Mercy and Truth Meet Together: INFJ Christians

Our walks with God don’t all look the same. We’re influenced by our backgrounds, variations in beliefs, and individual personalities. And even though the goal is for us all to become “like God,” that doesn’t mean we become indistinguishable from each other. God created great variety in people and I believe He did that for a reason.

This is the first post in a series looking at Christians with different personality types. Today, we’re focusing on my personality type — INFJ. When you start talking with people of faith who fall into different personality type groups, you notice not all the personalities feel equally valued and understood by Christian churches. And churches on the whole seem skewed toward attracting Sensing and/or Feeling types. If Christianity is a faith meant for all people then why aren’t we doing a better job of connecting with all personality types?

INFJ - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Photocredit: Prixel Creative via Lightstock

Empathy For All

I asked INFJs which Bible characters they identified most with and received a flood of responses. It seems we can’t pick just one favorite character. Several INFJs mentioned that our empathy makes it easy to identify with Bible characters. Rachel writes, “My personality pushes me to strive to understand everyone, so I can identify with all the characters in the Bible in some way.” We do have favorites, though, (mine is the apostle John) and the INFJs who did get into details about their favorite characters were very specific.

I identify with David the most. His emotion portrayed through the Psalms and some OT stories resonate in my heart, especially that of love for God, the Scriptures, and pains of stress under sin and oppression. The way in which he responds to certain situations are very similar to how I’ve responded to mine relate as well. – Sarah H

I identify most with Rahab because she was an idolater who was saved when she trusted God. Not only that, but because of that decision, she was given a place in the line of Christ. I, too, was an idolater, but when I trusted Christ, God adopted me into His household. Now I’m a princess in the royal house of God. – Lillith

INFJ - Join me for a blog series discussing Christianity from the perspectives of different personality types. | marissabaker.wordpress.comThere wasn’t a whole lot of overlap, but multiple INFJs specifically mentioned King David, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ. In our favorite characters, as in many other things, INFJs seek connection. They’re identifying with Bible characters who share aspects of their own personality traits and who inspire them to connect with God. And we do that with multiple characters. Take a look at some of what an INFJ named Alexandria wrote me:

I am Mary and Martha. I love Mary for the way she valued Yahweh and sat attentively, listening to all His wisdom. I identify with Martha and always love to think that I am treating my guests like royalty by having everything organized and prepared.

I love David…oh how I love him. I love that he was so gracious to Saul, even though Saul treated him so badly, trying to kill him! I love that David was a flagrant sinner and yet God called him a man after His own heart. I am so moved at how gracious the Lord was with David every time, and I remember that when I feel like my failings are stacking up!! I like his passion for life and the depth of his soul and all that he felt so poignantly. …

And last of all, my heart beats with Paul. I love his drive to get others to really live by the teachings of the scriptures. His quest for spiritual excellence is so awesome and it is so moving how dedicated he is to those he serves and he loves them so authentically and I feel like I really “get” him. He is a person who is passionate in living the Christian life the right way with integrity and love.

Using Our Gifts

INFJs who talked about serving in their church felt their contributions were appreciated. These INFJs are leading Bible studies, cooking dinners for small groups, participating in youth/teen ministry, using their artistic skills, teaching, and contributing musically. Many INFJs also expressed the desire to help more, but said they either haven’t had the opportunity or were actively discouraged. Continue reading

The Simplest Guide to Myers-Briggs Functions Ever

The most complicated aspect of Myers-Briggs personality types is also one of the things that makes it a useful theory. It’s the answer to criticisms like “But people aren’t 100% introverts or extroverts” and “Sometimes I use thinking and sometimes feeling, so the test must be wrong.”

Myers-Briggs theory describes complex, nuanced, dynamic personalities using something called “function stacks.” That term refers to mental processes (functions) that people use in a certain order (stack) of preference. But when you start trying to study function stacks and people are throwing around phrases like “Extroverted Intuition” and “Introverted Thinking” it starts getting confusing, especially after you learn ENxJs don’t even use Extroverted Intuition and IxTJ types don’t use Introverted Thinking. What on earth is going on?

