Social Distancing, Bereft Extroversion, and the Minister’s Grief

by | May 26, 2020 | 2 Those Who Mourn

Social distancing

Social distancing can break your heart.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).

Psychotherapy marches on during the pandemic. Although close conversation is high risk behavior, HIPAA-compliant teleconferencing platforms keep us therapists available amid social distancing. With all the emotional strains that health threats, economic loss, grief, and isolation bring, let us thank technology.

Yet, through my laptop screen and speaker, I witness a suffering seldom seen: Bereft extroversion. 

In the theory underlying the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and similar measures, extroversion and introversion run deeper than outgoing versus withdrawn behavioral styles. They involve where we charge the batteries that give us energy. The introvert charges her batteries within as she turns inward and converses with her feelings and thoughts. The extrovert plops the battery down in the space between herself and others. Social interaction churns the energy that makes her go.

We live in a culture that encourages and rewards extroverts. Those who reach out, connect, network, self-promote, and speak up reap more rewards in social and economic marketplaces. Introverts incubate novel perspectives and innovative strategies in the safety of their psyches. Yet, they risk waiting until most buyers check out before putting their treasures on display.

So we usually associate brooding isolation with introversion. But social distancing deprives the battery on the extrovert’s table of the interaction that charges it up. Bright eyes dim. Heads bow. Feet pace about in restless agitation.

But when I think of those who share their exquisite, invisible grief with me, I see more than an extrovert with a low charge. I see a pastor without a congregation, a minister without a shoulder to clasp, a friend with an empty shoulder on which no one sheds tears. These folks may give all they can through Zoom or email, but it feels like nothing happened. 

It is not only okay but inevitable to receive when we give. That does not make unselfish acts ultimately selfish. We live in a web of interdependent relationships. Energy flows back and forth between us when we love. When social distancing blocks or filters that energy, love mourns. The beloved seems absent even if smiling back on a screen. Love spills tears with no cup to catch them.

As an introvert, I do social distancing pretty well. But I am humbled and touched by the love of these ministers, ordained and lay, who miss the energy of love freely exchanged with so many. 

I see it more clearly now through the screen. They look like the face I see in the mirror when I feel lonely in a crowd. They ask when we can meet face-to-face. I do not know, I answer, wishing for once that I did not do social distancing so well.

Related Posts

Filled Through Longing and Loving
Building the Bridge Across Loneliness
Suffering Well During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Coronavirus and Your Spiritual Life: More Than Coping

2 Comments

  1. Michael Parnell

    I am one of those ministers. One of the hardest things for me is to have people in the hospital and not being able to visit. It kills me.
    I reach out on the phone, but it is not the same. I miss seeing them directly.
    As to worship, I pretend that the camera used to stream is a person. I talk to the person, not the camera.

    Reply
    • J. Marshall Jenkins

      Thank you, Mike. You are a witness to the sacredness of conversational space, especially when that conversation involves sharing in suffering. It is sharing in Christ’s suffering. I will pray for the day to come soon when you can join people in that sacred space again.

      Reply

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