Friday, September 14, 2007

Who am I?

I was recently told by my senior pastor that one congregant thought that "they had to take all the initiative to get to know me." While this is hard to hear, and likely a symptom of my introvertedness, it has gotten me thinking about "Getting to know you" as an idea. For example, while i'm make a large effort to get to know my congregants and families that I serve, most of my time is spent knowing you they are. Very little has been sharing of myself, mostly because I want to feel open and able to communicate them as best I can.

Still, this isn't the first time I've wondered about how people "get to know" one another. Sometimes it is a natural affinity for another person and there is a very easy sharing of information, other times it can be forced long before it comes simple. Sometimes getting to know you means knowing your fears, your joys and your hardships...other times it is knowing your hobbies, your interests and your politics. I think people define themselves differently depending on the situation - I know I do.

For example, I work mostly with parents and families. I know that their lives are often defined (not wholly but certainly in part) by the lives of their children. Thus, I try to get to know the child and their interests as much as the parents. But I wonder if my lack of kids in this kid-centered job makes me a suspect. Sometimes I feel I have very little relevant personal information to share with the parents I work with. I don't have a child to wax eloquently about. I certainly want to avoid politics and major church debates. You won't catch me talking about the ordination of homosexuals at church, for example, even though I feel quite strongly about it (It should be allowed by the way!).

Instead, I talk about my husband, my cats, football or other sports, various tv shows from time to time, good books, seminary (in passing). I will share a funny story as it relates, but most of the time I keep personal information on the basic level. But what do people think of as "getting to know me." I feel as though I am open with most of this information, and while I certainly spend more time getting to know the families I serve I don't think I hold back.

So what does it mean to get to know me? Or you? How do you define who you are or introduce yourself to someone new, especially when it isn't a natural connection? I know enough about myself to know that I'm diverse and complex. In many ways I'm a chameleon, fitting into a variety of situations and being able to converse (hopefully intelligently) about almost anything. But given a fully blank canvas I have a hard time defining it. I know a few words I would pick, but the full definition elludes me.

Does anyone else feel this way? I'm pleased I'm not easily defined but in trying to learn how best to share who I am with the congregation (even after almost 3 year here) I'm feeling confused. I'd love to know your thoughts. What does it take to get to know someone? How do you share who you are with others? Or if you know me well enough, who do you think I am?

Existentially yours,


Missy said...

Hi Liz - interesting post! I'm reflecting on what you wrote and have a few ideas. I often do the same as you - asking people about their lives, wanting to "get to know" them. I'm always interested in what other people's lives are like and how alike or different they are from my own.

I do consider myself an open book, but usually it takes someone to ask before I start talking about myself.

I don't feel like I know someone until I hear their "life story" --- even an abbreviated one. It might be about their childhood, or for coworkers, where did they go to college, where do they live, are they married, etc. But it can all seem "surface" until someone confides in me that they are having a bad day... then I know they are human. ;)

Rev Scott said...

How about this for 'getting to know you:' the interview questions I promised lo these many weeks ago!

1. You're a musician: describe the most powerful moment you've ever had performing music.
2. What was your favorite television show when you were eleven?
3. What's your philosophy on shoes? Do you buy lots of cheapies, or spendy clogs that should last a while? Full price or only on sale?
4. Ever laughed so hard your stomach hurt? Describe the moment.
5. What's your favorite book that is NOT written by J.K. Rowling?

KristaBeth said...

I am appreciate your struggle with these questions. I've been told that it takes a long time to 'get to know me.' Yet, I don't feel like I hold anything back on purpose. I, too, tend to spend a lot of time trying to get to know others instead of talking a lot about myself.

At my first church some members complained that I was not out going enough. I admit that my style is more quiet... and am an introvert. My District Superintendent told me something that has really stuck with me. "Just be yourself." That is all we can really do, just to live as authentically as possible as the people God created us to be.

Sally said...

Tricky isn't it? I teend to be an open book, but it does take time to get to know people, and can be especially hard for an introvert... at a new church we get to know folk one person/ family at a time...didn't the senior pastor have any suggestions?

I'm afraid I have no answers, but will pray!

Diane said...

1. it's not bad to be known for trying to get to know the other person more than talking about yourself.
2. I do think it's difficult to be without children working mostly with families.
3. I think talking about my dog(see your cat) and husband is sharing what is important to me. so it sounds like you are doing it.
4. is it a large congregation? it's easier in smaller congregations, I believe, because the people see you day to day, at kids' ball games, shopping, etc. more than in a large congregation. I don't think they need the full load, maybe just "hints" about who you are

Aunt Bea said...

Liz, I am so glad that you offered your thoughts about "getting to know you, getting to know all about you." At the end of 10 weeks of C.P.E., during the evaluations, one of my colleagues said that I was an enigma. What? I shared a lot about my life, who I am, what I like, or don't like, what I want to be when I grow up. I didn't understand his discription (I don't even know how to spell it!).
I ask many questions to the person, because I really do want to know them. I am also an introvert - but act like an extrovert when I am around people. (On Sunday afternoons I usually crash to get my energy back.) I try to be open with people and tell them about me. Sometimes I will give some info during a sermon illustration. I agree with your second paragraph. To what point of intimacy do we as clergy share with our parishoners?

Speaking with certain individuals in my congregation, I will be more open than I am when I speak with other individuals. It is a comfort level thing and personal choice. What is it that people want to know about us? Is it because we are clergy women? or just women? or are people assuming that we are best friends with each congregant. I too, can speak with many people on just about any topic, chameleon is a good word.

My only offerings at this time are: 1. do you know who thinks that you are difficult to know? Why didn't the senior pastor say to the person, "That's a good question, why don't you talk with her about this? Ask to go out for coffee and express your concerns." I think the senior needs to be in your court, not to field the questions or come to you and say that someone said this. The senior could have said that he/she has not found it difficult getting to know you, perhaps talking with Liz would ease your mind. 2. "They had to take all the initiative to get to know me." Does this mean that they have asked you questions and you avoided answering them? Reading your blog, I cannot think that would be the case. I, too, like to be asked the questions back at me. It is one way that I know they are interested in knowing more about me. If they are not asking, I don't really know if they want to know what I think. Like you I will not share my political or controversial views with everyone.

This reminds me of the question that usually follows hello. "How are you?" When someone says this are they really wanting to hear the nitty gritty of your life at that point OR are they just wanting to hear "fine and you?"

When I share who I am with others, and I am starting from a clean slate, I usually make a statement and ask the other, what do you think about this. If someone wants to know more about me, I have said to some, "I have asked all of the questions. If there is something you would like to know about me, you will need to ask me a question and I would be happy to share that with you." That has worked well. Of course this is on the individual basis, not from the pulpit.

Thank you for sharing your concern. I support you in what you have done and what you do from now on will be with God's guidance.

Emilie said...

This is really interesting, Liz. (I'm coming in a little late here.) In a way, I think the way you shared this on your blog is one way that you let people get to know you -- the fact that you struggle with these questions, and with how much of yourself to reveal as you try to get to know others in your congregation -- actually says a lot about who you are. I think you (like most people) are like an onion, in that you reveal yourself in layers that become more clear as they strip down to the center. I wonder if some extraverts expect others to wear their personas on their sleeves, or to reveal themselves easily in just a few chats. That seems impossible to me.

I find that people often think they know who I am, but quite often they are seeing me through their own filters and therefore get part of it wrong. That's frustrating.

I have to agree with the previous poster who said to just be yourself. And the other poster who questioned why the person who made that comment about you didn't just come to you or make an effort to get to know you better. Sounds like his or her issue more than yours. Just keep being yourself. :)