Discovering My Spiritual Type and the Myers-Briggs

Currently I’m taking the Practical Ministry I: Biblical Images course of the Diakonia Program. The course investigates the Lutheran concept of vocation, and introduces the concept of spiritual gifts having been bestowed upon each of us in diverse combinations. The “Biblical Images” part of the course is there too, but it’s an entire discussion for another day. It happens that I’ve been experiencing something of an identity crisis in recent years. I’ve been struggling with deep questions about my own sense of vocation and identity within the Body of Christ. Perhaps it’s more than coincidence that I find myself now being led through something of a more formal self-examination. Wily Holy Spirit indeed!

I recently had cause to read Discover Your Spiritual Type, written by Corinne Ware. I’ve also recently taken the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (INFJ, if you’re curious). Ware opens her book with an awareness of the MBTI and Carl Jung’s understanding of personality types, and goes on to describe her work as a sort of MBTI for spirituality. Experiencing them together, I found that they complemented each other, and seemed to amplify some insights in common. At the same time, I did find some faults with Ware’s testing approach, making me glad that I did take the MBTI in the same period of weeks. Also, Ware’s core message is less about understanding my own gifts, and more about understanding any conflict between me and my worshiping community. So again, the MBTI helped reorient the insight of this process toward the self-identification that I sought.

Ware demonstrates her Spirituality Wheel with two crossed lines situated within a wheel, resulting in four basic spirtual types. Her horizontal line represents an apophatic-kataphatic scale. Say that three times, quickly! In spite of the unfamiliar words and vague description, I understood this scale to represent how I imagine God. At one extreme, God is a complete mystery, not unlike the pyrotechnic fireworks at the end of the movie 2001. At the other extreme, God is familiar and knowable in a concrete way, perhaps even so far as an old, bearded man in the sky, bowling strikes during a thunderstorm. As for Ware’s vertical line, it represents a speculative-affective scale, understood to represent how I take in knowledge. Am I a head person, or a heart person? Ware crosses these scales to define 4 spiritual types – head-person, heart-person, mystic, and crusader – thereby creating the spiritual square-root of the MBTI. She goes so far as to discuss parallels between the speculative-affective scale and the MBTI’s T-F (thinking-feeling) scale. Whereas, the apophatic-kataphatic scale doesn’t really mimic the MBTI’s N-S (intuitive-sensory) scale. So, Ware relates her test to the MBTI as companions, one informing the other.

The MBTI typed me as INFJ – introverted, intuitive, feeling, and judging. But, these are familiar words used in an unfamiliar way. The Pastor teaching our course is licensed to administer the MBTI, and after explaining the results, gave us helpful reading material for further study. INFJs are said to have a gift for understanding complex meanings and human relationships, Being a member of the club, I’m said to have faith in my insights, and to have an ability to empathically understand others’ feelings and motives before they do. I’m also said to keep most of my visions to myself, rarely sharing them with others, but when I do, using metaphors that aren’t particularly understandable to anyone but myself. True, that, but what can it mean for my vocation, my calling?

I went back to Ware’s book for some insight, and my results from her test were surprisingly connected. It was easy to connect feeling from the MBTI with affective from Ware. I’m more a heart-person than a head-person. Funny that, as an engineer who works with other engineers in an office of men. As for connecting apophatic from Ware with intuitive, I stretched and found a basic connection in being at home with complex relationships. Why do smart people do stupid things? How can a loving God allow suffering and injustice? I enjoy reading advice columnist Carolyn Hax. When my Pastor gives the inevitable “why do bad things happen” sermon, I take comfort in having faith that God is present with us in our sufferings, without understanding the reasons why. Perhaps INFJ really means Mr. Theology-Of-The-Cross-Person. While not a “realist” as the MBTI describes, perhaps I’m a realist with respect to the reality of life and purpose as a bunch of Big Uncomfortable Questions. Basil Pennington has a great series of books along this line, that I would recommend to anyone. So, together, the MBTI and Ware’s book give me some insight into my calling that I might not have otherwise.

The experience of taking both tests was informative. Taking the MBTI, you get the distinct feeling that some things are being asked over-and-over again in sly ways. That a licensed professional must analyze your answers, you feel that the results will be surprising. The MBTI employs 2-choice questions that don’t clearly map to its personality types, and by repeating similar questions in different ways, it seems difficult to somehow cause the result that you might want. I came away from the MBTI feeling that it’s a difficult test to “game”, to get the result I want. Ware’s test, on the other hand, employs 4-choice questions with each choice clearly associated with one of the 4 spiritual types, always in the same order. If you’re the sort of person that wants to be a mystic, you can find yourself finding ways to interpret those choices and to be able to choose them. I think it’s remarkably easy to “game” Ware’s test. I found myself taking the test multiple times in the hope of getting a valid result. Her saving grace, if that, is allowing you to choose “all that apply”, and then just tallying for the results. But, you can rationalize choosing, or not choosing any choice. It seems Ware’s test could be more effective by having more questions, by asking the same question in multiple ways, and by randomizing choices with a separate scoring process. Ultimately, just having four end types seems a little limiting in itself. But, taking Ware’s test in light of my MBTI results does help me feel better about the process in spite of what I feel are its shortcomings.

As I’m seeking to understand my identity in the Body of Christ, I’m trying to use these tests as a way to idenfity my strengths and gifts. For a long time I’ve been comfortable with the diversity of Christian traditions and worship styles, and I see my and others’ leanings as preferences, rather than right or wrong. If I were in a charismatic community I might feel some alienation or emptyness that would hinder my growth in Christ, but in my own community, I find many elements that serve me well. Ware intends for you to take her test twice – once for yourself, and once for your perception of your congregation. Much of her book deals with how to constructively understand differences between you and your community (integration and individuation). So, while I see that her book could be of great use for a congregation trying to understand its corporate identity, this emphasis is a little distracting from what I’m trying to learn. Hence her book was most useful to me as an aid in interpreting my MBTI results in light of my vocation, and I find the book can be used in different ways. Ware doesn’t specifically suggest using her book as I did, but it lent itself helpfully.

So, what’s my spiritual type? I’m Type 3, a mystic who tends to listen for God, more than talking to God, and I’m seeking an inner renewal. Ware describes the mystic as needing permission to retreat and seek solitude. She also talks about buying into the American myth that being alone and doing “nothing” (her quotes, not mine) are laziness and not productive. She spoke to my heart, because I worry that my love for studying, reading, writing (this blog!) isn’t an effective way to serve this broken and hurting world as I hope to do. Her words give me some liberation to pursue these passions without such guilt. Most useful for where I am in my head and heart now. Being real in a life of questions, I don’t have to directly link everything I do to an external impact. My work doesn’t have to be measured.

So now, begin the good Lutheran I am, I really want to say “Praise be to the God that surpasses all understanding.”

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