I’ve always hated the in-between times. You know, the time between when something is about to happen but hasn’t yet happened. For example, it’s agonizing to be aware that there was a problem with JJ’s last CT scan but have to wait for the results of another medical scan to learn if he has cancer again or not. It’s also difficult–but not as difficult as cancer–to wait to see if you got the job you interviewed for or to wait to see if the sellers of a house you want to buy will accept your offer…and stuff like that.
I also hate living in if/then times: IF this thing happens THEN we will know which choice to make but there are so many things that need to happen that we have no idea what to do.
Last Friday EJ’s boss was pressuring him to give his two-weeks’ notice, but we can’t make any decisions until we find out the results of the Pet Scan JJ has on Wednesday. IF the results show that JJ is cancer free THEN we can breathe in relief and continue with our plans to move to the Emerald City. The next step will be for EJ to pass the physical for the new job. IF he doesn’t pass the physical THEN we won’t be able to move. IF he passes the physical THEN we have to wait for our finances to work out. I don’t know what we will do if he gets the job and the finances don’t work out and we can’t afford lodging. We can’t try to buy a house IF we don’t know whether JJ has cancer or not, or whether EJ officially has the job or not, or whether our finances work out or not. In Spring, many people start looking for new houses so the competition is fierce–which means that the closer it gets to Spring the less chance we have of getting a house. EJ might have to live up north alone for a while before we can join him, which means double payments on stuff, which we can’t do if our finances don’t work out. A lot of things have to work out perfectly–which so far seems NOT to be happening. We also have to take into consideration that once EJ starts his new job (if he does) then it will be 90 days before he has insurance. That is a long time to go without insurance when our son still has medical issues.
Because there are so many unknowns, we have no idea what to do and this makes me feel very up and down–one minute very scared that JJ has cancer again, the next minute feeling somewhat hopeful that maybe everything will work out, the next minute scared that nothing will work out and we are headed for disaster, one minute thinking that we will just have to stay here, the next minute feeling totally disheartened at that thought.
Part of the reason it’s torturous is because of the way that I am. I recently read an article called There’s Nothing Wrong With You You’re An Introvert, which described the ways that Introverts and Extroverts are different:
“[Introversion] is an innate temperament. It is not a choice. Introvert’s brains map differently. The Introvert Advantage talks about the brain composition of an introvert. The dominate pathway of blood flow is longer and more complex. Introverts use long-term memory more, therefore retrieving information takes longer…Introverts also tend to use the parasympathetic (put on the brakes) side of the autonomic nervous system while extroverts employ the (give it gas) sympathetic side resulting in more caution and less impulsiveness for the contemplative crowd…
External stimulation drains our energy. The inner-life of an introvert is already so rich and complex that outside activity raises our level of arousal quickly…Extroverts get pumped up from hits of socializing, technology and activity but introverts can easily become overwhelmed. Crowds, noise, interruptions, back to back activities and chaotic environments are huge energy drains. Each bit of stimulation takes our tank of energy down a notch until we are existing on fumes. The antidote to large doses of stimulation is to withdraw to a tranquil space.
Introversion and Extroversion can be sub-divided into 16 different personality types. I am sure there are many people who think that personality types are trivial and of little value, but I am an INFJ and we tend to embrace our personality label. I think it’s because we are the rarest of all personality types. the description of who we are is eerily accurate, and it makes us feel that we are finally understood.
INFJs are very complex people. We think deeply, are very observant, and see through many different perspectives. We have amazing insight into people. We feel intensely, are so empathetic that we are considered Empaths (people who actually feel the emotions and sufferings of others). We are very gentle, very compassionate, nonjudgmental, and forgiving, and are great listeners and counselors. We have high principles, love truth, honesty, and authenticity, and hate injustice. We are paradoxical, meaning there are contradictory opposites in our personality. For example, we think deeply about everything, but we struggle to adequately explain our thoughts to others. While we are very introverted, we also need to connect to others so there is a struggle between being private AND needing to connect to people. We deeply understand others, but are seldom understood. We love deeply but can also be hurt deeply. Our love of truth and authenticity is difficult to endure in a world in which people wear masks.
I mention the struggles we are having in our life in connection to my personality type because I have been thinking about how personality affects life and faith. I see nothing as simple and everything as complex so I don’t consider it to be a simple cause and effect. Many things influence and affect how we live. I also know that I am only writing a portion of thoughts that could be written about this topic, and in writing about some things I am leaving out others. However, I am doing the best I can.
