Tim Challies posted an article last week called The Next Charles Spurgeon that really kicked my mind into high gear on something I had already been slowly mulling over. The premise of the article was that there could never be another godly man of the Charles Spurgeon brand because he was a product of his unique social and historical context. While there might be a young man who is gifted in the same ways, it is highly unlikely that modern society would mold those talents into the same shape that Spurgeon’s context molded his.
My interests here are on more of a personal level. I have begun to take notice whenever I catch myself appealing to phrases like: ‘I’ve been that way as long as I can remember,’ ‘I’m not really a ________ kind of person,’ ‘that sort of thing has never interested me,’ ‘I’ve always responded that way,’ or ‘I don’t think it’s in my nature to…’
Those kinds of statements might be very true, but do they have to be? Should they be? How much of who I am is a product of the personality I was born with and how much of it is up to me?
Obviously, recognized sinful habits must be dealt with, even if they are ones I have defaulted to as long as I can remember. A lifelong history of relying on manipulation, coloring of the truth, compromise, defensiveness, or whatever, doesn’t justify continuance of the behavior once I recognize it. Known sin can and should always be repented of.
But what about things that are not so clear. For example, I have never been a demonstrative person—not in body language, expressions of affection or displeasure, or even joy and excitement. With the exception of my husband and children it is never my natural inclination to hug people, even people I love and am very happy to see. Nobody would call that sinful, and most would chock it up to my reserved nature. But how many people feel as loved by a polite smile as they do by a warm and genuine hug? By stepping out of ‘who I’ve always been’ I can have a greater ability to communicate love to others. (If you know me and you are a hugger, please don’t suddenly stop giving me hugs – I still appreciate them. :))
Or here’s a trickier one for me. As long as I can remember, I have been mortified to appear wrong, ignorant, uninformed, or really vulnerable in any way. I’ve never thought I was perfect nor wanted anyone else to think so, but I have always prefered to keep the specific nature of my imperfections a complete mystery.
Who in the world can relate to that?! Or feel safe sharing anything of substance with someone like that? And how can I learn if I don’t speak up, ask questions and betray the fact that I don’t already know?
Is it sinful to have a diffident personality? Nope. (Wallowing in pride is sinful and that may be the root here, but that is another discussion). But if I can do things to be a more open and vulnerable person—even if it feels painful and unnatural—and I know that it will make me more accessible to hurting people, isn’t it wrong to stay as I’ve always been? Or better said, how can it not be best to push beyond that part of who I am?
The list could go on: fear of public speaking and meeting new people, hesitancy to speak up for what’s right, a tendency to look inward instead of outward, avoidance of taking risks or trying new things. These are all personality related attributes that I can embrace and hide behind, or challenge myself to push past.
(For a naturally confident, demonstrative, extroverted person the list would look very different, but the principle would be the same).
I understand that we are all gifted uniquely. The very personality traits that make me prone to the above tendencies also make me observant, sensitive, gentle, conscientious, and probably a whole host of other wonderful things. I also understand that it often doesn’t turn out well to try to be something I am not or force myself into a niche that does not involve any of the areas I am gifted in.
All the same, I think I should be suspicious of any excuse for settling for less than the best I can be for God, even if it involves my “personality.”
I’m left with the question of what actually makes up who I am, and what are tendencies and behaviors that I can and should change? Maybe the Holy Spirit is the only one who can really answer that?