A Remedy For Controlling Personalities (Like Mine)
Not long our church staff did a Myers-Briggs personality exercise together. Part of the exercise was to identify well-known people from the past who shared our same personality traits.
When it was time to discuss my personality (INFJ), which is apparently the most rare—accounting for less than 1% of people—we discovered that I share a personality type with two significant historical figures. The first is Jesus. The second is Adolf Hitler.
Sadly, it’s not always only Jesus that people see in me. Sometimes the Hitler in me—the controlling, intense, hardly ever fully satisfied with the way things are part of me—comes out. And when he does, someone almost always feels hurt.
Fighting With My Wife and Child…ABOUT THE BIBLE
After Patti and I first got married, we decided to read from the Bible together every night before bedtime. To our surprise, the experience wasn’t nearly as positive as we had thought it would be because our nightly Bible reading almost always ended in a fight.
We would start by opening the Bible to the night’s reading. After reading, we would share insights. As a newly-minted minister who took pride in his knowledge of the Bible, I was very confident in my own insights. Surely, my new bride would be impressed.
But Patti, being the inquisitive and thoughtful person that she is, would occasionally respond to my brilliant insights with a thought or two of her own. Sometimes as she shared, she would respectfully question my interpretation of the passage. “How do you know that’s what it means? Are you sure about that?” she would sometimes ask.
Instead of listening to my wife and accept that in marriage, teaching and learning goes in both directions — even when you have a Master’s degree in theology — I would get defensive. Then, Patti’s feelings would get hurt. Then, wanting to regain control of the conversation, I would get upset with her for having hurt feelings. Then, she would point out that I was acting like a self-righteous Pharisee.
Then, I would confirm her point by doubling down on how right I was about the Bible, and how proud she must be to question someone like me because I had a Master’s Degree in Bible.
Before completing our first month of marriage, we, the pastor and his wife, stopped reading the Bible together.
A few years later, we tried again to read the Bible together, this time with our then six-year-old daughter. Almost immediately, déjà vu happened. Except that this time, it was our daughter, not Patti, who started questioning my insights.
One evening, we were reading about King Saul in 1 Samuel. Recalling a recent Sunday school lesson, our daughter said to us, “King Saul…I know who that is! That’s the man who ran away when they wanted to make him king.” I corrected her and said that actually, Saul wanted to be king really badly. She was mistaken, a sign that she needed to listen more closely to her Bible teachers. But she held her ground. And, once again, I tried to regain control of the conversation.
“Do you really think that you, a six year old, know more about the Bible than I do? More than a pastor? More than someone like me who has (and is) a Master of Divinity?” I asked.
Then, I quietly slipped off into a room with a Bible, just to prove to myself that I was right—so that I could then go back and prove to them that I was right. Because if I’m right, then I will feel like I’m in control again; in control of the conversation; in control of the subject matter; in control of the people who should know better than to challenge a pastor about what’s in the Bible. I turned to the story of Saul in 1 Samuel 10, and there it was. King Saul, hiding himself in the baggage because he did not want to be king (1 Samuel 10:22).
It’s humbling to eat crow with your six year old regarding your supposed area of expertise. But that’s what I ended up doing.
Tentatively, I apologized and changed the subject.
From the Dinner Table to the Street
But that’s not all. Recently, I was driving on a gorgeous fall day in Nashville. The leaves were changing color, the sun was shining, the air was at seventy-five degrees, and the top of my Jeep was down. But I missed all the beauty around me because I got fixated on a Corvette in front of me, not because the Corvette was a beautiful car (it was), but because the driver was going five miles per hour below the speed limit.
The nerve! Because I prefer to go five miles per hour above the speed limit, I got up close to his rear bumper, making hand gestures to let me pass, cursing the day that the slow-moving Corvette was manufactured and wishing a Yugo or Chevy Vega on its driver.
The comedian George Carlin said that there are two kinds of drivers on the road—the idiots and the maniacs. The idiots drive slower than you do, and the maniacs drive faster. By this definition, I am the maniac treating the Corvette driver like he is an idiot. Because just like I must have control over a conversation about the Bible, I must also have control of the road.
Gulp. Lord, why do I have to be this way? Why does my impulse have to be frustration and anger with others when they aren’t doing it right? And by “doing it right,” I mean centering their world around me and treating me like God. Wretched man that I am…
Having big feelings about small things, and then dumping those feelings on others. Trying to control conversations, and control traffic and such. That’s what we Type A controllers become when we don’t address our inner desire to lord over everything and everyone around us. That’s what happens when we become right in our own eyes, and then impose our rightness onto others.
When we become these people, it backfires. In an effort to control, we lose control. In an effort to make people better according to our definition of better, we make people feel worse.
My Own Worst Enemy
In the alarmingly appropriate words of Pink:
I’m a hazard to myself. Don’t let me get me.
And please, don’t let me get you. If I hurt you, I want you tell me, even if you are my daughter. Especially if you are my daughter, or a slow Corvette driver, or anyone else whose spirit has the potential to be crushed by my Type A-ness.
Faithful are the wounds of a friend who show me a mirror, who praise the good in me but who also point out what’s hurtful in me, because such wounds are surgical not punitive. Such wounds are restorative not insulting. They call me away from the Hitler within and toward the Jesus within.
Thank God for honest family members, friends, colleagues, and even strangers. Thank God for you, Mr. Slow Corvette Driver, for continuing to drive slow, and in so doing remind me of the Type-A, driven and hurtful maniac that have the potential to be.
I want to apologize when I need to apologize.
And God knows, I want to change when I need to change.