July 22, 2014

I’ve Never Been Told That Before

Jan31

I've Never Been Told That Before -  embracing the personality you've been given.

Clutching the crisp, white note, I held my 20 year old breath as I reread the words scribbled on the stationary by the Director of Admissions at my university.

“Jennifer,

Thank you for your servant leadership this year on our Personal Touch Admissions staff. Your hospitality welcomes each visitor, and your quiet and gentle spirit blesses each one.”

I wept. I’d never been told that before, and doubted its validity.

Since childhood, that “quiet and gentle spirit” mentioned in 1 Peter 3:4 served as a reminder that my extroverted and outgoing personality would “never” achieve that elusive Godly disposition.

It started in Kindergarten when that first school progress report reached home. A check mark indicated ‘lack of self control’ with the accompanying comment, “Jenny needs to stop chatting with her neighbors,” and so it began. An endless cycle of second guessing.

By the time I could actually pen New Year’s Resolutions, each year’s list contained some form of “You’ll be more popular if you’d be like the quiet girls. Stop talking so much. Don’t talk.”

As my identity shaped, my tender heart failed to embrace the other remarks. The ones where the teachers scribbled, “Jenny is a friend to everyone. She always has a smile.” Those words didn’t matter to me. I wanted to be one of those sweet, quiet ones.

I saw myself as a talker and I didn’t like it. I identified this “character flaw” early on and set about determined to stifle how the Lord wired me.

Decades later, time stood still as I leafed through my Junior High Diary. Earlier this evening, I opened to this very page, and as I read, it placed me right back in my childhood bedroom. Emotions overwhelmed me.

“I have totally changed my image. Now I am not “Big” Mouth Jenny but much better.”

Much better? In comparison to what?

Oh precious twelve year old self – do you know that you were created in HIS image? The image of God? You are an image bearer of your Creator. He did not make a mistake when He formed you, and He certainly does not want you to spend so much emotional energy concerned with changing your image.

Haven’t you heard your parents affirmation? The Lord has wired you in such a perfectly unique way. He has destined you to use your words for His glory.

As I write now, it’s through the lens of a forty something year old woman who embraces the truth of scripture. I know that I am fearfully and wonderfully made, fully and uniquely accepted.

I have seen decades of the Lord’s faithfulness with myriads of examples of how He has allowed me to use my gift of words to reach the kingdom, so how can I ever struggle with those same feelings that vexed that innocent junior high girl?

Recently, they reared their ugly head.

As our Compassion bloggers Peru team wrapped up our time together with a round table debriefing, a team member questioned the leader.

“With all the teams you’ve taken, have there been many instances where bloggers have surprised you or are different than what you thought?”

Since many bloggers are self declared introverts, I was curious as to what he’d say. I’d heard the stories of how difficult it was for many bloggers to travel cross culturally and personality played a large part in that.

“Jennifer.” He responded to the question and looked at me. “I never thought you’d be so out going. You can’t really tell that on a blog.”

I was shocked. Seriously? Me? And then my mind started racing.

For all I know, he meant that remark as a huge complement and possibly that my “never met a stranger” tendencies helped take a load off his plate, but for me, I sat right back in Mrs. Dixon’s classroom. All the little insecurities that I’d laid down years ago came flooding front and center.

My mind reeled in fast motion, cataloging all my actions of the past week.

Had I talked at inappropriate times? I mean, it was a very emotional week and I know I annoyed them all with my humming of The Sound of Music late at night. I guess when they wanted to write, I kind of wanted to talk through the experiences of our day…

Jen, stop it.

I knew that my exhaustion and emotions opened the door to Satan snagging a foothold on all the God things that had just occurred. I was not about to give that liar victory.

I thought back to 1 Peter 3:3-4, and what I knew to be true about a quiet and gentle spirit.

3 Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. 4 Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:3-4

The first verse is fairly clear cut. Let’s not become consumed with appearances, but then there’s that second verse.

What had I learned from my Admissions Director about true beauty?

After receiving that note, I spent hours of inductive bible study dissected that scripture passage.

This verse is not referencing a perfect personality issue, like I always thought. It’s a “spirit” issue, a heart issue.

It’s the “why” behind the “who.”

My desire is to love the Lord thy God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. In doing that, it sometimes manifests itself through an outgoing personality, while at the same time demonstrating a meek and gentle spirit.

It took me decades to realize that truth.

Now does that mean a meek and gentle spirit oozes through me at all times? I wish, and I continually come before His thrown begging for more of Him, less of me. Does it mean I still have to work on practicing self control in varying areas of my life? Absolutely, but it also means a stronger personality can still adorn a quiet and gentle spirit. They are not mutually exclusive.

In a way, it goes back to the coined phrase, “The grass is always greener on the other side.”

Extroverts wish they had more introverted tendencies, and introverts wished they were more extroverted.

The point is God cares about our heart.

He desires for us to cast aside the labels we’ve carried far too long, and embrace who we were created to be. His grace allow us to bloom where we are planted with out striving for another image. We are created in HIS image, not some dressed up version of someone else.

When I think of my propensity for wordiness, I remember:

Jen, always listen more than you speak.

When you speak, speak with discernment and love. Speak with passion. Speak boldly, and always speak words of blessing and encouragement.

If this is true, then I welcome the assessment, “I never knew you were so outgoing.”

Can any of you relate?

Do you hold onto old labels from child hood or personality traits that you’ve wished away for far too long?

I’d love to kick those to the curb with you. If you choose to share them in the comments, I’d be honored.

I’m sharing the rest of my struggle and realization over at (in)courage.me. Click on over to finish the rest and read the comments. This is something we all struggle with on some level.