Adam S. McHugh's Blog

September 27, 2017

The calendar has driven us, once again, into the bracing arms of autumn. Northern Hemisphere residents are inhaling the snappy chill of the late-afternoon air, wrapping their dangerously exposed necks in magical Hogwarts scarves, exclusively eating and drinking things that taste and look like pumpkins, losing their children in elaborate corn-mazes, and unabashedly participating in the creepiest-sounding of all autumn activities: leaf-peeping.

Meanwhile, here in Santa Barbara, California, it’s 70-something degrees and sunny, and everyone is at the beach. Just like every other damn day of the year.

I’m not foolish enough to try to elicit any sympathy for my life in a Mediterranean climate. For a century, people have moved to Santa Barbara precisely for the therapy of sun and salty ocean air. No one in upstate New York will shed any tears for me when they’re shoveling themselves out of 11 feet of snow in January and I’m unironically wearing shorts.

Yet, while I am happy to call this place home, I miss seasons, sometimes desperately. No doubt retailers play a role in my angst; they have conditioned me, rather brilliantly, to associate dates on the calendar with particular products and activities. When the bell of the autumnal equinox rings, I start salivating for pumpkin-spiced whatever—like the most annoyingly hipster Pavlovian dog…and I don’t even like sweet things. Most of it is influenced by nostalgia. I grew up in Seattle, and autumn evokes childhood memories of driving with my dad past the sprawling local pumpkin patch on drizzly Saturday evenings and returning home to the fire after University of Washington football games.

But it goes even deeper. Seasons are not only realities that occur outside and around us, in the skies and in the trees. I believe seasons are also internal and personal, interwoven into the fabric of human life. We are designed to transition, to change, and to vary. Our souls have seasons.

When there are few changes in the outward seasons, it is easy to neglect the shifts required by our internal seasons. When you live in an unchanging climate, it’s tempting to try to match it with an unchanging life. External seasonal cues can remind us to transition into something new and to live differently. The reason why people historically have celebrated the month of October so extravagantly is not only because it’s harvest time, an ancient time of gratitude, but because they sensed on a primal level that the world was slowly closing, the sap was gravitating back toward the soil, the darkness was encroaching, and the natural world was going dormant. They knew their daily lives were going to change along with it: it was almost time to go inside, build a fire, and wait out the winter.

My longing for seasons feels like a desire for the permission to change, to slow. I don’t believe we are built to move at the same pace, do the same activities, and feel the same feelings all year round. Humans, just like the natural world, are meant to cycle through seasons of dormancy and new life, activity and contemplation, celebration and sadness, blossom and harvest, openness and closedness, austerity and abundance. I believe the seasons serve as a lesson book for the soul, instructing us when to move fast and when to slow down, when to act and when to rest, when to focus on the world outside and when to hibernate and go down deep. If we ignore the lessons of the seasons, we may feel the pressure to try to be “up” all the time—always going, ever energetic, constantly gleeful. We may find ourselves restless and exhausted without having any idea why.

Living in a climate of seemingly endless summer has taught me some valuable lessons. First, the seasonal changes are there, but you have to discipline yourself to pay attention to the subtleties. Seasons are exercises in attentiveness. The radiant glow of summer modulates into the beautiful sadness of autumn, but it’s delicate. The marine layer persists just a little bit longer in the mornings, and the air warms up a little slower in the morning and cools down a little faster in the afternoon. The clouds linger on the peaks of the Santa Ynez Mountains into the afternoons. The light falls differently and casts longer shadows, and the loud pink rays of the summer sunset are brushed aside by the amber and burnt orange hues of fall’s curtain call.

Second, seasons are now something I choose. Here, autumn is something you resolve to do. I love that the word deciduous has the word decide embedded in it. Although I live in an evergreen climate, I have resolved to lead a deciduous life, for the sake of my soul. I allow the encroaching darkness of the fall to drive me inside earlier in the evening to read, to write, to reflect. And sometimes, you just have to put soup in the crockpot when it’s 80 degrees outside. I want to let the seasons, and their inherent gifts, rhythms, and offerings, teach me how to live and to be more human.