I’ve written about cognitive functions before, but I feel like I’ve always fallen short of explaining the concept both simply and concisely. I’ll link to those more in-depth posts at the end of this article, but right now let’s try and break this topic down for the simplest function stack guide on the Internet. The Simplest Guide to Myers-Briggs Functions Ever | marissabaker.wordpress.com

What J and P Really Mean

Contrary to popular opinion, Judging and Perceiving aren’t a sliding scale. They aren’t even meant to stand on their own as an aspect of your personality — they’re just in your four-letter type to describe how you use the other letters. Thinking and Feeling are both Judging functions because they’re involved in how you make decisions. Sensing and Intuition are both Perceiving functions because they’re about how you learn information. Continue reading

Send Me Your Stories: Christianity and MBTI Types

I have a blog post (or more likely series) that I’d really like to write and I need your help.

When I started this blog, I worried it would seem like an awkwardly smooshed together amalgam of INFJ blog and Christian blog. You’re supposed to find a niche or theme of some kind and focus your blogging there. Not start two blogs on the same site and post one on Mondays and one on Saturdays. But I felt this what what I should do and so I did. And it’s been wonderful.

I’ve heard from so many INFJs who find my blog through the Myers-Briggs posts and then comment because they discovered I’m Christian. I’ve also heard from other types. Most surprisingly, quite a large number of NTs want to talk about their faith. It’s been fascinating to hear from the types stereotyped as the least religious. Many talk about the challenges they face, especially in connecting with other Christians or in feeling like their faith walk doesn’t follow the “normal” pattern.Send Me Your Stories: Christianity and MBTI Types | marissabaker.wordpress.com

That has me wondering: if Christianity is a faith meant for all people then why aren’t we doing a better job of connecting with all personality types? It’s a very broad generalization, but most Christians in the United States seem to be Sensing types and/or Feeling types. And that’s who many churches cater toward. They’re focusing on the sort of traditions that make SJ types comfortable, or trying to engage SP types in sensory worship experiences, or appealing to the spiritual interests of a few NF types.

I firmly believe God created personality variations for a reason and that He longs for a relationship with all people. There are already Christians of every personality type who have strong walks with God. But they’re not all equally valued and understood in the churches. And I’d very much like to start changing that.

My Questions For You

Here’s where you guys come in. I want to hear from Christians of as many different personality types as possible. If you want to contribute and don’t know your personality type yet, please check out my post Finding Your Real Myers-Briggs Type (if you can’t narrow it down to a single type or just want to take one online test instead of researching typeology in-depth, that’s okay. I’d still love to hear from you).

I’m asking you to please share your personality type and answer some (or all, if you like) of these questions:

  • Which Bible characters and/or stories do you most identify with?
  • Do you have gifts or talents that you feel are not appreciated or that you don’t have an opportunity to use in the church?
  • Do you have gifts or talents that are particularly encouraged and supported in the church?
  • Are there expectations from other Christians that you have a hard time meeting because of how your mind naturally works?
  • Which teaching/preaching styles connect with you best? How do you like to hear and learn about God and His word?
  • In what ways could the church better connect with someone like you when preaching the gospel?
  • What’s one of the biggest challenges you face as a Christian?
  • Why are you a Christian? In other words, what makes you believe this faith is the right one?

You can either leave a comment here or send me a private message through my Contact Me form. Unless you tell me otherwise, I’ll assume that by getting in touch you agree that I can quote you directly and credit you by first name (or screen name) and Myers-Briggs type.

Please spread this around! The more people sending in their ideas and perspectives the better. Hopefully we’ll get enough feedback for several posts. Maybe it will even grow into an ebook. I can’t wait to read what you all have to say!