I sort of think of our personality types as our foundational beliefs, our operating systems, and then, of course, we can choose to use our powers for good or bad, choosing to become heroes or villains, Jedis or Siths. I ponder that who we are affects how we believe and live. EJ just said that he thinks that everyone always lives out what they actually believe. I mean, what a person truly believes will always come out in his actions.
Many times I don’t understand the faith of others (and sometimes I don’t even understand my own). I’m not talking about theological or doctrinal beliefs, but the way we daily live out our faith. I understand why people believe as they do, but at the same time I don’t comprehend why. Ok, I’m getting bogged down in complexity, so I will move on.
I am an INFJ as well as a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), I deeply and intensely feel my own emotions as well as those of others. I feel the suffering of others to such an extent that I almost fainted several times during JJ’s cancer battle last year. In fact, since his battle with cancer, I find my sensitivity to violence, suffering, pain, sorrow has increased to almost unbearable levels. I have to limit my exposure to daily news and I have to be careful about what movies I watch because suffering–even of fictional characters–affects me so deeply. The uncertainty and chaos in our lives is so stressful that sometimes I feel as if I cannot breathe. I do not think this intense emotion is because my faith is weak, but because of my empathetic personality.
Another part of my personality that affects my life and faith is my need for authenticity. When I honestly state that I am afraid, stressed, sad, or discouraged, most people say “have faith” or “be strong” or, when JJ was fighting cancer, “don’t ever let him see you cry.” EJ, JJ, and I actually find more strength in being honest about our fears and discouragement than in pretended strength. There are days when I’m strong and can encourage my guys, and days when they are stronger and encourage me. We help each other face fear and sadness, disappointment and discouragement.
I honestly think that it’s extremely difficult to know how to comfort those who suffering. Much of the time I feel clueless. I think most people (including me) are genuinely doing their best so I generally appreciate loving efforts even if it’s “clumsy.” However, parts of me always wonders, “So are they saying that I ought to hide my true feelings with a fake smile?” Isn’t that lying? Deceitful? Fake? Hypocrisy? What’s wrong with being real? Doesn’t the Bible teach us to speak the truth? Doesn’t it say that the TRUTH will set us free–not comforting lies?
I find it very difficult to pretend to be what I am not. Not being real makes me feel as if I can’t breathe–as if my spirit is dying inside. Telling people that I am struggling and being told that I need to have more faith, or to be strong, or that “everyone suffers,” or that when they suffered they sang praises every day… doesn’t make me feel stronger and it doesn’t eliminate my fear or discouragement. It just makes me feel very alone, as if I’ve been shoved into a dark dungeon to suffer alone. The friends who are most helpful to me are those who are willing to interact face-to-face without either of us wearing masks. They are people who have also suffered deeply, who enter my pain with a quiet, “I understand” and weep with me.
Or friends who calmly listen while I rage that I’m so hurt and angered by betrayal and injustice that I’m thinking of becoming a Sith. “Have you joined the Dark Side yet?” my friend asked the next day. “I hear they have cookies.” I laughed because there was something so incongruous about the Dark Side having cookies. These are the friends who best help me regain strength.
Growing up, I always heard theological teachings that when Jesus died on the cross, God split the Temple curtain to indicate that we now had direct access to Him. Not long ago, I heard from a Jewish believer that Jews have always been a very passionate people and that in Bible times they tore their clothes in grief when a loved one died. She said that when Yeshua (Jesus) died, His Father’s agony was so great that He caused the sky to darken, and the earth to shake, and He tore His clothes (the Temple curtain) in grief. While I can understand the theological implications of a torn Temple curtain, I can relate more closely to the emotion of the Father’s intense grief. I, too, would want to cause the sky to darken, and the earth to shake, and to tear my clothes in agonizing grief if my son, my only son, died. I can tell such a Father that I’m terrified my only son might have cancer again.
