Today we observed All Saints’ Day at church (which technically falls on November 1 but is observed on the closest Sunday following that date). Besides remembering all the saints-those still living as well as those who have already fallen asleep in the faith–All Saint’s Day means great hymns. One of my favorite hymns for this day is “Behold a Host, Arrayed in White” (Lutheran Service Book 676).
It’s not just the text of this hymn that makes it one of my favorites, it’s also the personal memories. Our vicarage congregation was able to purchase LSB hymnals because of a memorial given when a faithful member suddenly died. On the day the hymnals were dedicated, we sang this hymn because it was one of her favorites (and it was fitting, seeing how she is now a member of the host, arrayed in white). Almost two years later, we sang this hymn on the day of Baby Girl’s baptism.
It may be strange to remember a dead woman that I barely knew when my young daughter was baptized. However, that is what baptism is about: faith and salvation, so that we too can join this host in heaven.
I fervently pray that I will be placed in the grave long before Baby Girl. But I also fervently pray that she will have a blessed end and join the saints in heaven.
Behold a Host, Arrayed in WhiteBehold a host, arrayed in white, Like thousand snow-clad mountains bright! With palms they stand; Who is this band Before the throne of light? These are the saints of glorious fame, Who from the great affliction came And in the flood Of Jesus’ blood Are cleansed from guilt and shame. They now serve God both day and night; They sing their songs in endless light. Their anthems ring As they all sing With angels shining bright. Despised and scorned, the sojourned here; But now, how glorious they appear! Those martyrs stand, A priestly band, God’s throne forever near. On earth they wept through bitter years; Now God has wiped away their tears, Transformed their strife To heav’nly life, And freed them from their fears. They now enjoy the Sabbath rest, The heavn’ly banquet of the blest; The lamb, their Lord, At festive board Himself is host and guest. O blessed saints in bright array Now safely home in endless day, Extol the Lord, Who with His Word Sustained you on the way. The steep and narrow path you trod; You toiled and sowed the Word abroad; Rejoice and bring Your fruits and sing Before the throne of God The myriad angels raise their song; O saints, sing with that happy throng! Lift up one voice; Let heav’n rejoice In our Redeemer’s song!
There’s a joke around the seminary that couples return from vicarage with either a new baby or a new-to-them car. So far, my husband and I have not been visited by the stork during our stay in the North. With only two weeks left on vicarage, it seems highly improbable that we will have a baby in tow when we head back to the seminary. That leaves coming back with a new car.
While neither one of our cars seem like they are going to break down at any moment, I’m keeping a careful eye on my husband’s car. Two and a half years ago, I had a serious discussion with it after having 3 costly repairs in a five month period. I told the car we were going to get rid of it if it misbehaved anymore. I know it sounds crazy, but I think it understood me. Since that discussion, we have put very little money into that car besides the usual upkeep payments.
I suppose I should be thankful that the car has caused us so little problems, especially since my old car unexpectedly died on me. However, it caused us so many problems two and a half years ago that I’m suspicious of it. Really, I think the car is biding its time until it can break down at a really inconvenient moment.
I’m envisioning the car breaking down as we try to drive it onto the car carrier on the morning that we begin our move. Of course, that would mean we technically wouldn’t come back from vicarage with a new car; we would just have one less car. Still, it would be annoying.
Did you come back from vicarage with a new car, baby, or neither one?
Okay, so I realize that I’m not the easiest person to get to know. I’ve mentioned before that it takes a long time for me to consider a person a friend and that shyness and introversion make socializing difficult. Between these two factors, I feel that I come off a bit. . . prickly, like a cactus (you know, something that you are better off observing from a distance unless you decide to approach very carefully). Despite my prickliness, congregation members still invite my husband and me to do things with them. My husband says that I’m invited as well because people like both of us; I say I’m invited because I’m an accessory for my husband.
Anyway, the last week and a half have been particularly tough. We’ve been receiving more social invitations than we did in the earlier months of vicarage. Really, I should be ecstatic. After months of very limited social interaction, here are people actually taking the time to meet with us one-on-one. This should be perfect for the introvert in me.
But I don’t want to get to know these people better. It’s selfish, but I know with only 6 weeks left before our move that I will get very little in return for the social energy I put out now. I know these people are perfectly nice, but I’m so very tired of trying to get to know new people only to move away. I would rather simply focus on the few friendships I have managed to cultivate this year and not bother with any other socializing.