Updates — I’ll post links to the posts here as I finish them:

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Let’s Talk About How Our Personalities Develop

Traditionally, Myers-Briggs theorists have taught that people develop their primary function first, followed by their secondary function up until their 20s, then their tertiary function in their 30s and 40s, and sometimes they’ll go on to start using their inferior function later in life. It’s a neat, orderly formula. Too neat for my tastes. (If you felt lost when I started talking about functions, click here to read a post explaining that aspect of Myers-Briggs personality types.)

When you start talking about type development in more depth, though, Myers-Briggs experts will add that environment and an individual’s commitment to personal growth does influence when our functions develop and how well we learn to use them. They’ll also talk about life-long type development and offer tips for dealing with your less developed functions before the age you’re “supposed” to develop them. And I’ve also talked with people who feel like they developed their tertiary before their secondary function, or had to go back later in life and become comfortable with their dominant function because they’d been suppressing it. Clearly, there’s more going on than a neat developmental progression from one function to another.

Personality Hacker proposes a different look at how we develop functions, or “mental processes.” I’ve not seen them directly address the question of type development from childhood on, but they do see our secondary function as our growth position. We’re most comfortable using our dominant function and (baring some kind of trauma) it’s typically also the one you’ve spent the most time developing. This function is either introverted (i.e. focused on our inner world) or extroverted (i.e. focused on the outer world). Your secondary function is focused in the other direction — if you’re a dominant introvert, your secondary mental process it extroverted (and vice versa). But your tertiary function matches your primary one in terms of introvert-extrovert, so it can be more comfortable (though not as healthy) for us to spend time in that one rather than cultivate our secondary function.

What About Culture and Family?

I think our early experiences and upbringing have quite a bit to do with which mental processes we develop and when. For example, an introverted child leads with an inward-focused mental process. How their society and family treats their introversion will have a huge impact on their development. They might develop their extroverted side more quickly as a defense mechanism for fitting into an extroverted world. On the other hand, the same thing (developing their secondary introverted function early) could also happen if given support for their introverted development as well as encouragement to stretch themselves in the outer world.

Alternately, our hypothetical introvert might reject the push to be more extroverted and end up developing their tertiary process more quickly than their secondary process. That could be a reaction against the external push to be something they’re not, or in response to a particular subculture that values their introverted traits. If no one’s telling you to cultivate a less comfortable aspect of your personality, then why bother?

The same can hold true for extroverts. Many cultures, including the United States, have historically held extroverted traits up as more desirable. If you’re constantly being admired for your outgoing personality, social skills, and ability to navigate the outer world, why focus on developing your un-cool introvert side in high school? Or maybe you’re an extrovert growing up in a family of introverts who constantly ask you to give them alone time or be quiet, and you suppress your dominant function’s development until you’re older. I’ve seen both happen.

There are other factors in play as well. An ExTJ guy would typically find encouragement for his dominant function, where a woman with the same personality type could face criticism for not “acting like a girl.” An ExFJ girl would fit more easily into what society expects from young women, while a guy with the same type might be told to “man up.”

Messy, Beautiful Variations In Type

Personally, I feel I developed my dominant function first (as an INFJ, that’s Introverted Intuition/Ni), stunted my own secondary function’s growth by being incredibly shy (Extroverted Feeling/Fe), ended up using my tertiary function trying to make sense of things (Introverted Thinking/Ti), and was completely blind to my inferior function (Extroverted Sensing/Se). That described me pretty much until age 19 or 20. At that point, I’d been in college for about a year and started working to overcome my shyness. That finally gave my secondary Fe a chance to develop into a healthy version of that function. At the same time, I think I started using Ni in a healthier way, too, while still occasionally tapping into Ti. As I started learning more about my personality type, I’ve also started trying to develop my Se (though I’ll admit it’s with little success so far). But since I’m not even 30 yet, I “shouldn’t” be consciously using either my tertiary or inferior function yet.

