An Introvert's Struggle with Family Gatherings

Jennifer Waddle

iBelieve Contributor
Updated Nov 27, 2023
An Introvert's Struggle with Family Gatherings

As Christians, we receive God’s grace readily and are thankful that His mercies are new every morning. Why then is it so difficult to extend grace to ourselves when we decide not to participate in every family activity?

Family gatherings are one of the greatest blessings this side of heaven. So why are they such a struggle for introverts? I’ve asked myself this question dozens of times, especially around the holidays. After all, I love my family fiercely, but I don’t love the way family gatherings sometimes leave me feeling overwhelmed and depleted. 

For those who thrive in social situations, it can be difficult to understand the inner turmoil introverts experience during family celebrations. After all, an extrovert is energized by being around other people, while introverts feel mentally drained.

Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer to this dilemma, but there are ways introverts can appreciate time spent with family while keeping overwhelm to a minimum. If you’re like me and want to enjoy every second with your loved ones, here are a few ways to navigate the struggle:

Prepare for the Overwhelm

It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” The older I get, the more I believe that preparing for social gatherings is an introvert’s best strategy. This goes way beyond meal planning or seating arrangements and focuses on the smaller details that can eliminate unneeded stress. This might include:

-Designated places for coats, purses, and shoes

-Easy drink selections in bottles, cans, and sippy cups for kids

-Paper towels and sanitizing wipes for spills and messes

-A selection of movies, games, and activities to keep everyone entertained

-A polite, tactful way to end the gathering at a reasonable time

Even though things don’t always go as planned, I’ve found that thinking things through helps me navigate family gatherings much better than if I simply go with the flow. Mentally, I prepare for noise levels to be high, messes to be made, and personalities to clash. Physically, I prepare by cooking food ahead of time, using paper plates and plastic ware, and squeezing in a short nap before everyone arrives.

Preparing for the overwhelm also means having an honest conversation with my husband before everyone shows up. Fortunately, because he’s an introvert as well, we’re usually on the same page when it comes to planning the best gathering for our family. We work together to keep everyone fed and happy, while still enjoying memorable moments ourselves.

A prayer for hospitality: Lord, even though I’m an introvert, help me extend love and hospitality to my loved ones with joy and grace. Go before me in the preparations and help me plan the most peaceful, enjoyable gathering for my family. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Here’s a helpful devotion titled Hospitality for the Holidays, and a post titled 3 Things You Should Know about Biblical Hospitality.

Excuse Yourself for a Few Moment

Over the last couple of years, I’ve been writing Scriptures on index cards and keeping them in a small, zippered pouch. In a pinch, I can grab my little Scripture pack and take it to the restroom for a grown-up time out.

Learning to excuse yourself for a few moments is a great way for introverts to refuel and regain some sanity. This might mean:

-Stepping outside or taking a brisk walk

-Sitting in your car and listening to a worship song

-Reading a couple of Bible verses or a short devotional

-Finding a quiet spot to pray and be alone

Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself for a few minutes to regroup. If the gathering is at your house, try to slip away to your bedroom for a five-minute rest. If it’s at someone else’s home, you can always run to the car for a quick breather. 

You’ll enjoy the gathering much more if you allow yourself a few short breaks. Think of it as recharging your batteries and don’t feel guilty about it. There’s a good chance your family won’t even know you’re gone, and they’ll certainly be happy when you re-emerge feeling less stressed and ready to join the fun.

A prayer for renewed strength: Gracious God, as I take a moment to recharge, help me rely on You for strength. Give me energy and enthusiasm to engage with my family members in meaningful ways. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Here are more helpful posts for introverts at family gatherings:

5 Virtues That Even Introverts Should Have

8 Rich Gifts of Family Gatherings

Immerse Yourself in the Things You Enjoy

Most introverts I know thrive on small doses of enjoyable activities that allow them to fully engage with those around them. On the other hand, feeling pressured to participate in lengthy activities usually leads to depletion. This might include drawn-out board games, long movies, or in-depth discussions.

Personally, I enjoy the small moments such as reading books or building Legos with the grandkids. And I’m usually happy to play a few rounds of cards or take a short walk around the block. It has taken some time, but I have come to accept that it's perfectly okay for me to pick and choose which activities I want to participate in. 

Saying “no thanks” to the more time-consuming and socially demanding things isn’t a sign of rudeness or disinterest, rather, it’s a way for me to preserve my energy for the things I truly enjoy. By setting boundaries and being selective about the activities I engage in, I have noticed a significant decrease in feeling drained and depleted.

Instead of struggling at family gatherings, choose the small, memory-making moments that are both meaningful and enjoyable to you. Then, excuse yourself from the things that will likely cause overwhelm. This will help tremendously as you navigate family celebrations with joy.

A prayer for making memories: Heavenly Father, help me enjoy my family and make meaningful memories with them. Show me ways to connect with each person - young and old - and participate in things that bring true joy. In Jesus’ name, amen. 

Here’s an encouraging article titled Why God Created Us to Enjoy Holidays and Celebrations

Give Yourself Grace

Giving yourself grace is paramount for introverts wanting to eliminate the struggle of family gatherings. After all, boundary setting is healthy for everyone - introverts and extroverts alike. 

According to Heather Wegner from Christian Family Solutions, “Boundaries tell us what we need, and how to ask for it. They are guidelines that help us maintain healthy relationships with others and ourselves.”  

There is no use beating yourself up or feeling guilty about being selective with your time and energy. For introverts, it’s simply a matter of determining which celebrations are most beneficial and enjoyable for your current season of life. 

As Christians, we receive God’s grace readily and are thankful that His mercies are new every morning. Why then is it so difficult to extend grace to ourselves when we decide not to participate in every family activity?

This year, stop and evaluate what is most important. Make a list of things that are important to you. Pray for God’s wisdom and direction when it comes to family obligations and let Him tell you when to say “yes” and when to say “no.”

Most of all, try to see family gatherings as an opportunity to enjoy your loved ones without overextending yourself. Allow short breaks when needed, immerse yourself in things you enjoy, and give yourself plenty of grace. Hopefully, you’ll find that you’re able to navigate group activities with a sense of balance and peace.

A prayer for grace: Lord, thank You for Your limitless grace. Help me to be gracious to myself as well, understanding my boundaries and setting them in healthy ways. In Jesus’ holy name, amen.

Here are more helpful resources for your journey: 

Hospitality is for Introverts Too! 5 Simple Ways to Bless Others

A Guide for Living Well as an Introvert of Faith

Is it wrong for a Christian to be an introvert?

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/SeventyFour

Jennifer WaddleJennifer Waddle is the author of several books, including Prayer WORRIER: Turning Every Worry into Powerful Prayerand is a regular contributor for LifeWay, Crosswalk, Abide, and Christians Care International. Jennifer’s online ministry is where you can find her books and sign up for her weekly post, Discouragement Doesnt Win. She resides with her family near the foothills of the Rocky Mountains—her favorite place on earth.