There is a growing trend in our country of eating in season, enjoying the produce that particular season has to offer rather than trying to eat a plastic tomato in the middle of February. What if we extended that idea to living in season? What if we stopped trying to live the year at a dead sprint and instead let the seasons teach us about how to move and how to live?

Originally posted at Quiet Revolution, October 2016.
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Published on September 27, 2017 10:44 • 27 views

September 12, 2017

There is an ancient and beautiful monastic ritual called “The Grand Silence.” For centuries, at the conclusion of evening prayer, monasteries have called a full halt on speech, to be observed except in dire emergency. This silence endures through the night until the first prayers the next morning, when as the sun introduces the new day, the quiet is broken by the singing of Scripture.

I first encountered this tradition on retreat with several of my ministry partners while I worked as a college pastor. They were a fervent group of extroverts, and for them, the nighttime silence was less than “grand.” They squirmed their way through that first evening, contorting their faces every time they had a thought they had to stifle. By the second night, though, they started to enjoy it and acknowledge the value of the silence. If we’re honest, too much talking can be a slow leak on even the most extroverted soul.

For me, the lone introvert, not even the most haunting chants of the Psalms that resonated through the chapel at daybreak could compare to the transcendence of the Grand Silence. Monasteries may be homes of asceticism, but each night their members feast on a gluttonous banquet of quiet. I anticipated and relished those hours, often going deep into the night to savor the stillness. For my extroverted colleagues, the grand silence was a vacation; for me, it was a homecoming....
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Read the rest of this excerpt from the "Introverted Spirituality" chapter of the Expanded and Revised edition of Introverts in the Church at Introvert, Dear!
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Published on September 12, 2017 14:45 • 21 views

June 28, 2017

I was honored to interview with Psychology Today writer Nancy Ancowitz last month, and all three parts of our conversation about listening and introversion are now up on the Psychology Today website. That link will take you to part one, and here is part two and part three. Part one focuses on listening to others, part two on listening to ourselves, and part three on the specific opportunities and challenges for introverted listeners.



And, this is one more gentle reminder that there is a revised and expanded edition of Introverts in the Church hitting my publisher's warehouse on July 7th. Here are some of the changes in the second edition. It should be shipping out of online retailers by mid July, with the official release date in early August.




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Published on June 28, 2017 12:41 • 24 views

April 9, 2017


      When you’re an introvert, it’s easy to get overconfident about your listening abilities. It may seem an odd thing to strut over, but it’s true. Those on the extroverted side of the scale are rewarded with verbal ease and high energy; our introverted realm is the land of listening and reflection, and we sit proudly on our quiet thrones.

The breezy dichotomies start to fall apart, however, when we go deeper into the practice of true listening. I am not actually convinced that listening comes naturally for anyone, of any temperament. True listening is an act of selflessness, a work of ego surrender, and most humans don’t do those things instinctually. Now, if we define listening as sitting quietly while another person speaks, then yes, introverts have the upper hand. We are the masters of the quiet sit. Providing the air space for others to share is the first step, and we may have a head start here.

The worst listeners are easy to identify, because they are unable even to get this far. We all know people like this. They dominate conversations, performing soliloquies in our presence like windy Shakespearean characters, and they have little ability to gauge our interest level in their chosen topic. They are strangely impervious to the glassy-eyed stares of their captive audience.

Those who yammer on like radio talk show hosts are the easy targets of bad listening, but there are many more culprits of a subtler variety. This is where we introverts may not be the natural listeners we think we are. We may be adept at creating the outward space for others, but we may assume that in showing up and closing our mouths we have thereby done our job as listeners. We have removed the outward distractions, but the problem is that our heads continue to buzz with a myriad of inward distractions.

