When I was a teenager, I had a hard time making friends. I was bad at small talk, preferred deep discussions to gossip, and I was not well-versed in pop culture. My favorite hobbies were reading and knitting, not exactly what teenagers connect over (this, of course, was before Pinterest made knitting cool again).
“Just be yourself,” my mentors told me. “Just talk to people.”
Good advice, but there was a problem: being myself means not “just talking” to people. How do I know if the people want to talk back? How do I know what to say? Should I just keep talking about the weather? And why do people think small talk is the best way to form lasting relationships anyway? It’s woefully insufficient to me. I want to swap life stories with someone during our first meeting.
As you can see, it takes a lot of brain power for me to “just talk” to people.
As I grew into adulthood, I pushed against the awkwardness I seemed cursed with. I got a job at the mall but struggled with chatting with customers and pushing products. I went to Europe with my cousin but got burned out after days and days of nonstop sight-seeing. I started a freelance writing business but became discouraged when the advice I got was “market yourself” and “build your brand.”
The nagging idea that in order to get anywhere in life I had to make small talk, go to social events and market myself — the very things I most dislike — stuck with me. It seemed that in order to succeed, I couldn’t be myself.
Soon I realized the truth: I am an introvert.
The World of Personality Types
Then I started going deeper in my discovery of personality types, joining our generation’s obsession with knowing ourselves. I learned I’m an INFP (Myers-Briggs) and an Enneagram 6 and my love language is quality time. Of course, I couldn’t help but take some of the other engaging, though not necessarily truly knowledge-building, quizzes out there on the internet — apparently my soul animal is a meerkat.
As I began to notice more about my own nature, I realized that personality types aren’t merely a fun party trick or millennial fad. What if knowing ourselves isn’t simply a social exercise but also a spiritual one? What if by knowing ourselves, we can better live out God’s plan for our lives?
Freedom in Labels
Little by little, I discovered some of my inherent strengths. As an introvert, I value authenticity. I am loyal and other people’s feelings are always on my radar. I think deeply, which is why I’m so quiet, and I pour my heart and soul into everything I do, which is why I’m so easily burnt out.
This knowledge about my personality helps practically and spiritually. We are all made in the image of God, but He chose to use incredible variety. The thought that I can be acceptable to God while also being an introvert is incredibly liberating. I don’t have to carry the shame of inadequacy anymore.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time.” I now see the different facets of my personality, however unpopular or uncomfortable, as beautiful, because the Creator of the universe saw fit to gift me with them.
My prayer life is also strengthened through personality studies. Instead of praying, “What’s wrong with me?” I can more humbly and intelligently come to God with my pain. I realize that the loneliness I felt as a teenager happened because I have a natural need for deep, meaningful relationships. With this in mind, I pray a lot more specifically about my hurts and joys.
As I studied and prayed over these things, God tangibly answered me when I met my best friend, who is also an introvert. She was hurting and hungering for the very same things as me. Because we both know our needs as introverts, we have a larger appreciation for our friendship and God’s grace in bringing us together.
And so the results of an internet personality quiz led me to worship God more wholeheartedly.
The Dangers of “Typecasting”
Personality studies do have their downside, however — we often treat our personalities like cozy nests. We get comfortable in who we are, and we don’t like to change. It’s easy for me to use my introversion as an excuse for not doing things I don’t like.
Sometimes I sense God leading me to say a kind word to a stranger or to take initiative in a tough conversation, and I clam up. “Nope!” I insist. “I’m an introvert! Can’t do it!” But I forget that God has a history of taking people outside their comfort zones. He likes us to be uncomfortable sometimes, because then His power is made perfect in weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9).
In his excellent book “Introverts in the Church,” Adam S. McHugh reminds us that though personality types can help us understand the world, “our temperament does not centrally define us.” As Christians, our identity is in Christ, not our personality types. And so I try to be thoughtful about how my personality traits affect the people around me. By knowing my inherent weaknesses ahead of time, I can be wiser in how I act and more discerning about when I need to turn down my inner voice so I can listen to the Holy Spirit. It’s only through God that my personal strengths and weaknesses strike their perfect balance.
Joy in Who We Are
Ecclesiastes 5:19 tells us to enjoy and accept our work and lot in life, even saying it’s God’s gift to us. Understanding our unique personalities is one step toward that joy as we live out God’s intentions for us. I now take joy in my personality as an introvert because it’s God gift to me, and not just because it’s validates my enjoyment of a wild knitting party.
Hannah Kennedy is from the Pittsburgh area, where she lives with her husband, Alex. A fiction writer and editor, she blogs regularly at hannahakennedy.com.