But that’s bad. That’s ungrateful. That’s close-minded. That’s unloving. That’s unChristian.
Now guilt has started to take hold. I fear that I haven’t done enough this year, that I offended people because I will never really get to know them. I feel guilty that I take so long to warm up to people and that I can’t seem to pull together basic social graces. I worry that my introversion is rapidly forming into anti-socialness. Most of all, I continue to fear that I really can’t manage this whole “pastor’s wife” thing.
The thought of going out on vicarage terrified me from the beginning of second year. The unknowns of the process petrified me and the thought of facing a congregation of strangers made me panic. But I had a plan on how I would stay in control. There were two things I knew absolutely could not happen during vicarage: I could not become a housewife* and I could not spiral into anxiety and depression like I did after our first move. If I could prevent these fears from forming, then I would survive vicarage.
But my fears came true. The two things I fervently prayed for God to prevent happened anyway. I became severely anxious and struggled with depression. The anxiety became so severe that I couldn’t go to church on Sundays. Even worse, I had to allow my husband to explain to the congregation the reason for my prolonged absence. They knew my secret of anxiety. My work hours were continually cut to the point where I can no longer consider myself a nanny–I had become the housewife I never wanted to be.
As I watched my plans unravel, I felt bitter. I was angry at my husband for dragging me all over the Midwest, I was angry at myself for not being able to handle what every other sem. wife seemingly did with ease, and I was angry at God for refusing me the two things I wanted most. And I felt deeply ashamed. I felt ashamed when I finally talked the pastor here about my anxiety (even though he showed nothing but compassion for my pain), I felt ashamed every time I had to answer the question of, “Well, what do you do with your free time?” (answer: nothing of great importance. Really, it’s a productive week if I actually clean the bathroom), and I felt ashamed every time I didn’t meet my expectations of how I should behave in church. It was a difficult time.
Never have I felt the words of Paul in Philippians 4:11-13 so poignantly as I do now, “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Now, I’m no theologian, so I can’t sort out for you why why God allowed me to have been brought low through anxiety and no job. But this I do know: I lost every sort of illusion that my own strength could carry me through vicarage. It’s impossible to feel invincible when you rely on your husband to bring home the paycheck. It’s impossible to feel strong when you sit by the door on Sunday morning crying as the church bells ring because you can’t walk out the door to go to service. It’s impossible to feel righteous when you stare off into space all afternoon thinking all kinds of evil thoughts about how God has abandoned you.
In the end, it was God who has gotten me through vicarage; I obviously had nothing left in me to pull my life together. He gave me a loving husband who cared for me during my times of anguish. He placed us with a supervising pastor who was willing to give me communion when I admitted that I couldn’t go to church. He provided me a friend in the congregation who would reach out to me despite my crazy behavior. And when there was no pride or strength of my own to cling to, Christ’s cross was there with His Words, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age,” (Matt. 28:20b).
The funny thing about all this is that despite my fears coming true, despite the anxiety, and despite the lack of a job, I’m surviving. In fact, I’m even starting to think that I’m beginning to thrive. I’m writing more and I’m finding my voice again through my writing. I have made a few good friends here and I’m finding that I’m starting to love the congregation in my own quiet way. Best of all, I don’t dread my husband’s call (God willing) the same way that I dreaded vicarage–my worst fears already happened on vicarage, I now know what happens when they come true. I no longer have to fear my fears. And while I may again succumb to my own pride and battle against anxiety (after all, I am still a sinner), God will remain faithful. He will daily and richly forgive all my sins and keep me in the faith–not by my own strength, but through His.
*I define housewife differently from SAHM. A SAHM cares for her children and keeps the household running, a housewife only tends to the house. I’m okay with the thought of being a SAHM, I never wanted to be a housewife.
This week brought another “Oh, crap” moment (which really aren’t that uncommon for me). On Tuesday, my husband came home with an invitation to a baptism party. My husband and I agreed that we could attend, so I started thinking about what we should bring. Did custom dictate that we bring a gift? Could we get by with just a card? Do people bring anything to baptism parties? I didn’t know, so I asked my husband to ask Pastor what he does about these sorts of parties.