I believe that listening is the truest form of hospitality, which is good news for those of us who don’t relish opportunities to invite groups of people into our homes. To me, the best hosts are not those who throw spirited dinner parties, as enjoyable as those can be, the best hosts are listeners, those who welcome others into their minds, hearts, and souls. That is true hospitality, the meeting place for healing and empathy. Creating the outward space is absolutely essential because it is the setup; it is the listening equivalent of setting the table, lighting the candles, and opening the door to your guests. This is the context where true listening can happen, yet it is prologue, not the meal.

While for the more extroverted among us the greatest listening challenge may be in the outward act of hospitality - finding the time in a busy schedule, allowing quiet space, and refraining from steering the conversation with their words - for introverts like me the listening challenge is in the inward act of hospitality, making room in my inner life to allow for the needs and interests of others. The atmosphere surrounding us may be quiet, but so often the climate in our heads is thunderous. We have naturally active brains, which is why we often don’t feel the need to fill our lives with busyness. Our brains are quite busy enough, and we can provide all the stimuli that we need on our own. We’re our own favorite company. This is an asset for times of prayer and solitude, but it can be a barrier when we want to be attentive to others.

The truth is that only the listener can gauge whether he or she is truly listening, because true listening takes place on the inside. You can have all the trappings of listening – eye contact, appropriate body language, active listening sounds, occasional questions – and still not be genuinely listening. I know, because I have done it. I have been complemented for my listening by people that I knew I hadn’t listened to well, because I was preoccupied with my internal thoughts while sitting across the table from them. I was listening to the voices in my inner world, with their nagging concerns, self-doubts, and judgements, rather than offering my internal attention to the person in front of me. As Steven Covey put it, I was listening to respond, rather than listening to understand.

Therein lies the greatest listening challenge for those of us with quiet exteriors and noisy interiors: We must practice an inner hospitality, learning to clear the internal space, and turning down the volume of our inner voices, so that we can welcome the voices, thoughts, and hearts of others. That is how we become the best kind of hosts.
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Published on April 09, 2017 13:18 • 45 views

March 6, 2017

Now 40% More Introverted!!!About a year ago, I cracked open Introverts in the Church for the first time in several years. Contrary to what some may believe, we authors don't cuddle up to our books on cold nights. I had moved on to other topics, namely The Listening Life, and some other writing projects.

I had been wrestling with questions, once again, about how to approach some new relationships in my life as an introvert, and I thought to myself, "You know who's an expert on this topic? ME!" So I dusted off my copy of Introverts in the Church and immersed myself in chapter 5, the Community and Relationships chapter.

What I found is that while my advice is helpful, some of it already feels outdated. It is astonishing how much things change in 8 years. In 2009, when the book was published, everyone in the church was talking about postmodernism; now, I almost never hear that word. In 2009, I didn't even know the phrase "social media," and the iPhone was just starting to flood the market. I started writing Introverts when I was 29 years old, even though the book wasn't published until I was 33. I will be turning 41 in a few months, and needless to say, I have changed, as a person, as a writer, and as a believer.

I was a decent writer when I was 29, but I am much better now, and one of the things I noticed, ironically, is that the book is just too wordy. I can tell I was dealing with what they call "Imposter Syndrome," a common struggle with a first book, and I wanted to prove to everyone, myself included, that I was qualified to write a book. I dropped in all kinds of theological knowledge and research that just wasn't necessary and was, in some cases, distracting. That, combined with the outdated time stamps in the book, compelled me to approach InterVarsity Press last summer and ask if we could release a 2nd edition. I wanted to write a new version that had a more timeless, and succinct, feel to it. And I thought I could make the book a lot funnier.

Today, I am thrilled to announce that the Revised and Expanded Version of Introverts in the Church is now available for pre-order. Here's what's new: each chapter has been thoroughly revised, both in content and in flow. I have written a new introduction. I have interspersed more discussions about the struggles of introverted parents and ministering to introverted children. I have incorporated the new research that has been conducted in the last few years about introversion, neurology, and sensitivity to stimuli, as well as some recent studies on the effectiveness of introverted leaders. And I have brought in the work of the Queen of Introversion, Susan Cain.

There are also some new endorsements. Scot McKnight wrote the forward, and he says "the first edition was exceptional, the second even better, at least by half, perhaps more than that." 

