“It is so hard to love some people.” Have you ever said that before? Or at least thought it? I know I have. Sometimes, it’s just incredibly difficult to get past someone’s little idiosyncrasies or relational style. If you have a job that requires you to work with people… or if you have a family comprised of human beings… or if you ever leave your house to buy groceries… Okay, Okay… that’s all of us… Personality conflicts are an unavoidable reality. Sometimes, a certain person’s personality or relational style makes me go, “huh? really?…” Other times, I’ll get angry or defensive. Sometimes – and I’m not going to lie – sometimes, it makes me want to “give them a high five… in the face… with a chair…” as the saying goes.
I think of the plethora of personality and relational styles in the Bible:
Martha – the homemaking busy-body, easily offended and overly ambitious.
Mary – the eager drama queen, willing to cross cultural barriers and be labeled “odd for God.”
Peter – the bigmouth know-it-all, spending as much time retrieving his foot from his mouth as preaching the gospel.
Paul – the no apologies matter-of-fact preacher, struggling with how to be empathetic and still proclaim difficult, offensive truth.
Andrew – the socialite, ready at the drop of a hat to help a friend in need and often going out of his way to influence his friends for Christ.
Mark – the hyper-active boy, with his nose in everyone’s business, and his heart in the Lord’s service.
And of course, the list could go on and on and on. But these are all individuals whom God used mightily for His kingdom’s sake. Completely different – and so many biblical examples of personality conflicts and relational difficulties, even between those who were closest to Jesus. This tells me that different personalities and relational styles have their place in the kingdom of God.
Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone had the same relational style as me? How boring! How cliche! What about if everyone had the same personality as your Dad, or your Mom? Your brother or sister? Your 11th grade Chemistry teacher? No thank you – – – we can certainly find beauty in diversity.
But what is it that “sets us off” so often in this area? If we can recognize diversity in personality differences and diverging relational styles, why can’t we overcome the setbacks and difficulties they create? Lots of reasons, I’m sure. But I believe the very first step is to appreciate that God has given each of us a different personality and relational style, and each of those are just as valid and just as beneficial as our own. Quite honestly, churches are bad about this. We thoroughly enjoy bickering about XYZ’s over dependency on praise, ABC’s know-it-all-ness, or LMNOP’s fragile emotional state. Somehow, we’ve arrived at the conclusion that the idiosyncrasies which make us beautifully unique are no more than a form of polluted divergence from what is “normal” or “beneficial.” We’re committing relational darwinism (survival of the fittest) in our churches. “Those whose personalities and relational styles are acceptable to me can be a part of my clique and survive. But if your personality and mine don’t match up harmoniously, then it must be a direct result of inferior spirituality. You will not be included in my inner circle.”
How can we come to a point where we appreciate others’ individual personalities and relational styles? How can we go from, “That guy talks way too much and I’m going to avoid him at all costs” to “I wonder what’s on his mind today?” How can we go from, “She must think she’s perfect,” to “How can I pray for that sister and what spiritual, emotional, relational, or physical needs of hers can I meet?” I don’t have a lot of answers… but I honestly believe it starts with this:
Recognize that personality/relational diversity is a beautiful thing.
I’ve found that one particular thread which is woven throughout the fabric of all personality types and relational styles is that every person likes to be listened to. Sometimes, I’m really busy, and Talkative Tim will grab my hand and want to talk – I have to evaluate my options. What am I so busy doing? And is that more important than giving Talkative Tim what he’s really wanting – an ear? If it’s not Talkative Tim, it’s the Holy Spirit showing me that Silent Suzie is in the corner by herself while everyone else is chatting their breath away. She wants the same thing. Not to be heard – but to be listened to. To be understood and empathized with. We all need that. Can you be a listener? Can you learn to appreciate what makes others “tick?” Can you look past the personality and relational idiosyncrasies that set off your “I-wanna-get-outa-here radar” and honestly seek to listen to and understand someone else? Celebrate the difference in personality types. Appreciate the strengths and weaknesses of relational styles… that is, both those weaknesses/strengths in others’ personalities and in your own.
Grace and Peace,