Moving Beyond Your Personality Type
We like systems, or at least I do. They help me rationalize complexity and understand the world around me. We also like to think and talk about ourselves. Ask me about my personal ambitions and life plans and you’ll be sorry you opened pandora’s box. So it makes sense, then, that personality tests are popular because they offer us a better way to think about, well, us. When I scroll by a new one in my newsfeed, the wheel’s start turning: You’re telling me that I can get an answer on who and why I am the person I am today that accounts for nature and outside circumstances in my life? Or, that I can know which superhero I am? Count me in. *click*
But these personality tests tell us more than just who we are. They often also tell us how we ought to interact with other people. If I know that my friend, for instance, is a creative thinker who needs lots of social time to thrive, then I shouldn’t get frustrated when I find him or her dreaming up new ideas with friends when there are other matters to focus on. I should encourage it. By knowing personality types, we can build empathy for the people around us and better understand how they see the world. We may even learn how to love them better.
Let’s make no mistake though, by turning us inward for a moment, each of these personality exams do the same thing: They confront us with our sin. By identifying how we likely handle anger, rage, shame, and fear, they remind us how nasty our hearts really are. As you check each box–whether you find energy in being the life of the party or at home reading a book–you’re faced with the reality that you aren’t helping the person right in front of you who needs your energy. The results are in: You’re a poor, miserable sinner in your own unique way.
Martin Luther once wrote, “God’s design in the Law is to enable man to know himself; to perceive the false and unjustified state of his heart; to discover how far he is from God and how utterly impotent his own nature is; to disdain his own goodness and to recognize it as nothing in comparison to what is necessary to the fulfillment of the Law.”
This is the ‘personality test’ Law and it’s bringing you the self-awareness that you seek. The weight of your sin, and ultimately death, are an inseparable part of this discovery process.
Nevertheless, we often end up looking at our numbers with hope. We get the false sense that somehow, some way that this added self-awareness can save us. We are quick to spiritualize our results and proudly identify with them. We may even look to them as a specific way forward on our route to sanctification. “Now that I know I’m a [insert personality type]...I can begin working on filling in my blind spots.”
The truth is that no amount of self-awareness will ever be enough; in fact, the more we seek after ourselves, the more inwardly bent we become, and the more we attempt to justify ourselves apart from Christ.
Our identity is not in who we are, but in who God is and what He has done for us–particularly, for you. By looking to the cross, we become self-forgetful, not self-aware. It’s a difference worth noting.
During World War II, C.S. Lewis gave a series of talks on BBC radio that became known as his, “Broadcast Talks.” These sessions covered different Christian teachings, most of which ended up his book, Mere Christianity. Unfortunately, all of these recorded talks were lost by the BBC–that is, all but one.
It’s from his final series, “Beyond Personality,” that we find the only remaining audio snippet, titled, “The New Men,” which originally aired on April 4, 1944. It’s here below, if you’d like to take a listen:
C.S. Lewis’ sounds a little different than you imagined, right? If you have a minute to spare, go back to Part 2 and skip 2:35 minutes into his talk, and re-listen to what he has to say. “Now here I've got a rather difficult thing to say...” he reluctantly begins.
But he continues, saying:
“What I call my "self" now is hardly a person at all. It's mainly a meeting place for various natural forces, desires, and fears, etcetera, some of which come from my ancestors, and some from my education, some perhaps from devils. The self you were really intended to be is something that lives not from nature but from God...But on the other hand, it's just no good at all going to Christ for the sake of divinity or for a personality. As long as that's what you're bothering about you haven't begun, because the very first step towards getting a real self is to forget about the self. It will come only if you're looking for something else.”
Knowing our personal tendencies and motivators are important and, as mentioned earlier, enable us to love our neighbors well. But we needn’t get too attached to our current personality types. They’re only a fragmented, incomplete version of what they will become. Only in Christ, do we find our complete personality–one blissfully unaware that it is overflowing with grace, love, and kindness.