I have an obsession with personality typing—particularly the Myers-Briggs test, which organizes the range of personalities into sixteen different types.
This is the way it starts for me: on good days, I’ll see myself as relatively well spoken; I love to research and write, and I’m passionate about theology and literature, culture and film.
Thank God my husband is on the same page and encourages this focus on theory and culture. I may be at a loss in my domestic duties, and not know whether there is any milk in the house, but has he read the latest Atlantic article on the end of jobs as we know them in the twenty-first century?
We still need some milk, my husband will say.
But then on my bad days, after a little personality research, I’ll uncover that people with my personality type are likely to come off as distant, often dissatisfied in their careers, and of course, are more likely than not to eschew being stay-at-home parents.
I’ll learn that the prototypical American mother is warm and generous, concentrated on toddler needs. You know, attentive.
I’ll learn that I am not.
My obsession with Myers-Briggs is well known to all my friends. What might be less well known is that I’m obsessed with personality tests because of my own insecurity. I have what I perceive as lackluster traits—introversion, messiness, a propensity to get lost, and a complete and utter lack of administrative smarts.
In person, I come across as relatively well adjusted, if perhaps a little eccentric, but in reality, I often feel neurotic and broken, something I struggle to reconcile with what I see as the other, “better” personality types available in the Myers-Briggs box of magic.
My mother is exact, precise, organized, and analytical. She is an INTJ. On some days I wish was her. On some days I wish I was my sister, a party-loving, happy-go-lucky girl ENFP with a penchant for relationships and personal style.
But there is a kind of learned helplessness that comes with backing your identity into a corner based on categories and boxes. I’ve often whined to my husband, “But I can’t and won’t do that because an INTP wouldn’t do that.” My propensity to use my personality as a rule means I resist growth and end up acquiescing to my professed failures.
Of course, in reality, we all resist stereotypes, because we are dynamic people. For example, I have made some peace with stay-at-home motherhood at this time in my life even though my Myers-Briggs might beg to type me otherwise.
What we miss when we focus on personality, labels, and boxes is the ability to leave room for ourselves to grow and change. Room for the gifts we each bring to the table, for the painful blooming that can come from trimming a rosebush down to the stub to bring about a more stunning spring debut.
For example, stay-at-home motherhood has taught me patience when I am not naturally patient. It has taught me to care for other people’s humble, physical needs when I’m not naturally inclined to put these first. I’ve even discovered a secret joy in bathing, wrapping, and nourishing my children, like I am participating in some sacred ballet.
Bath times are an elaborate response of love: I swab every crevice of their bodies, swish water over my babies’ crowns, lift them from the daily baptism, wrap them in swathes of towel, and hold their trembling bodies for a few seconds in wonder at their soft wetness.
Just as a rosebush needs to be clipped down, only to spring up with a beautiful bloom that is hardier, those thin tendrils of generosity, of grace, of compassion, these have been hard-won for me, and I don’t take them for granted when I see them rising up.
While this joy that comes so easily to others in motherhood sometimes feels like an unnatural gift to me, a taste of far-removed tropical fruit, I find it is also a secret reminder of who I am becoming. A secret reminder that stasis isn’t God’s modus operandi, but rather the Holy Spirit’s work in us as a deep inner work of good.
The truth is, boiling our personalities down to simple descriptions doesn’t do justice to the beautiful, complex people God made us to be, and the parts we find hard in ourselves are places God has plans to work good.