The first thing you should know about me is that I am not you. A lot more will make sense after that. (Melissa Skidmore)
A scripture that has echoed through my mind over the years is the one about getting the log out of our own eyes, instead of judging others. The problem with that is that the log in our eyes keeps us from seeing ourselves. We ALL have blind spots when it comes to seeing our whole selves.
Years ago I began to work with a personality indicator called the Myers/Briggs Type Indicator ( MBTI.) It was spooky to take it and then read the description of my way of being in the world. How could anyone know those things!!
The MBTI helped me become more aware not only that we come into the world with very different ways of being, seeing, understanding, valuing and responding, but that the world needs all of these diverse ways of being. It also needs us to become aware not only of our gifts, but of our blind spots. That’s the only way every ones’ gifts can be valued and work together for good.
The MBTI years ago when I studied and taught it, focused on affirming our gifts. So kind of naturally many of us just focused with relief on our own gifts, not realizing the importance of “gifts differing.” And not using the knowledge to rid ourselves of our blind spots. Belatedly, I recognized that there’s a built in pattern of growth in us where we become more receptive to the gifts we did not have and usually did not value equally to our own natural ones.
There’s a catch to this. To develop in the area opposite to our strongest gift or way of being in the world requires dying temporarily to our own way of being and seeing. It’s a dying to self. Technically, the MBTI doesn’t make any religious claims or statements. But believe me, this dying to our most valued gift is a real part of becoming whole, of becoming the best person we have the potential to be.
Unfortunately, dying to our “selves” is never easy or comfortable. By my age, I have seen creative people bog down in misery when their gifts seem to have dried up. I have myself panicked during a time when the Scriptures no longer spoke to me. I have heard others panic when ritual or their life long way of praying no longer works for them. But, I have also seen accountants become “creative” in good ways, artists learn to keep accounts, and engineers open their eyes and hearts to the mystical.
What I have witnessed and experienced convinces me that the universe is designed for opportunities and challenges to come our way at a time in our life when we are called to die to our strongest gift and become not only more balanced and whole, but more humble, and thus more understanding of those “others” that we have judged harshly most of our life.
What I found through sixty years of living with a man who was totally different in every area of being from me, is that only by becoming free to understand and value opposite ways of seeing and being in the world do we become free to truly and humbly love.
Recently I discovered that in the twenty years since I worked with it, the MBTI has been further developed in ways that help this process. It begins by helping us become aware of and accepting of our way of being in the world. Then, it can also help us accept not only that our way is a gift to the world, but that it isn’t enough. We then can begin to see how this dying to self can free us to become whole or “holy” and better able to understand and truly value both ourselves and those who are very different from us. It isn’t either/or. And no way is better, because no way is whole without the others.
Many years ago I was taking a turn preaching to a sizable group of Directors of Religious Education from very diverse denominations at a training week for DRE’s. I was going to use Paul’s scriptures on the Body of Christ and how all of the parts were equally important. As I was reflecting on this scripture, suddenly in my mind’s eye I saw a figure coming toward me. It was coming very slowly and jerkily, because the legs were clumsily, tripping over each other and the arms were flying in different directions and the head twisting back and forth. My immediate response was horror. “This is what we have done to the Body of Christ!” And I cried out, “Lord, what can I do?” And into my mind, clear as a warning bell I heard, “Admit what you can’t do.” As I have grappled with many aspects of this challenge over the years, two things have become clear to me, One: The world needs all of us, different political thinking, different religious understandings, different cultures’ values, gender traits, racial strengths, talents, skills, on and on and on. And Two: Only the grace of each of us truly knowing ourselves and knowing with heart and mind that we are loved as we are by God, can we become humble enough to love those very different others, just as we are loved. And that is the only way we can ever live in peace. We need all of us.
The MBTI isn’t gospel. But it can be an amazingly helpful tool for knowing ourselves better, and coming to value ourselves in a way that allows us to equally value others who seem completely different from us.
There’s a site on line called “16personalities.com” that offers greater understanding of the going with the flow of letting go and developing in new areas until the day we die. I am finding it both challenging and helpful in learning to let scary changes open my eyes to opportunities in my new life at eighty-two as a widow.
Human beings are complex and we vary greatly in numerous ways from one another.
We come into the world different because of our genes, personalities, genders, types of intelligence, talents, birth order, parents, health, looks, racial and ethnic differences, and many more variables. A mother can name numerous differences noticed in their first six weeks of life between any two or more of her children, and a kindergarten teacher can tell quite a lot of differences between the children in her class by the end of the first week.
Most strengths have a corresponding weakness. Extroverts are naturally better at talking than listening. It’s the opposite for introverts. Some children will notice and remember details about things in a room, others will remember more about the people. Some people are more visual and others more verbal. Some are more concrete and others theoretical. None of these natural strengths are better than others, in and of themselves, but life requires us to develop survival skills in all of them.
In the early part of our lives we will tend to use and hone our strengths, but as we mature into adults, life will throw us challenges in our weaker areas. The hardest part is that to develop what might be called our inferior or weakest trait, we have to let go, even “die” to our strength. It resonates with the biblical call to die to self. When life throws us into situations requiring capabilities that are not only undeveloped, but unnatural for us, we become aware of an increased need for grace. Again, the sequence of traits needing development will vary from person to person at different life stages, but often in recognizable patterns.
When we reflect on the Spiritual aspects of traits (virtues) and the seemingly almost individualized pattern of development of them, we realize that most of us, if not all, will be immature (unfinished) spiritually in some areas even close to the end of our lives. And that where we need to grow may be the exact opposite of our spouse, friend, or even a mentor.
We grow more or less in a circle to reach wholeness or holiness. Our patterns of growth are so varied, that though we can learn from each other, no one is ahead on some sort of ladder of spiritual achievement. And sometimes the things we say sound so opposite that it’s hard to realize that both may be true. A specific decision based on rules may be the same as that decision based on values, but it can also turn out to be different. It helps, if we can learn to both articulate our reasons, and listen across the differences. Hearing across differences isn’t easy any time, but there’s more possibility later in life, when both decision makers have become developed enough in their weakest area to be able to value what once was foreign, even threatening.
When Jesus was ready, God sent people to challenge his assumptions, to grow and change even in his understanding of his ministry. Jesus was able to be open to the ideas of an unusual assortment of people, women without credentials, men from outside his ethnic or religious group, even those considered the enemy. We are called to be like Jesus, to not close our mind to the possibility that God is using an unlikely person to call us to a new way of seeing.