When my husband and I did our pre-marriage counseling back in 1999 with our mentor couple – the pastor who married us and his wife – we took a personality test. The results indicated that we were polar opposites, which – with the blind naivete so typical of new love – I entirely disbelieved. We had so many striking similarities, after all. We were cut of the same cloth; soul mates! It didn’t take too long into our married life for me to realize that the test was right and I was wrong; my husband and I are night and day. Opposites did, in our case, attract — and they still do. I am an extrovert with a strategic thinker’s mind, and he is an introverted dreamer. Last year I was introduced to a book called The Temperament God Gave You, and when I read the two-page summary description of the melancholic, I about dropped the book. It was as if somehow had interviewed my husband comprehensively and written a thorough description of his personality and inclinations. The insights I found there were actually very helpful – to me and to him – and we found the book so useful we bought a copy for later reference.
Two weeks ago I was watching my nearly four-year old daughter and the “recital” for her ballet show (quotation marks not gratuitous). As this tutu-clad group of pre-ballet girls wandered vaguely but adorably around the room vaguely following the directions of Teacher Pam, my daughter stood shyly in the back with her hands in her mouth. It took her nearly ten minutes to begin participating in the group, though once she did involve herself she gave herself to it and enjoyed it. When I spoke with Teacher Pam afterwards, she said that she spent a lot of time watching for the first few classes and eventually, though coaxing, warmed up to the group and the activities. My friend, after a week of teaching my daughter’s vacation bible school class earlier in the summer, indicated the same thing: “She tends to hang back a bit and watch everything, taking it all in.” And yet, she was content, behaved appropriately, and had nothing but enthusiastic reports about both experiences (ballet and VBS).
My initial and knee-jerk response to watching the ballet event and talking to Teacher Pam was, I admit it, slight concern. Was she going to be a painfully shy or an overly cautious kid? Would she make friends in life? Would she do OK? It was a silly response, because I know I have a perfectly lovely, relational, and even highly spirited child in this girl; she’s a fabulous and very competent kid. But suddenly I was faced with how different she is from me; our reactions to situations are completely opposite. And this feels a little unsettling to me, because I don’t totally know how to relate to or encourage her. I’m a get-in-there-and-tackle-things kind of girl who, even to this day, needs to work hard to quell my instincts to be overly talkative and directive. [And I still sometimes fail at this.] She, on the other hand, will sit quietly and watch everything for a long time before she feels comfortable entering the fray and fully participating.
“I was just like that when I was a kid,” my husband told me. “I disliked having to do new things, and I just wanted to take my time and check everything out.” He could completely relate to her and identify with her instincts. The introverted components of my daughter’s personal resonated completely with his own. Who knows if her temperament is melancholic, like his, or some place between his or mine? Only time will tell. But it really got me thinking.
Isn’t God amazing? That He creates us with such multi-faceted personality traits, and then puts us together into families to help each other, learn from each other, grow in patience toward the differences in each other. It reminds me of Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor 12 about the body of Christ being comprised from so many different parts.”If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?” (v.17) Our family is a small version of the body of Christ, and just as Paul commended the church that “there is no division, and its parts should have equal concern for each other,” so is that true among the members of our household. (v. 25) We are varied and unique, but all equally valuable and treasured. We are gifted differently to do the different works that God has equipped us each individually to do in this world. When you think about it, it’s actually both beautiful and exciting. And that’s the message of the temperament book too – that we all have different trends and tendencies but they’re part of the tapestry of God’s beloved and carefully created humanity.
So sit and observe, then, my sweet daughter, until you feel comfortable and ready to jump in. Go slowly and deliberately in friendships, if you wish, and form few (at least fewer than I perhaps might) but may they be close ones. Move at the perfect pace that God designed for you, and may your confidence ever be in Him and His love for you as you go. I can’t wait to see how your dance, beautiful as I know it will be, as it unfolds throughout your life.