I understand that there are reasons not to share struggles, not every person is safe to share with, and sometimes it just gets frustrating to share deep things and not be understood. I can’t really say when a person should share or not share. However, I know that many share only their strengths because they want to display “Christlikeness.” I’m not sure how Christlike it is to wear a mask. I wonder if we’d be more Christlike if we took off the masks and were who we are. I also know people who deliberately wrap themselves in false appearances to make themselves look better than they are so they can deceive, gain position, or abuse. Maybe more harm is caused by hiding struggles then sharing them. I agree with Larry Crabb in “The Safest Place on Earth”
We often hear that brokenness is the pathway to a deeper relationship with God, but we rarely see it modeled. I sometimes think we want others to believe we know God by demonstrating how unbroken we are…Everything in spiritual community is reversed from the world’s order. It is our weakness, not our competence, that moves others; our sorrows, not our blessings, that break down the barriers of fear and shame that keep us apart; our admitted failures, not our paraded successes, that bind us together in hope.
Even though I believe that God works everything for our good, and even though I think God sustains and gives peace, I also think that having faith doesn’t mean that life is never scary, painful, overwhelming, or exhausting. I think that to expect someone to be ☺Happy☺ and ♫ filled with song ♪ when she learns that her son has cancer, or when a friend betrays him, or they face financial ruin, or the millions of other possible problems and tragedies is…illogical and without compassion.
I also think it’s unBiblical. The Bible says that “For everything there is a season, a right time for every intention under heaven…” including “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1,4) I find it ironic that even though many seem to think a Christian ought to always be happy, when a Christian is in pain, he often turns to the portions of the Bible that are raw and emotional, such as Psalms and Job. Job, who is said to have had GREAT FAITH, said things such as:
“My sighing serves in place of my food,
and my groans pour out in a torrent;
for the thing I feared has overwhelmed me,
what I dreaded has happened to me.
I have no peace, no quiet, no rest;
and anguish keeps coming.” (Job 3:23-25)
“Therefore I will not restrain my mouth
but will speak in my anguish of spirit
and complain in my bitterness of soul. (Job 7:11)
“If I say, ‘I’ll forget my complaining,
I’ll put off my sad face and be cheerful,’
then I’m still afraid of all my pain,
and I know you will not hold me innocent.
I will be condemned,
so why waste my efforts? (Job 9:27-29)
Job’s friends gave him all the spiritual answers, saying the things that we, today, would tell someone who says the things Job said. Yet, at the very end of the book of Job,
After Adonai had spoken these words to Job, Adonai said to Elifaz the Teimani, “My anger is blazing against you and your two friends, because, unlike my servant Job, you have not spoken rightly about me. So now, get yourselves seven young bulls and seven rams, go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering. My servant Job will pray for you — because him I will accept — so that I won’t punish you as your boorishness deserves; because you have not spoken rightly about me, as my servant Job has.”
Job’s friends gave all the spiritual answers, yet God considered them much less righteous than Job, who was honestly raw and emotional. It’s something to consider. As I get older, I give advice less and less because I realize that sometimes the best thing to do is simply listen. I like what Rabbi Ahron Hoch said in an article about suffering:
People approach the topic of suffering from two separate perspectives. One is the “intellectual agenda:” A person is bothered by this issue and wants to intellectually understand it. The other is the “emotional agenda:” A person may right now be suffering (or know someone who is suffering), and it is bothersome emotionally. It’s important to understand that these two agendas don’t always coincide. Someone with an intellectual agenda wants answers, whereas someone with an emotional agenda is looking for relief…
…Now when someone is in the midst of suffering, that’s not the time to offer answers. It’s a time to listen and empathize and say things that can provide comfort. I did not try to give any of these people the answers we will be discussing because when a situation is so emotionally wrenching it’s not the time for answers. Rather it’s a time to show compassion and empathy and be with the person as best you can. So let me just state in advance that we will only deal [in the article] with the “intellectual agenda.” If there’s anyone going through a painful time and is looking for a sense of relief, I am skeptical whether these intellectual answers will offer any kind of relief.
Another thing that I don’t understand about others’ faith is what appears to be a belief that God will give us whatever we want. While I believe that God is good and loving and answers prayer, I don’t think He is a genii who gives me everything I wish for. Neither do I think of Him as a Grandpa God who spoils me and then sends me home with a pat on my head. I don’t think that all we need is faith and a little bit of pixie dust to help us fly. Nor do I think that God’s purpose is to merely “make us happy.” Instead, I think, as C.S. Lewis wrote,
You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of terrible aspect,’ is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels himself responsible for the comfort of his guest, but the consuming fire itself, the love that made the worlds.
