Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...


Know Thyself

Dappled the sky and sylph-like the sway of candles on our table here at the Broadmoor. The wild west seems an unlikely place, but someone had the idea to nestle a five-star hotel here, right against the southernmost mountain in town. I am eternally grateful. When all the family is home and we'd like to pretend we are somewhere in Europe as we discuss ourselves to death, we head down here, split omelets, drink a thousand and one cups of coffee and act as if we own the place. After a feast of a breakfast this morning, we've all taken a few minutes now to write, or read, or stare over the lake. I've turned here because my mind churns with the topic just debated and I want to write it out and find out what you think. It's been on my mind all this summer and it came to a head today. What is the truth about personality? Is there value in understanding the quirks of my (or anyone elses's) particular mode of being? The last night our friends were here, we threw a personality party. Now, my family are all amateur psychologists because of my parents involvement with the "MBTI," otherwise known as the Meyers Briggs Type Indicator.  This is a system of personality based on Jungian archetypes and worked out into sixteen distinctive personality "types" by a brilliant woman named Isabel Briggs Meyers. My dad is actually trained to administer the tests, and we kids have been conversant in the intricacies of extrovert/introvert, intuitive/sensate, etc. for years. (I'm an INFJ for the initiated.) Not a friend can come for an extended stay at Chez Clarkson without the lot of us raring to enlighten them as to their particular MBTI profile. We're all out-of-the-box thinkers, but in this one area we love to define our friends and ourselves. This view of personhood has averted much conflict and birthed much compassion in our otherwise opinionated family.

It's also freedom. Amidst the other night's hilarious uproar of discussion, I saw what relief it is to know yourself. The introverts twitted the extroverts who roared back in playful mockery of the dreamers, who looked down dramatic noses at the doers. All in good fun, all in a sudden buoyancy of acceptance. To discover that at least a few of your quirks are not due to inadequacy or sin, but to the whimsy of God's own creativity is intensely liberating. It frees you to love yourself and the other quirky people near you.

It's not as if we can help it - we burst from the womb with a compact, yet entirely unique soul in place. From infancy it drives the way we relate, learn, and grow. We are defined by our personalities. This morning, my mom told how each of us kids loved certain things from the time we were babies: Joel, my composer brother, could sing his own harmonies at three. I read voraciously from tiny girlhood. Nate, my actor brother, charmed and performed and created all manner of things. Joy, actress, designed costumes and wrote scripts and considered herself in charge of the world from babyhood. Born with those loves, we lived out the selves God knit when we were yet cloistered in the womb.

It is God who has made me and not me myself. That's the kernel of truth at the heart of personality study. It's why there's worth in looking deeper into the foibles of how you exist. Before you can do this though, you have to fully accept that who you are is a good thing created by a loving God. To believe this, I've had to think long, long thoughts this summer, question my assumptions, and my struggle to accept my own personality. I live in a culture, and carry an inner pressure, that tells me there are only a few right ways of being. Personally, I think culture is weighted toward the talkative and practical. The confident and daring. From parties to church work, I have been in a thousand places where I felt hounded by the push to be something other than my quiet, bookish, softspoken self. The danger came when I began to believe that God too, wished I would be something other than what I was. After the heartfelt comments from many introverts on the last post, I think I'm not alone.

This summer, for me, has been a recovery of the self God made me and I almost lost. For years I have tried hard to fit in and be funny and personable and find community and be productive in ministry. It's not been easy. The harder loneliness pushed, the harder I pushed myself to be and do what would win me approval. Until I burned out. At a ripe 26 years of age, I feel God saying, "my goodness you try hard to do things I never asked of you." Honesty has hounded me until I must admit, exhaustedly, that I'm not good at details, not great at leading groups, not made for routine life, and I freeze up at big parties. I am though, good at writing and words, I'm good at seeing what is beautiful, and I love my dear ones with a depth I cannot articulate.

This morning in my quiet time, I found this quote by St. Teresa of Avila: What a shame that through our own unconsciousness we do not know ourselves. Wouldn't a person look foolish, friends, if you asked him who he was and he didn't know, had no idea who his father and mother were or what country he came from? If this seems stupid to you, know that our own stupidity is incomparably greater when we do not strive to know who we are. What transcends the body? We have heard that we have souls and our faith compels us to believe that is true. But we rarely consider the soul's excellent qualities or who it is that dwells within her or how precious she really is. And so we don't bother to tend her beauty. All our attention is focused on the rough matrix of the diamond, the outer walls of the castle, which are non other than these bodies of ours.

Know yourself. Know your own soul. Like the crack of thunder and the ring of bells to me, those words. Explore the contours of spirit that shape the face and heart you turn to the world, and you will be more able to know the God who formed them. If you read farther in St. Teresa's The Interior Castle, you will find that she likens the soul to a grand mansion, innumerable rooms waiting for exploration, and one, jeweled keep at the heart of it. There dwells the Beloved. You must journey through your soul so that you may find God where He dwells at the very core of the heart he has created.

There's the worth in personality. Know yourself, and you will know the God who made you. Yes, sin enters into selfhood and must be daily combated, yet I am now convicted that this self I bear is crafted by God. He is the infinite Beauty, the soul of unnumbered facets, and I believe each human born uniquely glimmers Him forth. The worth in figuring out your personality is the worth of holy discovery. It is a quest into the intricacies of what God has designed and what he desires to reveal of Himself.

So. I want to write on this further, little by little. For now, what do you think? What marks your own personality? Any MBTI enthusiasts out there and what "type" are you? Oh, and extroverts? I love you too. My family is split in half right down the introvert/extrovert divide. I am daily, vastly aware of how I have blossomed in the sunlight of my extroverted loved ones. My rising hope for us all is that we will be free to work and create with joy from the selves God made us to be. That comparison and pressure will no hinder the beauty God made in us all. Cheers.