“Get on your feet!! Clap your hands above your head! Come on!” The DJ yells and the crowd goes wild. They are screaming and applauding and singing at the top of their lungs. A few minutes later: “I can’t hear you! Sing your praises louder!” The crowd responds with more. Always more. Until our ears are ringing.
These moments brought me back to my high school days, always feeling out of place in my introverted skin in the face of extroverted youth events. The constant exhortations to get your hands up! To dance! To be loud!
Subtly the message gets sent: If you don’t yell and scream and dance then you must not really love God enough. You aren’t a good enough Christian. You don’t worship correctly or with enough enthusiasm. With every forced chant, screaming youth group, and cheering after every line: with every group and leader that talks through quiet songs or tries to start a clap during them: the message gets sent that there is no room for introverts in this space. There is no room for introverts in our worship. There is only one way to be and that’s loud.
I am an observer by nature. I like to watch, take things in, process. I will happily sing at the top of my lungs, but I resist throwing my hands in the air like I just don’t care, because, actually I do care. You’ll often find me standing, with my arms crossed, taking it all in. Not because I am angry, but because this is how I participate.
As an adult who knows myself well I know that I don’t actually have to put my hands up, or sing louder, or dance. But what about the introverted teen who is already feeling awkward in their own skin? Do they know they can opt out? Will their extroverted youth leader let them opt out? I worry about the messages they are internalizing being in this huge auditorium and having no moments of quiet.
Another moment: It’s communion and we have been asked to remain silent so the last few people in the room can take communion in a reverent attitude. The room goes quiet. After about two second I hear a teenager say, “Awkward silence.” Then whispering for the rest of the time.
Later on there is a quieter song and yet from the back some large group tries to start everyone clapping along. We are desperately uncomfortable with silence. With stillness. With contemplation. And not just teenagers, adults, too. We rush to fill the silence, to add music, to do anything to keep ourselves from feeling the discomfort of it. And because we so often fill it we never learn to sit in it. To feel comfortable in it. To see what silence and stillness have to teach us.
This isn’t a screed against the singing and dancing. Nor is it a call for only contemplative worship. Instead it’s a begging for both. For balance. To make space for all types of worship. Not just so that we can each have a way to worship that fits our personalities but so that we can learn from other types of worship. Sometimes I do need to be encouraged to stop observing and to participate: to dance or sing or even just clap. But sometimes extroverts need to be encouraged to sit in silence. To hold that space.
What if for every time we goad introverts to come out of their shell we also encourage extroverts to learn to sit with and lean into their discomfort with silence? There are times when all of us need to do both. So let’s model and honor both.
This isn’t just a teenager problem, this is a problem for all of us. We need to learn to sit with ourselves. To learn to confront the things that silence brings up. To encounter ourselves. Only then can we fully unlearn the harmful things we perpetuate, unlearn the prejudices and biases we carry, unlearn the complicity we have in the systems we are a part of. We can’t unlearn any of those things unless we get quiet enough to face them and to face the fact that they are in us. Even as we worship.
We need both loud praise and the quiet of stillness. Let’s start to make sure that our worship makes space for all of it.
And let us learn to cultivate and be comfortable with silence.