I have this one huge personality trait that is highly undesirable. I’ve been told, “it’s ok! You can change it. I know many people who have.” (cue the success stories.) However, I don’t think it’ll ever change.
I’ll never forget sitting around a Bible camp cabin one summer with some of my favorite friends having a deep talk–the kind of deep talk high school girls have. One question was, “what do I need to improve about myself?” Each girl got to answer that question for each of the other girls. What did our best friends see in us that most needed to change?
When they got to me, they said, “just being more outward-going.” I thought about that for a while, turning it over in my mind. What exactly did that mean? My cousins, who also worked at this camp, were the most outgoing, popular, magnetic people there. EVERYONE knew them. So what the girls were saying was, I needed to be more like my social cousins, or the outgoing, popular people at camp and at school–why? Because that’s who everyone liked. Therefore, this was the personality type to strive for.
Hm. Ok, time to rethink how I act, how I talk, how I approach life. I studied them, figuring out what kinds of things they said, what they did, what they liked. They were the “better” version of myself, and my new role model.
But then I got the “finger” on my shoulder. That tiny, gentle pressure from the Holy Spirit that always pivoted my thoughts and made me refocus. That’s not what I have in mind. What was I missing? I was out for self-improvement, and that was always good, right? God should like the “improved” me.
Oh no. Not one bit.
The truth is, I’m not built the way those people are. And it’s ok. Well no, it’s MORE than ok. It’s by God’s design. People often talk about quietness, or being introverted, as a flaw to be overcome. Where exactly is that in Scripture? Nowhere. Because God does not see it as a flaw.
I never did follow through on that particular self improvement. Instead, God flooded me with one word throughout high school at random moments–compassion. At very specific times, especially times I began to “look down” on some loner or smelly kid or someone off by themselves, God would whisper “compassion” into my spirit and drastically soften my heart. I had forgotten something–God often values what the world does not.
At God’s prompting, I approached the Tibetan transfer student who spoke not a word of English and became her only buddy through muddled conversation and shared experiences. With God’s direction, I befriended the “weird” girl who turned out to be not weird but painfully shy–with plenty to say, once she opened up. I became highly aware of the “lonely” look, or the hidden hurt just under the surface of someone’s expression, or the false bravado of someone experiencing a painful situation. I watched faces light up as people were “noticed” or understood. I experienced the joy of someone’s mask of hidden pain melt into a comfortable friendliness. I saw God’s love touch the people who needed it most.
And I came within inches of missing it all, because I thought I needed to be something other than who God created me to be.
(Lest you think I’m bragging, let me just point out that without God’s prompting, I’d be a purposeless, empty version of myself, trying to fit into a Godless culture. It’s only His hand on me that has steered me back to what He had planned from the beginning.)
Now, to be clear, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being outgoing and popular. In fact, I married into a huge, loud, wonderful Italian family who have made me feel incredibly welcome. Outgoing people have their own ministry and calling that aligns with their personalities.
There’s also nothing wrong with personal change, or growth. However, there’s a drastic difference between growing… and simply changing who you are. The only reason for high-school-me to consider a change to my personality was to become more like the image of the world’s ideal, the kind of person the world celebrated. It wouldn’t actually have been an improvement. So how can you tell if something’s real positive growth or simply an unnatural change? The difference is this: growth will always make you look more like Christ. That’s what we should strive toward, anyway. Any goal with this end is worthy of our time. Everything else is simply a distraction.
To be honest, I have days where I really struggle with wanting to be someone other than who I am. (The grass is always greener, right?) I desire to be more like some people around me, who seem to have much easier, more entertaining lives because of their personality. Instead, I’m more like my overly-quiet great-grandma, Sylva. But even she, in her extreme quietness, experienced a blessed life. God used her exactly the way she was. He did not change her into a more people-pleasing, outgoing woman. No, He took that quietness and used it to great advantage. And He’s managed to do the same with me.
If I had become that “better” version of me, would I have had the time to spend with someone who needed it? Would I have been aware of the value in that less popular person? Would I even be a good listener? Most likely the clutter of my life would have overtaken all the sensitivities God wanted me to have, and drowned out what He wanted me to notice. Maybe I’d have been full of myself.
After all, if everyone were the “cultural ideal,” we’d all be cut out for the same tasks, leaving many other tasks untouched. God made every worker different because there are so many different types of kingdom work He has on His heart. And He created me for my own niche.
Hello, I’m Joanna.
I’m clumsy and forgetful.
I have an easily fed sense of humor.
I think a lot.
I write those thoughts in books.
I’m not wild and crazy and impressive.
But I love like crazy.
I have patience, which means I got to relish in my grandpa’s company when he was sick and immobile. And he, in turn, got to relish in someone’s company who genuinely enjoyed him.
I may not talk your ear off, but I will say what I think is important to say.
I hang out with the people no one else really cares to. And God constantly shows me how cool these overlooked people really are.
I get excited by really small, unimportant things that others might find laughable. But I find great contentment without a lot of frills.
I’m not elegant like Audrey Hepburn, or beautiful like a Barbie doll. But I’m approachable.
I’m quiet, but that means I know how to listen.
I live a simple life, but my life is never too crowded to drown out God’s whisper.
I love God deeply, and consequently my dreams have gone beyond what I’d planned for myself.
Yes, I am quiet. Which is how God made me. On purpose. And I’m ok with that.
Ok, your turn. Who exactly are you created to be? I’m not asking how you present yourself to the world, or even how you’d LIKE to be. What kind of person did God design when He made you?