Two things have helped me begin to overcome my tendency towards being an anti-social introvert. One is circumstantial, the other is scriptural.
The circumstantial factor is the wife I married. I love my wife. Dearly. With all my heart. But when it comes to relating to people, in some respects, our natural tendencies couldn’t be any more different. She is energized by being with people. I am drained. She is never happier than when surrounded by people. My natural tendency is to thrive when completely alone.
When I read church history I have to fight the temptation to be jealous of the monks who’ve lived in complete isolation. Although I do worry about how I would eat — I’m pretty useless when it comes to food preparation. In any case, living with Stacey has changed me. Because she loves people, I’ve had to become accustomed to having people around. But honestly, God has used that to overcome much of the sinful tendencies towards isolation and self-protection in my life. So I’m thankful.
But that’s the circumstantial reason. The scriptural one is more important.
Back to the Beginning
The beginning is a good place to start. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but for much of my life I never considered relationships with other people in light of Gen 1-3. What a foolish mistake! Gen 1.26-27 says,
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
Too Easy to Forget
Too often I simply forget these verses. I forget that humans are created in the image of God. They reflect him. As an introvert, I like to get away from people to experience God — but nothing could be more unhelpful. While ‘the heavens declare the glory of God’, people are actually stamped with his image and likeness. God doesn’t say that about anything else — not mountains or meadows, oceans or starry skies. If you want to see God, look at people.
Now obviously we know the rest of the story: humans sin and the image of God is marred. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there. In my neighbour who drives me bananas and in my wife whom I love dearly, God’s image is there. The more we’re able to see that, the more we desire to see that, the more natural it will become to love people. Inasmuch as we already love our God, we’ll love people because they show us our God! The trick is getting to know people with this question in mind: ‘What do I see of my God in them?’
Notice also that when God (who, as Trinity, is an essentially communal being) wants to create mankind in his image he doesn’t create one person, but multiple people (‘Let us … in our image’ … ‘he created them‘). That’s important. We cannot reflect God as he desires to be reflected if we are alone. Each of us reflects to each other and each of us receives the blessing of seeing God as we live in community as see each other. We simply cannot delight in God if we are not living communal, relational lives, full of other people.
God is in the Differences
Both of our first parents were created in the image of God. And Adam was created to be different than Eve. And just like them, every person since reflects the image of God in a unique and different way.
I never used to think about that. I used to think that it was annoying when people were different than me. But by God’s grace, through this text, I’ve begun to see in recent years that what God was doing with Adam and Eve affects my relationships now. Just like Adam was to reflect something of God to Eve in the ways that he was different from her (and vice versa), so the people God has put in my life are different than me for a reason. They are different than me for this precise reason: God wants to show me something about himself by way of contrast.
The Greatest Commandment
Therefore, love. All the previous thoughts have helped me these past few years make more sense of Jesus’s understanding of the greatest commandment. Haven’t you ever wondered why, when he was asked for one greatest commandment, he gave two?
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt 22:36-39)
Of course he gave two. Because if you love God, you’ll love your neighbour. Because as you delight in God you see him everywhere — especially in other people. And as you love other people, you see God in them. And as you see God in them, you love God more, and you love them for showing you God. The two are one. You cannot love God without loving people who are made in his image. And you cannot truly delight in people without seeing God in them.
So I Need Grace
I pray that God will give me grace to continue to see him in people — especially in our differences — so that I would delight in them and love them so that I might delight in him and love him. I pray for this grace in increasing measure for many years to come.
** This is written as part of the series 30 for 30: Reflections on Life at My 30th Birthday **