Jenn Granneman, creator of the popular introverted community, Introvert, Dear, writes: "Introverts in the Church is thoughtful, validating, and charming. It’s the book for any church-goers who have ever wanted to disappear into their seats when the pastor said, “Turn and introduce yourself to three strangers.” Adam teaches an important lesson: Spirituality should not be measured by sociability. The introvert who quietly reflects on her faith is as true of a believer as the extrovert who preaches exuberantly to others."

There are also endorsements from Susan Cain, Lauren Winner, John Ortberg, and many others. I echo Emily Freeman's hopes when she says, "I have a hopeful vision that the giftedness of the next generations of introverts will be honored and celebrated thanks to the fine work of Adam S. McHugh in this timeless, important book."  

You can now pre-order the revised version of Introverts in the Church on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Pre-ordering guarantees you the best price, as the price will decrease at times over the next few months, and it is a helpful way to draw the attention of retailers and reviewers. The official release date is August 7, 2017, but if you pre-order the book you will have it in your hands around mid-July. While the new edition will be of particular interest to new readers, those of you who read the first edition will find plenty of new content.

As always, I am deeply grateful for all of you who have read the book, recommended it to others, and sent me emails about it. I liked the first edition of Introverts in the Church, but I like the 2nd edition much, much better. I think you will too.
 
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Published on March 06, 2017 13:35 • 14 views

December 22, 2016

I am deeply honored that Christianity Today has chosen The Listening Life as the Best Book of The Year in the Spiritual Formation category! It is one of the greatest honors that a book can win in the Christian publishing world. It was also the
If I'm being totally honest, I do not think that we as a people did very well at listening in 2016. I can only hope that my book might play a small part in changing that in 2017. Will we embrace the gift of listening? Will we choose to listen to those voices that don't sound like ours?

Speaking of next year, you may have seen my previous post that I will be releasing a 2nd edition of Introverts in the Church in the spring/summer of 2017. I have been working on it all fall, and I have written a new introduction, added a section in the leadership chapter on ministering to introverted kids, and did a thorough revision of each chapter. The book will have a new cover and a new foreword. It has been an enjoyable project. A lot has changed in church and society in the 8 years since it was published. I started writing the 1st edition when I was 29. The 2nd edition will be published when I am 40. Did I mention that a lot changes? I must say that while I liked the first version, I like the second version a lot more. And I think you will too.

Happy Christmas and New Years to all of you.  
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Published on December 22, 2016 23:58 • 44 views

December 13, 2016

Introvertia

noun. The resistance introverts feel every time they consider going to a social function.


-from the 2nd edition of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. Coming spring 2017.
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Published on December 13, 2016 16:03 • 16 views

November 28, 2016

I have never had a harder time listening to people I disagree with than I have since the election. I firmly believe that character is shaped not only by whether we choose to listen, but by which voices we choose to listen to. Who we are, and who we become, owes in large part to whether we choose to listen to those voices that sound like ours, or whether we choose to listen to the voices that are different from ours, and come from people who look, think, and talk differently than we do. Living in echo chambers may feel pleasant and comfortable, but change and growth requires discord.

I am struggling with that right now.

I think it's easier to label people as misogynists and racists and hypocrites - and I have no doubt that those evils played a role in this election - than it is to listen to what is happening beneath the surface. The fact that the vast majority of evangelical Christians voted the way they did has been particularly disquieting for me. I have been confused and angry. But then I remember what my political science professor Jack Pitney always used to say: "It's the economy, stupid!" I think it was James Carville who coined that phrase. Some of the commentators who have declared the utter corruption of Christianity in America have assumed that religious people always vote their conscience, or even that they always have their religious convictions pull the level for them. I think, and clearly I speak as an amateur, that most people in the red states, regardless of their religious affiliations, voted Republican because of the economy. They might have put forth religious reasons for their vote, and critiqued the untrustworthiness and "softness" of the other side, but I suspect most evangelicals held their noses when they voted.