I’m certainly not trying to argue that Myers-Briggs gets everything (or even most things) wrong about type development. The MBTI is a fantastic tool for describing how people’s mind’s work, how we typically learn information, and the ways we interact with our worlds. And the typical type development model has lots of truth in it, including the fact that our primary and secondary functions are the ones we develop most fully. It’s just that there’s more influencing the nuances of type development than how old we are.

These variations are one reason why no two people who share a personality type will be exactly the same. We all have different circumstances that shape our type development, different levels of comfort with our type’s functions, and different ways of expressing how our minds work. If you feel like you didn’t follow the standard model of type development, don’t worry — you haven’t missed out on your chance to grow and there isn’t anything wrong with you. Our personality types aren’t boxes we fit in neatly or hoops of development we jump through. They’re a way of describing how your mind works and a tool we can use to accelerate personal growth, including developing all facets of our personality type more fully.

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Religion and the INFJ

I’ve often seen INFJs described as an intensely spiritual type. Yet a little while ago, in an online INFJ group, someone posted that most INFJs are atheist or agnostic. Being a type that appreciates truth, someone else set up a poll trying to see if that was really the case.

It’s a small, volunteer sample group, but the results were interesting. 36% identified as atheist, agnostic or non-religious. That’s the same percentage that identified with a Christian religious sect. The remaining 28% identified as “spiritual” or with a non-Christian religion.

INFJs approach religion much like we approach everything else: with an open, inquisitive mind looking for patterns, especially those relating to people. Our relationship with spirituality largely depends on how we were raised and the direction our lives took from there. But it also depends on our journeys of personal growth, how the religions we encounter line-up with our convictions, and whether or not faith “makes sense” to us.

The Hypocrisy Factor

Many INFJs I’ve seen talking about being non-religious started out in a church of some sort and then left. As with many people who leave churches, hypocrisy is often cited as the reason. INFJs are exceptionally good at detecting deception. We can read people well and pick up on inconsistencies in their patterns of behavior very quickly. At the same time, we want to believe the best of people and it can take a long time for us to admit someone who we value would betray us. Continue reading

Could Unselfishness Be The First Step To Overcoming Shyness?

Once again, I failed to introduce myself to someone. I’m 27 years old — by now I should have mastered the incredibly complicated art of walking up to someone visiting my own church group and simply saying, “Hi, I’m Marissa. Welcome. What’s your name?”

It would probably come out more as a squeaky “Hi” followed by awkward silence as I frantically tried to come up with words resembling normal small talk.

*sigh* So much for INFJs being “the most extroverted introvert.” Perhaps some INFJs are, but I’m not. I’m shy. I thought it was getting better, but apparently I still need more work battling my social anxiety.

click to read article, "Could Unselfishness Be The First Step To Overcoming Shyness?" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

photo credit: “Viene and friends” by Barry Pousman, CC BY via Flickr

Introversion is healthy for introverts. Shyness … not so much

Despite Google’s antiquated definition of introvert as “a shy, reticent person,” shyness and introversion are far from the same thing. “Shyness is the fear of negative judgment, and introversion is a preference for quiet, minimally stimulating environments” (quote from “Are You Shy, Introverted, Both, or Neither (and Why Does It Matter)?” by Susan Cain). Shyness produces anxiety in social situations, while introversion means you lose energy when around other people. The traits often go together, but extroverts can also be shy.

Introverts who aren’t shy still prefer the inner world of thoughts and ideas to the outer world of people and things, but they’re capable of socializing and even enjoy it. Extroverts who are shy want to spend their time in the outer world, but they’re scared of people.

One of the most genuinely friendly extroverted women I know was once shy. For her, the turning point from shy to social was when she realized her fear of talking was rooted in self-focus. It was about “I’m scared to talk with people,” or “Socializing makes me nervous,” or “What if they don’t like me?” Continue reading