The foundation for subsequent spiritual growth has three layers: 1) discovering what we are; 2) learning who we are, and; 3) understanding whose we are.
October 27, 2010 — In the Christian faith, according to New Testament Gospel authors, all who freely and sincerely profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior have at least some degree of spiritual maturity [Mark 16:16]. But what is spiritual maturity? How do we strengthen it?
I posed these questions to my adult Sunday school class recently. In response, the expressions on peoples’ faces varied. Most had to think hard about it, coming up no doubt with indicators of maturity like attending worship services regularly, paying a full and righteous tithe, and participating in missions and ministries. But one, even without having to think, quietly said, “It is a journey.”
“Yes,” I said. “It’s not a destination, at least not one to be found in this life, for we cannot hope to attain perfection [Romans 3:22-24]. So, it is a journey, yes… a journey toward perfection.” And the way is to be found by being and doing all that we can in service to one another [Matthew 25:35-41], using all gifts and graces that we have been given. But we are weak. We are lazy. We put ourselves first and we are plagued with doubt.
As I think about it now, this reminds me of the prayer offered by the father of a young boy suffering from convulsions (Mark 9:22-25). After Jesus proclaimed, “Everything is possible for him who believes,” Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
How often do we call out to the Lord in our times of need and fall back in times of ease and comfort into complacency? How many of us pray incessantly only when we have a personal need to pray about?
The Scriptures tell us that we love God in the person of Jesus because He first loved us [1 John 4:19-21]. Out of this love then comes our desire to serve Him, to become more like Him by serving others [John 13:14-15]. The more like Him we become the more spiritually mature we become. But some of us are satisfied with whom we are; we don’t want to change because change is hard. Some even proclaim that they cannot change.
To illustrate this, on the class whiteboard I drew a crude picture of the cartoon character, Popeye The Sailor Man. Popeye, as we seniors all recall, often proclaimed in classical cartoon shows, “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam!” We laughed in acknowledgement that this is indeed human nature, resistance to change. Notwithstanding, all my fellow class members agreed that change is both possible and necessary if we are to grow and mature spiritually.
I established, without dissent by anyone in the class, that the foundation for subsequent spiritual growth has three layers: 1) discovering what we are; 2) learning who we are, and; 3) understanding whose we are.
Discovering What We Are
Discovering what we are is not so difficult for some. Some are born into traditional families with parents and other adult role models who nurture them with authority and consistency. They are affirmed as good and worthy persons. They are praised for successes and appropriate social behaviors. As a result, they leave the identity crisis of adolescence, as described by modern-day psychologists, behind with relative ease. They claim emotional adulthood through moments of commitment in relationships. Others aren’t so lucky and struggle as I did for years with issues of legitimacy and sexual identity.
By the time I graduated from high school I knew that I was white, Anglo, male, heterosexual, artistic, non-academic, apolitical and agnostic. In time, after discovering who I am, the last three identifiers would change.
Discovering Who We Are
Once we know what we are, we can go on to discover who we are and to evolve. Who we are, by the way, has little to nothing to do with what we do for a living. Surprise!
Who we are has more to do with how we respond to day-to-day challenges – the aggregate of our personality traits. None of us, for example, are so well-balanced emotionally that we never exhibit neuroses or personality disorders. But the better balanced we are, the happier and more productive we tend to be.
A person with a neurotic personality exhibits characteristics of excessive worry and anxiety over normal life events. He or she tends to blame themself when things go wrong. Symptoms can include depression, unrealistic fears, obsessions, and repetitive, compulsive behaviors, as well as low self-esteem and being tense or irritable.
A personality disordered person tends to cast blame on others when things go wrong. He or she may possess one or more of several distinct psychological features including disturbances in self-image; ability to have successful interpersonal relationships; appropriateness of range of emotion, ways of perceiving themselves, others, and the world, and; difficulty possessing proper impulse control.
Needless to say, none of us is perfect. Most of us bounce back and forth from slightly neurotic to slightly personality disordered. Some, those with manic-depressive disorder, vacillate between extremes. Only Jesus is perfect. But with effort, prayer, and sometimes professional help, we can learn to control our fears and inappropriate impulses. We can build self-esteem. We can control impulses, addictions and behaviors so that we can sustain beneficial interpersonal relationships.
I told my class that I first responded to a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator survey, not without substantial trepidation, as a captain on active duty with the U.S. Army during the Field Artillery advanced course. All of us in the class were fearful that analysis and recording of our responses in personnel records might render us less competitive for choice assignments and advancement. When we finished we were told the results without counseling so that we might understand that there are no right or wrong answers – no good or bad types – only preferred ways of responding to circumstances and situations.
My attitude indicator was strongly “I” for introversion. My function indicators, combined according David Kiersey as a personal temperament, were strongly “N” for intuitive and “T” for thinking. My life style indicator was strongly “J” for judging. Plotting them as they were then on the classroom whiteboard in four quadrants similar to Myers-Briggs four dichotomies rendered a picture like this.
I remain today, an INTJ.
Discovering Whose We Are
I was 42 years old, still on active duty as an Army Lieutenant Colonel, before I finally discovered whose I am. The process and events leading up to this profession of faith are subjects for another Sunday school lesson. But, in retrospect, I was gainfully employed then as a senior analyst in test and evaluation work – perfectly well-suited for my INTJ personality type.
Interesting, is it not, how we gravitate to doing what we are best suited by temperament to do?
New to the faith, I endeavored to “do” Christian. I committed to regular worship, prayer, giving, and ministry. I joined a class with others to develop care-giving skills for Stephen Ministry and took a spiritual gifts survey. My spiritual gifts at that time were strongest in leadership and administration with a lesser gift for helping. I took additional leadership training and became a Stephen Leader.
After our basic fifty hours of training in Stephen Ministry, we attended a weekend retreat and responded to a Myers-Briggs survey followed by spiritually oriented counseling on the interpretation and self-validation of response choices. Not too surprising, I was still an INTJ, but my “I” was somewhat less strong. In my new life I was becoming less introverted, enjoying activities and fellowship in larger groups more and needing less “alone” time to reflect and recharge.
Having discovered whose I am, after retirement from active duty military service I set about preparing myself for a follow-on career in teaching. I reasoned… no, “felt” might be a better word, that I could better serve my fellow-man by helping to prepare the next generation to do a better job in decision-making than my own and my parent’s generation had. Continued work in the art and craft of war just didn’t seem to be what Jesus would prefer that I do.
Could it be that my function indicators could have evolved too? Might my “T” and my “N” have become less strong? Hmmm…
“By the way,” I told my class, “after having served in Stephen Ministry and teaching for a number of years, my latest spiritual gifts survey results have teaching as number one with caring and helping also ranking high. Could it be that we become what we develop a passion for doing?
Then I asked my class what Jesus’ MBTI plotting might look like compared to my own. The answer came without hesitation. Everyone seemed instinctively to know that Jesus would be at the center of the cross, equally comfortable responding in the most appropriate way to any challenge or situation. This then became my conclusion. My postulation for spiritual growth is that we should, in every endeavor, in every relationship, strive to be balanced in temperament. In this way we will be better able to love and come closer to perfection in this life.
- O Divine Master,
- grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
- to be understood, as to understand;
- to be loved, as to love.
- For it is in giving that we receive.
- It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
- and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Please don’t hesitate to post a comment on this. Let me know where you think I am wrong.