The next day, my husband came home for lunch and told me, “Pastor said that just bringing a card to a confirmation party would be fine.”
Confirmation party? Who said anything about a confirmation party? Then the proverbial light bulb went off:
The Lonely Introvert: It seems like an oxymoron at first. How can people who desire time alone and often thrive working by themselves get lonely? Fairly easily, actually. People are social creatures whether introverted or extroverted. Consequently, if introverts spend too much time alone, they can get lonely just like extroverts. However, it can be more difficult for introverts to find a way to fend off loneliness. They need a certain type of interaction to fulfill their social needs.
For introverts, it’s not the quantity of social interactions they have that makes them feel socially satisfied, it’s the quality of those interactions. Sophia Dembling explains in The Introvert’s Way, “Introverts don’t get lonely if they don’t socialize with a lot of people, but we do get lonely if we don’t have intimate interactions on a regular basis,” (pg. 63). This can be a blessing and a curse. Introverts don’t need a herd of friends to make a fulfilling social encounter, meeting someone for coffee is perfectly suitable for them. However, since introverts desire such a deep connection to feel fulfilled, it makes it difficult to find people to connect with. That’s why introverts can feel lonely at a large party–they may not know anyone at the party or the atmosphere may not be suitable for long conversations. In all honesty, this is why I never got into the bar scene in college: Hanging out with strangers with loud music blaring and alcohol flowing didn’t seem like fun at all. This need for intimate interaction is also why some introverts still want to socialize after working with others during the week–they may not have a deep connection with their co-workers.
Of course, that’s not to say that extroverts aren’t capable of socializing on an intimate level. Some of the women I’ve developed the deepest friendships with in my adult life are extroverts and I love meeting up with them for a cup of coffee (you know, when we actually live in the same state). Partly that’s because they didn’t have the same hang ups I have when meeting new people–they were willing to start a friendship while I was still studying them (wow, that makes me sound like a serial killer. I promise I’m not!). This is willingness to open up quickly is important when moving so often and I admire that in them.
This move has shown me the importance of having close friends nearby and just how lonely I can become in a crowd. The first couple of months we lived here, my week went like this: Monday-Thursday I spent by myself while my husband worked. Friday I worked (but only with the kids–enjoyable, but not exactly fulfilling my social needs). Saturday I spent the morning by myself and the afternoon with my husband. I had ample alone time but little to no meaningful interactions with anyone besides my husband. I could communicate with my friends via internet and telephone, but there wasn’t anyone I could spend time with in person. The first part of introverted loneliness was created.
Then came Sunday morning. Every Sunday felt like I was caught in a hurricane of people. Faces would blur together, people would try to chit-chat with me and I would freeze up, and the constant interaction with others would have drained me of my social energy. The problem was that I had no social energy to give–without the intimate social interactions during the week that I desperately need, my socializing fuel gauge was running on empty. I couldn’t interact on Sunday mornings.* The second part of introverted loneliness was created–I felt alone in the crowd.
Thankfully, things have gotten better. I have found a few people that I can meet with for one-on-one, intimate interactions during the week. That means I have some sort of fuel in my socializing tank. That also means I have some friendly faces to help me through Sunday mornings, whether or not they know about my anxiety–these people can be called a “surrogate.” The Introvert’s Way explains it as, “If you’re shy among groups, there’s nothing wrong with latching onto someone who isn’t and riding along,” (pg. 165). Surrogates help shy introverts like me start meeting new people. Typically my husband would be my surrogate, but he cannot fulfill this role on Sunday mornings when he has to work.
There you have it, the two ways introverts get lonely. It is well put in The Introvert’s Way as, “Introverts are not immune to loneliness. We can be lonely surrounded by people if we haven’t found anyone to connect with. We also can get lonely if we allow the momentum of solitude to override our natural need for companionship,” (pg. 76). This is just further evidence that introverts aren’t antisocial like some people claim. If we were antisocial, we wouldn’t get lonely.
Do any other introverts get lonely? Have any extroverts ever felt lonely in a crowd?
*To be clear, church isn’t all about socializing. Obviously it’s about hearing God’s Word and receiving His sacraments with the body of believers. But believe me, this is so much easier to do when you can interact with others.
