Lucy grew up in an outgoing family that often gathered people for meals and long conversations around the table. She always thought of herself as an extrovert, but then she noticed that she kept slipping away from the socializing to wash dishes — by herself.
Let me tell you a story of my own conversion. No, I didn’t leave or return to any faith. But conversion is really a turning — a turning toward wholeness or fullness. In that sense, this is the story of how I converted to a fuller understanding of the person I was created to be.
I grew up in a family who treasured the art of gathering around the kitchen table for a big meal. Whether with friends, family, or strangers-who-quickly-turned-into-friends, we cherished the sharing of stories and good food as we sat together around a table as equals.
But any good entertainer knows there is more to dinner than what happens when consuming food. Behind the scenes of the extroverted work of hospitality we find the solitary art of dishwashing. It is unglamourous work: clearing a mess created by those who gathered to receive sustenance for both body and soul. It is a ministry that goes unrecognized, an act of service most view with dread. No one in my family wants to clean dishes — well, no one except me. You could say I’ve been called.
From a young age, I was always the first up from the table to begin gathering plates, utensils, dirty napkins. I didn’t do this to make my sisters look lazy or to claim the title of World’s Most Helpful Daughter. Rather, I began clearing dishes because I simply grew restless, sitting at the table as the adults continued to talk.
Now that I’m older, it’s not restlessness from sitting still or boredom at the turn in conversation that drives me, but still, I find myself up and clearing dishes — sometimes before everyone has finished eating! When I look back at this habit of mine to initiate the clearing of plates (but never the stacking of plates — the dirtiness doubles, why would anyone stack dirty dishes!?), I can see something about myself. As much as I love what happens around the table, I relish the chance to step away and process in silence, in service, and in solitude.
Being raised in an environment that valued the energy derived from hosting guests, conversing, and being social convinced me I was extroverted, gaining all of my energy from other people and outward events. And in some ways, that’s true: I like people, I like gatherings, I am energized by personal connections and conversations. But this socializing also leaves me drained — something I didn’t realize until I started to note my penchant to slip away, plates in hand, while friends and family took second helpings or final sips.
Adopting the values I saw modeled by my parents — who set an incredible example of creating space for people to relate and enjoy one another’s company — I lived the greater majority of my life proclaiming my extroverted spirit to anyone who would listen. But even with excellent company, I found myself entirely drained and in desperate need of a reboot at some point in the night.
Excusing myself from the table to clear dishes became that reboot, the appropriate “stepping back” that allowed me to more fully invest myself into the relationships that were being cultivated at the table. I am realizing that I am more introverted than I had previously thought.
I gravitated toward the dishes as a way to remove myself from the joyful noise and begin the quiet, sudsy work of recharging. Without even realizing it, I was caring for myself: stepping aside for a small rest — not because I didn’t enjoy the company, but because I can enjoy others more fully when I’m whole and fully myself. At the table, friends and family fill up on food and familial conversation, and I’m doing the same while doing the dishes.
It took me years to outgrow the pre-conceived understanding of myself and to discover and accept who I really am. I’m not sure why I always pushed away the idea of being introverted and drawing energy from quiet spaces in solitude — maybe it’s because our culture tends to value extroversion. But I’m glad to know myself better now.
This realization doesn’t invalidate anything about my identity — it simply acknowledges where I find energy. If anything, turning to embrace the fact that I’m an introvert who loves people is helping me more fully grow into the woman I was created to be.
Looking back, I can see that I have always found ways to sneak in moments to quietly renew my energy alone, like when I get up to wash dishes. Finding a way to kindly remove myself from an overwhelming situation and reset grounds me and provides me the space to remember who I am and why I matter to the people around me.
Maybe you’re called to the ministry of dishwashing? If so, you’re in good company. Or, rather, you’re not in the company of anyone but yourself for a few quiet moments — and that’s for the best. Your own company is good to keep.
This piece was produced through a partnership with Springtide Research, an organization that studies how our generation finds community, identity, and meaning. Lucy is an intern with Springtide.