If we listen deeper, we may learn that those of us who live in or near large cities have seen an economic resurgence than those in rural and blue-collar communities have not. Remember how angry we all felt back in 2008 when the banking crisis tore this economy apart? A lot of people still feel that way, because their towns and industries have not recovered. And when I consider this, I can hear their frustration, their desperation, and their need for wholesale change. I may disagree with the means they chose. But I can hear their humanity, and I can begin to empathize with the choices they made in November. And I can slowly start to listen again.


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Published on November 28, 2016 14:57 • 24 views

October 27, 2016


...When there are few changes in the outward seasons, it is easy to neglect the shifts required by our internal seasons. When you live in an unchanging climate, it’s tempting to try to match it with an unchanging life. External seasonal cues can remind us to transition into something new and to live differently. The reason why people historically have celebrated the month of October so extravagantly is not only because it’s harvest time, an ancient time of gratitude, but because they sensed on a primal level that the world was slowly closing, the sap was gravitating back toward the soil, the darkness was encroaching, and the natural world was going dormant. They knew their daily lives were going to change along with it: it was almost time to go inside, build a fire, and wait out the winter.

My longing for seasons feels like a desire for the permission to change, to slow. I don’t believe we are built to move at the same pace, do the same activities, and feel the same feelings all year round. Humans, just like the natural world, are meant to cycle through seasons of dormancy and new life, activity and contemplation, celebration and sadness, blossom and harvest, openness and closedness, austerity and abundance. I believe the seasons serve as a lesson book for the soul, instructing us when to move fast and when to slow down, when to act and when to rest, when to focus on the world outside and when to hibernate and go down deep. If we ignore the lessons of the seasons, we may feel the pressure to try to be “up” all the time—always going, ever energetic, constantly gleeful. We may find ourselves restless and exhausted without having any idea why.
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To read all of my new article on Quiet Revolution, entitled "Seasons of the Soul," go here!

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Published on October 27, 2016 12:40 • 27 views

September 15, 2016

The defining feature of introversion is where you find your energy; introverts, even though we may enjoy social interaction, even though we may really like people and be socially confident and skilled, lose energy in the outside world. We retreat into solitude in order to be restored.

But as I have continued to learn more about introversion, I have also come to see that there is a motivation factor for many of us. Introverts have rich inner lives and we can spend hours in our worlds of impressions, thoughts, reflections, and in the other dimensions of our inner life. From a neurological point of view, introverts have more brain activity and brain blood flow than extroverts, and we have less tolerance for the dopamine that is released from social interactions and activity. So in many cases it actually may be more pleasurable - in terms of the good feelings released in the brain - for us to be alone or at home than it is for us to be at a party or a church activity. In other words, we are more motivated to be alone than to be in a crowd. It's not that we don't like people or are anti-social or standoffish, it's that it actually feels better for us to be alone sometimes.  Reading a book on a Friday night may feel better than a night out with friends, especially when we have spent the week in a socially charged atmosphere at work. In that case, it's not that we are choosing out of something, it's that we are choosing, joyfully and purposely, another activity. 

Often, in Christian circles, we idealize those people that have a "passion" for community.  Those people who constantly want to be around other people and who love organizing and mobilizing social events are often considered those people who have the most "love" for people, and by derivation, God.  And, let's be clear, those people are absolutely indispensable for the formation of relationships in a community.  Those churches that don't have those people suffer because of it.  At the same time, let's also acknowledge that there is more than "love for people" that is happening here. For those social galvanizers, it feels good to be around people and to see people connect with one another. They are thriving on the dopamine that is released in their brain from those experiences.  And that's how God intended it for them.

Love for God's people does not have to look for everyone like an overt, uncontainable passion for being with others. Love, as we know from the scriptures, is self-sacrificial, in which we lay down our rights and place the good of others ahead of our own. Thus, it can be a great display of love for those of us who relish our inner worlds, to lay those things down sometimes and be present with others, when we might otherwise prefer to be alone.

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Published on September 15, 2016 18:00 • 25 views