Sarah Condon has a great article on Mockingbird this week about personality types and how she has given them up after depending on them to excuse certain quirks about herself for years. She tells a mortifying story about when her husband was talking to someone at church:
Reading that, I was both embarrassed for her and also kind of in awe; how many times have I thought the exact same thing and secretly wished that I had the courage to say it?! To get out of a tiring situation by explaining that it’s not really my fault I’m over it—that it’s just my personality type. And thanks to my personality type, if I were to say something like that, I could then walk away and not even flinch.
Like Sarah, I am an INFJ, and it’s been super helpful to know that about myself. Some friends and I recently took the Myers Briggs test together and had a discussion about our personality types, led by Amie, who is in the psychology field. She explained the types and what they could indicate about us and our relationships. It was eye opening to me, but Amie was careful to also explain that while we can benefit from these kinds of labels, we never want to put people in boxes and never want to withhold grace from them based on assumptions we have because of a test result. She stressed the importance of allowing people room to be who God created them to be, not who we think they are, and to give them space to grow and change.
It was affirming and encouraging.
Sarah is talking about the flip side in her article—not only defining ourselves using our MB personality types, but insisting others do, too. And even further, that others excuse our poor behavior because of it!
I think Sarah and I were separated at birth. This is a hard lesson God has been teaching me for years. In fact, Kara once asked me to speak briefly at a retreat she was doing. The topic? Introversion and how it’s not an excuse for not engaging others and building community. She felt that as an extrovert, she couldn’t really address introverts to say, Get over yourself and reach out to people.
I agonized over my 15-minute talk for weeks. I wanted to express compassion for my fellow introverts and communicate that I understood their reluctance to talk to other people, much less strangers. I wanted to encourage them and remind them of their strengths and my belief that introverts are often really good at building community because the expense of building relationships is so high for us that we are likely going to be super discerning and careful about whom we pursue. And I wanted to explain to extroverts how painful being an introvert can be, and to ask for patience on behalf of introverts around the world.
The response I got afterward was not what I expected. Well, in all fairness, I didn’t expect much of a response; I thought that introverts would keep to themselves and not actually talk to me. Which was true for the most part. It was those pesky, social extroverts who love talking and laughing and meeting new people who surprised me; once they apologized for approaching me (oops—did I really make it sound like we introverts don’t want to be approached?! Which I kinda don’t, but it was embarrassing to have it acknowledged…), they thanked me for explaining what it felt like to be an introvert. I heard so many, My sister/daughter/friend/mother is an introvert; I knew it was uncomfortable, but I didn’t really understand until today.
Do you know what this was? This was a showering of grace. There I was asking extroverts to excuse all introverts because of how awkward we feel in public or social situations, and they were doing just that—they were extending grace to me and being okay with my own awkwardness and social clumsiness. They were promising to be gentler with their introvert friends. They were happily and readily meeting me open-handed with grace.
Their kindness brought me to my knees. I was grateful and overwhelmed by their tender encouragement. And I was convicted even more so about what I had just said to my fellow introverts: I have no excuses to not meet a new person at church every week, to not engage the lonely older lady next to me in line at the grocery store, to not approach my neighbor when I see her coming instead of running toward my house. To not ignore the extrovert who wants to chat at a retreat…
That’s what grace does: it holds a mirror to us so we are affirmed by the truth of the situation, but it then meets us in that hard place and reminds us that we are loved unconditionally. That we are not alone. And as much as I might try to convince others (and myself…) I want to be alone, I don’t truly want that. I want grace upon grace, the reminder of Jesus’ love for me, the freedom of not making excuses for my sin, the promise that my sinful heart will one day be fully redeemed, and I can live in fellowship with God forever.
Do you know your Myers Briggs personality type? Has it helped you to understand yourself and how you relate to others? How has it hindered you from reaching out to people? How have you used it to make excuses for yourself? In what ways can you seek God’s help to step out of your comfort zone to love others?