Seeing temperaments as gifts not limitations
Written by Abby Ciona
While my university roommates have a dance party in the living room, I bake cookies by myself in the kitchen. When my friends have long chats past midnight, I prefer reading in my bedroom or going for a walk alone.
Sometimes I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. Am I antisocial? Do I not like people?
A few years ago, I began learning about the four temperaments, a personality theory that originated thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece. Personalities are classified into one of four temperaments: sanguine (people-oriented extrovert), phlegmatic (people-oriented introvert), choleric (task-oriented extrovert), or melancholic (task-oriented introvert).
I took a quiz and laughed to discover I was classified as “melancholic,” a task-oriented introvert. The least people-y of them all.
As amusing as the discovery was, I often feel guilty about it. I envy extroverts and their ability to light up a room with energy, and I sometimes long for the people-oriented ability to spend hours hanging out with friends. Especially as a Christian, I feel I should be a friendly extrovert who engages in deep gospel conversations with strangers daily. But that comes very unnaturally to me.
The funny thing is, even as I wish I could be more extroverted, my people-oriented friends tell me they wish they had the self-discipline to spend time alone, make to-do lists, resist social pressure, and read books for fun (not just for school). It’s a funny contradiction: some introverts wish they were extroverted, while some extroverts admire introverted tendencies. The old cliché “the grass is greener on the other side” rings true: we want what we don’t or we can’t have.
Terms like introversion and extraversion are simply descriptive categories; our personalities can still shift and change. Yet we’re likely to retain generally the same temperament traits throughout lives. So, what if we view introversion and extroversion not as weaknesses to overcome, but as gifts?
Introversion and extroversion may not be explicitly mentioned in the Bible, but God’s word contains hints at understanding the personalities God created us with. God designed human beings to live in community with others, even saying it was not good for Adam to be alone in Genesis 2:18. Yet, at the same time, Luke 5:16 records that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
We exist in a tension: isolation from other humans goes against God’s plan for us as relational human beings, yet Jesus Himself demonstrates that spending time alone is healthy and essential.
Holding these truths in both hands, I realized being either introverted or extroverted isn’t better or worse. Different personalities have different challenges—I have to push myself to go to social gatherings, while other people may have to push themselves to leave the gathering to contemplate or get work done.
These different personalities also offer unique gifts and opportunities to serve as part of the body of Christ: we all have an important role to play that no one else can fill.
Though I may not always feel comfortable having a conversation with no defined goal, I can send encouraging notes. I may not have the social stamina to spend six hours at a party, but I can spend a few minutes of meaningful time with a close friend. I may not have the enthusiasm to walk up to strangers and have long chats, but I can write an introspective article. We can make the most of the one-of-a-kind personalities and strengths God has entrusted us with.
As I learn how to steward my personality for God’s glory, I’m comforted that personality categories don’t define who I am. In Jesus, we are all one. “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female” (Galatians 3:28).
This verse doesn’t deny the reality of sex or ethnicity—Paul recognizes those distinctions elsewhere in his letters. But he does assert that those characteristics, while part of who we are, do not take the ultimate status in our lives.
Introvert or extrovert, our ultimate identities are not found in how we classify ourselves or what personality test results say. In Christ, our identities are as children of God.