C.S. Lewis wrote that God’s love “is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.” He also wrote:
“We are perplexed to see misfortune falling upon decent, inoffensive, worthy people–on capable, hard-working mothers of families or diligent, thrifty little trades-people, on those who have worked so hard, and so honestly, for their modest stock of happiness and now seems to be entering on the enjoyment of it with the fullest right….Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for the moment, that God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when He thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know Him they will be wretched. And therefore He troubles them, warning them in advance of an insufficiency that one day they will have to discover. The life to themselves and their families stands before them and the recognition of their need; He makes that life less sweet to them….the creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered; and…God shatters it.”
It would be easy to say that “I want what God wants for me no matter what it costs because it will be better in the end.” I have actually prayed that prayer over the years and meant it. However, although I think God’s love is greater than I could imagine, I also think that many times it’s scarier than I want. To be honest, although deep inside I want God to love me no matter what it costs, I’m not always sure I can survive it. When facing heartache after heartache, problem after problem, struggle after struggle, there comes a point in which a person, no matter how strong she or her faith is, reaches a breaking point. At that point, when I’m utterly exhausted, I just want a break. I want to plead, “Love me less, God. I can’t survive more.”
I don’t understand faith that doesn’t honestly wrestle with profound questions about God, faith, and suffering. When faced with terrible tragedies like the Holocaust, or with a child dying of cancer, or the myriad other human tragedies, I think we ought to wrestle with questions. I don’t think questions threaten God or weaken faith. In fact, faith is often strengthened by honest questions and wrestlings. Some of my favorite psalms were written by Asaph, who was very honest with his questions:
But as for me, I lost my balance,
my feet nearly slipped,
when I grew envious of the arrogant
and saw how the wicked prosper.
For when their death comes, it is painless;
and meanwhile, their bodies are healthy;
they don’t have ordinary people’s troubles,
they aren’t plagued like others…
Yes, this is what the wicked are like;
those free of misfortune keep increasing their wealth.
It’s all for nothing that I’ve kept my heart clean
and washed my hands, staying free of guilt;
for all day long I am plagued;
my punishment comes every morning.
If I had said, “I will talk like them,”
I would have betrayed a generation of your children.
When I tried to understand all this,
I found it too hard for me — (Ps 73)
On the day of my distress I am seeking Adonai;
my hands are lifted up;
my tears flow all night without ceasing;
my heart refuses comfort.
When remembering God, I moan;
when I ponder, my spirit fails. (Selah)
You hold my eyelids [and keep me from sleeping];
I am too troubled to speak.
I think about the days of old,
the years of long ago;
in the night I remember my song,
I commune with myself, my spirit inquires:
“Will Adonai reject forever?
will he never show his favor again?
Has his grace permanently disappeared?
Is his word to all generations done away?
Has God forgotten to be compassionate?
Has he in anger withheld his mercy?” (Ps. 77)
In both these psalms, after wrestling with these questions, Asaph went on to deeper faith. In neither case is there any indication that God was upset by his questions. In fact, it seems to me that He helped Asaph work through them.
A love of truth, honesty, integrity is another of my and EJ’s personality traits. EJ has been working hard to get home improvement projects done in case everything works out and we are actually able to relocate. It’s difficult because he suffers from chronic back pain. A Christian friend told him that he ought to not worry about doing a good job, just slap the drywall up there, and let the next owners of the house worry about fixing it. But both EJ and I believe that integrity demands that we ought to do as good a job as we are capable of doing as a gift to the next owners. We had to fix many “sloppy” things the previous owners of our house did, including removing the lamp cord in the wall that they used as electrical wiring. We don’t want to do the same to the next owners. Integrity causes us to not cheat people, not to be dishonest, not to seek revenge, and so on. I cannot understand how any Christian can live without high integrity and it distresses me when they don’t.
Just for the record, I think there are people who genuinely love God and live righteously, but I also don’t think that everyone who claims to know God actually does. I tend to look at my own strengths and weaknesses as honestly as I can (another INFJ trait) and if I see weaknesses, flaws, errors, I do my best to face them and correct them rather than pretend they don’t exist. That’s all I’m really doing in posts such as this one.
I am not always sure whether I have the stronger faith or others do, but I can see how my personality type affects my life and faith. And I will honestly confess that the chaos and uncertainty of my life right now is scary and stressful and exhausting and causes me to wrestle with questions of faith. I’m an INFJ. That’s who I am.