Wednesday night youth group has been chaotic since Lent started. Between my husband occasionally preaching at our other vicarage church and the youth leaders dealing with various illnesses and long work days, there has hardly been a Wednesday that all three of them have been at Bible study. This week’s Wednesday night was quickly proving to be no different: My husband was schedule to preach at the other church and the youth leader who was going to cover the Bible study texted him on Tuesday evening to say that he was sick. The other youth leader was unable to teach the Bible study as well. My husband immediately went into Plan C mode and started listed possible congregation members that could lead youth group the next evening. After observing my husband in youth group crisis mode for a moment, I asked, “Well, can I do it?” My husband told me that I could, but only if I wanted to. The youth group wasn’t my responsibility, so I shouldn’t feel obligated to cover. “I know that, I think I can do it,” I said.
My husband replied, “Okay, if you think you want to do it. All you have to do is just watch them, don’t worry about the Bible study.”
I paused a moment to mull over the situation. I know that the congregation doesn’t expect much involvement from me anymore; I declined invitations to many church activities when we first arrived. They know that I won’t sing in the choir, won’t come to the Ladies Guild meetings, won’t attend the women’s Bible study, won’t come to craft activities, and some even know that I won’t play piano for service. Likewise, my husband knows how much anxiety I had about the congregation’s expectations when we first moved here, so he is very careful to never make me feel pressured to help at church. Sadly, in my efforts to show people that I wasn’t interested in doing everything at church, I’ve led people, including my husband, to believe that I can’t do anything at church.
But I’m tired of that belief. I know it’s not true, I can and want to serve the church–just in my own time and in my own way. So I asked my husband, “Can I do a Bible study with the high schoolers?” After taking a couple of minutes to convince my husband that I could teach a 20 minute devotion and that I actually wanted to try, he agreed to let me lead the devotion.
Even though I had said that I wanted to help, the next day I still felt nervous about working with the teenagers. Despite my apprehensions, I prepared my devotion and talked it over with my husband before he headed off to confirmation class. At 6:30, I sat the youth down and began the devotion. While it wasn’t the best devotion ever–I haven’t taught a group since my daycare job–it still worked out. The high schoolers answered my questions and listened respectfully. I hope they even learned something. I know that my subbing was only for one night, but it was still a big step for someone who initially didn’t want to work with the youth.
The Problem With “It’s Only a Year”:
So why now? My husband has been in a bind with the youth group in the past; why wait until March to finally offer to help? Unfortunately, this is my pattern. Due to my introversion, shyness, or a combination of the two, I spend at least six or seven months to even begin to feel emotionally settled after a move. It happened in college, it happened when we moved to the seminary, and it unsurprisingly happened with this move. I am not able to jump into a new life like I would a swimming pool on a hot day (actually, I don’t even like swimming, so I wouldn’t want to jump into a swimming pool on a hot day either!). It takes time for me to feel comfortable talking with this person or volunteering to help with that activity. That means back in August when congregation members were excitedly asking me to help with the youth group, join the Ladies Guild, or sing in the choir, I needed more time to get settled before trying to get involved with anything at church.
Unfortunately, vicarage is only a year long program. That means now that I’ve finally reached a point where I’m comfortable enough to slowly start to become part of the church community, I’m beginning to think about our move in four months. So while I’m just warming up to say hello, I’m beginning to think about how to say goodbye. Consequently, for me the vicar’s wife mantra of “It’s only a year, I can do anything for a year!” changes to “It’s only a year? I need more than a year!“This also means I get really pissed off when people lecture about the importance of experiencing vicarage to the fullest and implore sem. wives to make friends everywhere they go. I’m not socially inept, I realize that I need friends and need to belong in a community. Again, I need time to get settled.
The good news about all of this is that I can look forward to having more than a year after my husband gets a call (God willing).
Yesterday my husband was talking about the youth retreat he organized and ran this past weekend. He was bouncing ideas off of me about what suggestions he would make to the next vicar, what went well, and what he could have done better. Then he said, ” I should probably just put next year’s retreat on the calendar now so the next vicar won’t have to worry about it when he gets here.” Then he paused, smiled slyly, and continued, “I should plan to have it in February.”* We looked at each other for a moment, tipped our heads back, and laughed and laughed.
*Lent, the church season that is notoriously busy for pastors, usually begins in February.