On the contrary I am able to stay in our home where we have a workshop where 8 very dear women come to work every day. I am able to interact with and minister to these women, especially the ones on the management level. My gifting is to be able to empathize and encourage and love on them, usually in a one on one situation. I love that I can interact with these women in a comfortable environment and get to know them deeply. But, even as rewarding as it is, by the end of the work day I am so glad when everyone goes home so I can be by myself and recharge. As I have grown older, I am glad that God made me the way He did, and for a purpose here in a cross cultural setting in East Asia.

    3. Michele May 18, 2019

      Wait, there are cultures that value introverts? Where are they and why am I not called there? 😉
      One of the best things about velvet ashes is posts like this one that tell me I’m not the only introvert doing this work that seems to be made for bubbly, bold extroverts! It’s something I’ve slowly learned to accept and value about the myself, but it’s one of those things that I have to keep wrestling with off and on.

  4. Spring May 17, 2019

    I am learning to embrace who I am. I struggled with similar feelings to yours before going into cross cultural work. My mentor and Sunday school teacher was walking into places and praying for others, sharing and ministering wherever she went. For me, I just wasn’t good at that. My husband can jump into a conversation about the Father in the blink of an eye. I felt so inadequate. Slowly the Father revealed to me that who I am is important. I was meant to reach certain people with my personality just as he was through his. I still have a long way to grow in this, but I am trying to embrace what it looks like to be me where I live and the work I am doing.

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