Many of us will have heard the term “oikos”. You can read some of our previous posts about what living in oikos means in our oikos series which starts here. In summary, living as oikos means living a life of extended family on mission together. It involves sharing life, resources, time, energy and effort with others. And whilst some are jumping up and down with excitement when they first hear about oikos, there are others who are slowly sinking into their seats whilst the colour gradually drains from their face.
Not all, but many, who fit in this latter category will be introverts. Although introverts may acknowledge that oikos is a biblical model for living a missional life it can also feel incredibly challenging to them.
Introverts are usually sociable, friendly and chatty but are energised by time alone and by their own ideas, thoughts and reflections. Whereas an extrovert will gain energy from being with others, an introvert will, at some point, need time alone to “re-charge” their batteries.
I write this as an introvert married to an extrovert. Living a life of extended family is as natural as breathing for my husband, Rich. But it’s not for me. Sitting in a room alone with a good book is my natural preference. So how does oikos work for us introverts who need time alone to re-charge? How do introverts function well, and contribute healthily in an oikos whilst remaining true to who they are.
How do introverts thrive, not just survive, in oikos living?
We have been asking this question and seeking to live this pattern of life for the last 13 years. So from one introvert to another, here are some of the things I’ve learnt along the way:
Be honest about who you are
Within our church culture we have a healthy understanding of the difference between extroverts and introverts. This is a great starting place. It means that we quickly know who the extroverts and introverts are within our oikos and how they naturally gain energy. We try to have a healthy appreciation of the differences and strengths that both introverts and extroverts bring to a group and we encourage introverts to be honest about the times where lots of shared life and activity feels like a stretch.
Recognise what you have to give
This is Rich’s reflection on what I, and other introverts, bring to our oikos: “There is a wealth of depth and wisdom introverts have that is a veritable treasure trove if accessed by the others in the oikos. But only if the introvert offers it to the oikos. Thriving in an oikos as an introvert is partly about recognising what you have to give, for example training others to be more reflective, helping extroverts to appreciate space & silence, bringing a depth to the conversation. Introverts often bring quality not quantity and can really bless others with what they bring, but they have to make a decision to share that with others “
Don’t use introversion as an excuse for self-indulgence
Obviously an extrovert could never get away with saying this statement. But from one introvert to another, a helpful question to ask ourselves is this: “Is my desire for time alone a necessity or just self-indulgent?” It’s also helpful to give permission to those to whom we’re accountable to ask us this question too.
Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and to pick up our cross. And that applies to introverts too. This means there will be times when we’re with others when we’d rather be alone. We still need healthy boundaries and there are times when we genuinely need to be alone. But there will also be times when we need to let God expand our capacity to be with others.
Learn to rest amongst others
Normal family life involves rest. There isn’t always an agenda or intense conversation; sometimes we watch TV together, or someone is sat reading a book, or snoozing on the sofa. If we are truly living life together with our oikos we need to learn how to live like this together. This creates the space and the environment for an introvert to rest and re-charge whilst still being with others in the oikos.
Create, and verbalise, healthy boundaries & rhythm
Living in oikos doesn’t mean that everyone has 100% access to us 100% of the time. This would be unhealthy for anyone, introvert or not. Rich and I plan our diary for weeks and months at a time. Our time off together, as well as scheduled time off alone, is one of the first things that goes in. And we stick to those times. Rich would say that I help to ensure that we set a good rhythm – tempering his tendency to have a huge number of more shallow & sporadic relationships. We are intentional with our time/calendar about how much we can do, who we are investing ourselves into and how we will do that. But we also like to have people drop by into our home spontaneously. We’ve found the best way to enable this is to make it clear to our extended family that they are always welcome to pop in, and if we are busy or need time alone we will verbalise that. In doing this we are responsible for setting and creating the boundaries. Alongside this we’ve also communicated that tea-time up until the kids bed time is a particularly good time for people to pop in as we’re always around and it never intrudes on any “introvert time”.
When we have time alone, even if it’s an hour or two, we need to use it wisely and effectively. What energises you as an introvert? Make sure you include some of those things in your times of rest. There will be more energy to give to others if we have rested wisely and effectively.
Vary activities/tasks together
If all our time together as oikos is around conversational interaction this can quickly become exhausting for an introvert. We can help introverts by doing activities where there is less intensity of interaction – a walk together, doing some gardening, watching a film – any activity which allows intermittent conversation is helpful. Introverts often prefer deeper conversations with fewer people and these kinds of activities also allow introverts to do this.
Recognise relationships will differ
Introverts will typically have fewer relationships than an extrovert. Within an extended family of around 20 people an introvert will often connect specifically and deeply with a smaller number (between 2-6) whilst still having good relationships with others in the family. Recognising variations in relationships, as well as understanding that introverts will build and express relationships differently to the extroverts gives the introvert freedom to build relationships in the oikos with integrity.
Let’s remember that oikos is just about real family life. In healthy family life we don’t have to pretend to be someone we’re not, or to try to be something different. In healthy family life everyone has a place and a purpose. Introversion is not a disability to be overcome. Introverts have so much depth and blessing to bring so let’s engage and give ourselves fully to the life of our oikos.
written by Anna Robinson