Why "That's Just My Personality" is No Excuse for a Christian
Why "That's Just My Personality" is No Excuse for a Christian
Hi, I’m Abby. I’m a Myers-Briggs INTP, and an Enneagram 5 with a 4 wing. What does that mean, you ask? It means, among other things, that I really like to be alone. It also means that I become borderline obsessed with new ideas on a regular basis, thinking that I’ll fuel their fire until kingdom come, only to find that after a few months, I’m either dropping what I once praised or I’m applying tremendous grit in order to stay committed. These letters and numbers mean that I have an insatiable curiosity coupled with a lion-like ferocity for determining that which is right and true. Often, I’d rather get to the bottom of an issue or conflict than think about the affect my digging and prodding may have on those involved.
So, what I’m saying is, I’m clearly super enjoyable to be around at all times. And if you think I’m not, well, what do you want me to say? It’s just my personality!
Just kidding, kind of. It is my personality to forge past your feelings on my quest for the facts. It is my personality to skip gatherings in order to be in my room with a book. It is my personality to add people, their needs, and my involvement in their lives into my world only when it fits into the paradigms I prefer.
All of that is true. My natural God-given wiring, when swirled together with my sinful, fleshly desires, produces all of the above. It’s true, indeed. But it is not ultimate.
I wonder what your personality type is. I wonder if you’re as prone to analysis as I am, or if you don’t really think about your way of viewing the world that often. I wonder if you realize that no matter how much time you spend considering the lens through which we view the world, the lens is there all the same. Whether you are prone to take every personality typing test available, to talk about things like “introverted thinking” or your top five strengths via Strengths Finder, or you reject the idea of being labeled, finding it limiting, or you simply do not care about any of this lingo - guess what? You still have a personality. And, chances are, whether internally or externally, just like me, you make decisions, and even excuses, based on its existence.
It may seem like the simplest thing to do in the face of the reality that we can use personality information as an excuse for immature behavior would be to just throw it all away. Oftentimes, especially in Christian culture, when we realize that something has the potential to be harmful, we chuck it over the fence, backing up twenty steps from the posts so that we don’t have to face the temptation to cross the line. But when we do this, when we eschew that which is complex and carries potential for pain, we are throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There is so much good that can be gained from personality typing, from learning the intricacies of ourselves, studying the individual threads that weave us into who we are.
So how do we embrace learning about who we are, what we prefer, how we naturally think and feel, for the glory of God?
Like so many other things, I believe that it’s all in the framing. Personality typing may, at first glance, seem to only offer us information that could be characterized as navel-gazing. It may seem to promote a worldview in which the preferences and knowledge of the individual are ultimate. But when looked at with a more nuanced perspective, and when categorized as subservient to the Christian’s mission on the earth, personality typing can be a life-giving, beneficial tool for reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
And so, I would like to offer us a gospel-centered lens through which we consider our personalities, personality typing, and where all of this information fits on our priority list. Personality typing, when viewed through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ and our mission to make disciples in His name, provides a helpful resource for further understanding our individual roles in the Body of Christ and reaching out to others in a way that puts their needs before our own.
Personality typing, like everything else, should be wrapped entirely in the packaging of loving God and neighbor. There are times when my preference to be alone must be laid down at the feet of another so that I can engage her need. There are times when my desire to solve a problem should be nurtured, not because it gives me self-focused satisfaction to figure out the answer, but because the solution will be to the benefit of others. The introvert must give herself quiet time so that when the moments come when life is loud and that which is uncomfortable is required of her, she has a storehouse of energy. The extrovert must engage relationships wholeheartedly, for the good of others, then exercise what I imagine to be tremendous self-control in order to practice solitary spiritual disciplines, or work on a project that must be accomplished alone.
When we are bringing all things, even personality typing, into submission under Christ, we hold it loosely, knowing ourselves well yet fostering a willingness to lay down our preferences when the good of another or the name of Jesus stands to be exalted.
There are times when our personality preferences are exactly what a moment calls for, especially when we are living lives oriented around the service of others, and we start to see how our traits can be a gift to them. I urge us to study ourselves, to embrace personality typing tools in such a way that we understand what we find fulfilling, what we find stressful, and our natural strengths and weaknesses. May we then apply our strengths, gifts, and passions for the building up of the Body of Christ, and when the moment calls for it, may we lay down our preferences for the good of the other and the name of Jesus, remembering Him who laid aside all that was rightfully His for our sake.
Abby is an old soul, a Jesus girl, better in writing. She is a pastor's wife and mom of two boys, one of whom has a neuro-genetic disorder, which Abby writes about (among other things such as faith, liturgy, depression, social issues, and literature) at www.joywovendeep.com. Abby directs communications for a nonprofit organization and co-facilitates two community efforts - one promoting bridge-building racial reconciliation conversations, the other supporting area foster and adoptive families. She has a soft spot for books, podcasts, learning about human relationships through television and movies, personality typing, and pasta. Abby holds a B.A in Communication from Texas A&M University and is completing her graduate degree at Dallas Theological Seminary. Twitter | Instagram | Facebook