I’ll never forget the first time I took a personality test. Sitting in an oversized, mostly empty conference hall, I glanced at the other faces in the room, lingering on the ones I admired. I felt an uneasy shift in my insecure, middle school stomach, and I did what I thought best. I lied.
I answered the questions carefully, and to my satisfaction, the Myers-Briggs test declared me an extrovert. I remember feeling triumphant, as if I had dodged a pothole. I clung to that assessment, assuring myself I could be the person I’d described — the person I wanted to be.
It was painstaking work, really, but I assumed everyone did it. I fought hard to silence the roar of uneasiness, to calm the swirl of anxiety. And to those looking in, I might’ve seemed relatively successful. I lived in that shell of a person — the best version of myself, I assumed — for years.
But facades always crack, and eventually mine shattered.
As it turns out, I desperately need time alone. I relish in the softness of silence. My mind remembers how to think, and my soul remembers how to feel when I retreat from the noisy clatter of the world. I’m not particularly well spoken. Large groups of people drain my energy, and too many eyes make me feel panicked. Though I always thought it necessary to secure the approval of large groups, I actually function best with the love and support of just a few trusted friends.
But I can’t tell you how long it took me to come to that conclusion, and how long it took for me to accept it once I did. What I can tell you of is the overwhelming peace that comes with accepting yourself as you were created to be.
So, why, to this day, do I sometimes still struggle to be her?
I think it has a lot to do with where I’m looking. If you look to the world to tell you what is good in you and what is not, you’ll almost always end up disappointed.
I distinctly remember realizing this for the first time. As I nervously sat across from a trusted mentor, he said something I already knew on some subconscious level — but they were words I’d been waiting my whole life for someone to say, to explain, to make sense of. “You feel things deeply,” he said. It’s not those four words that stick with me, years later, but the life he breathed into me after he said them.
“You see it only as a burden,” he explained, “and it can be, but it’s also what gives you the capacity for extraordinary empathy and compassion.” In that moment, I understood. The world had told me oversized feelings were a burden to bear, so that’s what I believed. And that’s why I tried to overcome them, to escape them, much like I tried to escape my introversion.
Years later, I still find myself reverting to old habits, trying to be someone I’m not, striving to escape the parts of me I find unlikable.
As I stood in Target last week, scanning endless racks of baby clothes to find the onesie that matched the registry I held in my hand, I felt the familiar rush of hot, unwanted tears. My initial reaction? Anger, at myself, for feeling.
I inwardly chastised myself. “This is so inappropriate,” I thought. “Get a hold of yourself. This isn’t about you. It’s about your friend and the baby growing in her belly.” I managed to collect myself, painting a smile across my face as I checked out and headed for my car.
But as I drove home, I found the feelings impossible to escape. At first, I frantically searched for a radio station playing an upbeat song, to push the feelings out of sight. Instead, I landed on one that spoke to my soul exactly where it was. A song that told me I didn’t need to package myself up neatly before God, but instead, he wanted me exactly as I was. Better yet, that he found me desirable, lovable even, exactly as I was.
The rest of the way home, I let tears stream down my face. I allowed myself to feel. I was freer on that drive home than I have been in months.
The feelings I have are messy and unsightly. But that day, in the car, God told me it was OK — OK to feel, OK to be exactly who he created me to be. An introvert, crying in the car? Fine with him. In fact, much better than a feigned extrovert with manicured feelings.
What I’m beginning to realize is that it’s in the most complicated parts of ourselves that God meets us. He’s all too silent in the shiny exteriors we create, but in the messy parts? He’s there. That’s where he does his best work in us, through us. That’s where he makes himself known. And isn’t that what we’re here for?