Personality Assessments: Grace in Neuroses

In seminary there were three really important questions you asked your fellow students: What diocese […]

Sarah Condon / 3.24.16


In seminary there were three really important questions you asked your fellow students:

  1. What diocese are you from? (New York)
  2. Sherry or Port? (Lemon-tini)
  3. What is your Myers Briggs? (INFJ)

I haven’t figured out if Myers Briggs was a part of the Gnostic gospels or the Apocrypha, but it is a fundamental personality identifier in mainline Protestant seminary culture. So it must be in the scriptures somewhere. As a J, I can tell you that it was the fastest way to sort out the weirdos from the weirdest. And also, it was a great way to preemptively excuse your bad behavior. Once I learned my Myers Briggs, I could say whatever I wanted. It was like the “God put it on my heart to tell you…” of liberal Christianity. As long as I reminded people that my INFJ plight makes me “decisive and strong-willed” or “easily mistaken for an extrovert,” I could dole out all kinds of insistent and unwanted opinions.

The first time I began to question the overreach of the Myers Briggs in church world, I heard a story about a couple in marriage counseling who were hashing out their differences. The husband was an Episcopal priest. And each time the wife would ask him to answer for something he had clearly been wrong about, the husband would reply, “But honey! You know I’m an INFP.” Finally, the wife got fed up and replied, “Don’t you mean J-E-R-K?”

introverts_1This story hit me particularly hard because I had hauled out my Myers Briggs personality type anytime I wanted to get my way. I especially loved to bring up the I for introvert. But like a lot of things one learns in seminary, the Myers Briggs was of zero use in the parish. Nobody cares that you are an introvert. You are an adult. You cannot just say the phrase “I am an introvert” to end a conversation at coffee hour.

I mean you can. And I have. But it’s weird for everyone when you do that. When my husband was called to his most recent parish I can remember the first few months involved a tremendous amount of social time. And once, just once, I interrupted his conversation with a parishioner by saying, “I’m an introvert, I need Lonely Time, and so we’re going to need to wrap this up,” complete with a circle in the air finger move like they do in bars while saying, “You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.”

I know, I’m still waiting for the Clergy Spouse of the Year Committee to call me about the Pastoral Presence Prize.

The parishioner looked dumbfounded. My husband looked a little weary of me. And I thought to myself, “That worked much better at seminary.”

So, for a while now, I’ve been not buying into this personality type mumbo jumbo. I’m a sinner in need of redemption. And I’m loud, impatient, and anxious in social situations. See also the first part of my self-description.

enneagramAnd then a friend suggested to me that I take the Enneagram test. And I hated the results. I was angry with said friend for even asking me to take it. Mostly, because the Enneagram allows you to have a fuller picture of yourself. It lays out your positive attributes, for sure. But it also tells you those things about yourself that you most want to hide. And if an online test can recognize all of my neuroses then surely everyone is seeing them too.

The Enneagram also has a specific component called Childhood Wounds. Now, the human being in me wants to deny that such a thing exists in people. Because then I would have to admit it exists in me. But the pastor in me knows that everyone does indeed have a woundedness from childhood. Some of us felt neglected. Some were loved by way of achievement. One of my mentors used to say that the church was a building full of “wounded children.” And there were my Enneagram results in total agreement.

I’m not advocating that we all define ourselves by yet another personality test. But I am suggesting that we take a harder look at the worst versions of ourselves. Why do certain sins in my life continue to perpetuate? What is it about me that clings to judgment? How does my past live on in my present?

This is what we do in therapeutic settings. And it is certainly what we are called to do as sinners freely redeemed from our sinfulness.

The wild mechanics of grace are most definitely at play here. The mirror is held up, the curtain has come down, and God still loves me anyway. When I am no longer self-justifying my sin, then I have more space to see my heart. When I am not banging the noisy gong of defensiveness about my behavior, then I begin to marvel at a God that has forgiven all of me.