Thursday, February 18, 2016

Five Reasons Lent is Hard on INFJs

Earlier this month, my friend Tamara pointed me to Britt Echtenkamp's "What You Should Give Up for Lent, Based on Your Personality Type." It was a fun post, with a quick rundown of the various personality types, a la Myers-Briggs, and related suggestions for Lenten sacrifices.

Anyone who knows me knows I love this kind of stuff. I like taking personality tests, love Art and Laraine Bennett's book, The Temperament God Gave You, and enjoy puzzling out who's what, why we interact the way we do, and how to improve communication and understanding.

No matter which personality test I take (here's a relatively quick one), I always end up as an INFJ, or in temperament tests, Melancholic/Phlegmatic.

Here's a rundown on INFJs. No wonder I always feel weird -- we're 1% of the population.

The above-linked test calls an INFJ "The Advocate." Our life strategy (how we approach situations and achieve goals) is "constant improvement."

Constant improvement.

Maybe you can see where this is going.

INFJs are idealistic. If our approach to life is "constant improvement" it's not surprising we're busy all year. We're constantly analyzing our lives and figuring out what we can and should do differently. We can wear ourselves out with our probing, analyses, plans, and projects. Some years, by the time Lent rolls around, I'm just tired of working on myself. I've been doing it for months, and I'm ready for a break from my idealism.

Yes, Mother Church is a wise, holy, smart mother. She designates certain times of the year to help me with the ebb of flow of all things -- fasting and feasting, prayer, almsgiving, seasons of life. The liturgical year is a little bit of mad genius, the ideal structure for a human life, and I love it.

But INFJs, whose idealism can be a weakness rather than a strength, are occasionally out of sync with mom. When you've been tackling the idealism thing 24/7, chances are that Lent sometimes hits at a terrific time when you're on a roll ("Improving! Looking forward to doing more! Bring it on!"), but other years? You're so sick of yourself you want to scream.

That said, here are the Top Five Reasons Lent is Hard for INFJs:

5. You have lofty ideals about minimalist living. You've spent the last twelve months decluttering and simplifying your life. There's not enough stuff left in your tiny house to dispose of in steadily-moving-bags over forty days. But instead of being pleased by the progress you've made, you feel like a loser because you can't join in the wonderful, idealistic thing everyone else is doing.

4. INFJs tend to zero in on injustice and inequity in the world. Since you worry every day about how many people are starving around the globe, you've worked hard on eating more simply, on sharing with your family what you've learned about planet-friendly foods and methods of growing them. You've exhaustively researched where to buy certain foods,  and you often eat simple meals in solidarity with the poor around the world. But instead of feeling pleased by the progress you've made, you feel like a loser because you're still, by the standards of most of the world, a rich American, and therefore, some kind of fake.

3. This has nothing to do with being an INFJ, but you already do meatless Fridays all year. "Giving up" meat every Friday in Lent is not a challenge, it's a habit. But (here comes the INFJ part) instead of being thankful for the grace to make that small sacrifice year-round and offer it as a little prayer every week, you feel like a loser because "the Friday thing in Lent" is too easy. Therefore, you are a fake. You feel a desperate need to come up with several torturous things to do on Fridays in Lent. And on lots of other days in Lent, too.

2. You have so many faults. This, of course, is why you are in need of constant improvement, and why you're constantly conducting an assessment of your spiritual life. Lent, you tell yourself, is the perfect time to get even tougher on yourself. Therefore, for Lent, you should give up every single pleasure you've ever known so that you may emerge at the end of these forty days a saint. Right? Except you know that you're going to fall down, and you really don't want to give up coffee this year (because your family begged you to never do that again.) Obviously you are a slothful loser who is destined to spend gobs of time purgatory.

1. INFJs are sensitive and are highly concerned with how everyone else is feeling during Lent. You will be quick to tell others that they should pray about what's right for them this Lent, that the Lord will guide them in their fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, that what's right for one person this year isn't necessarily right for another. You will pat yourself on the back for giving such sound, sensitive, spiritually uplifting advice to your friends. Then you will wonder if it was the right advice. Was it too lenient? Too rigid? Have you damaged the soul of your best friend? Clearly, you are a loser who will never live up to her own hypocritical ideals.


Every personality type has strengths and weaknesses. This Lent, just acknowledge them. Stand up in front of God (and maybe more importantly, in front of yourself), and say, "I'm a ridiculous mess, Lord. Help me." And He will. Every year, whether I'm primed for more "constant improvement" or sick to death of trying so hard, I know He'll take the reins and teach me something. And it will usually culminate in posting something like this (from last year) on Facebook:
Feeling so incredibly happy and humbled and blessed this morning. Beautiful Easter Vigil last night and, as always, I cried during the baptisms, receptions, and confirmations, remembering where Atticus and I came from, and where we are now. When the priest (to those being received into the Church) spoke the words, "His loving kindness has led you here," I almost lost it. I could hear the voice of the priest who received Atticus into the Church, saying the same words 15 years ago.

His loving kindness has led me here.

I've only recently realized that when people ask me, "What prompted you to go on this quest for Truth that landed you in the Catholic Church?" I should simply say, "I'm an INFJ. I guess I never stood a chance."


Amy said...

INFP and I can relate to every one of these things. We don't do meatless Fridays year round, but with the food allergies I already cook egg/dairy/nut/peanut, etc, free every day. I joke to people that "my life is Lent." When Lent rolls around I just want to be nice to myself for once instead of having to sacrifice all the time.

Danae said...

This is so accurate that it is scary. Thanks for posting this!

Johnna said...

So true! I really needed to read this today!

Tamara said...

This really cracked me up and spoke Truth at the same time. Im an ENFJ so I want to analyze everything to death and then talk about it :) I love the reminder of how kindly the Father looks at us.

Tamara said...

This really cracked me up and spoke Truth at the same time. Im an ENFJ so I want to analyze everything to death and then talk about it :) I love the reminder of how kindly the Father looks at us.

Karen Edmisten said...

Love hearing from all you kindred spirits! :)

Alanna said...

Oh, this was a comfort! It resonated deeply with me - though I identify at times as an INFP and then, when being particularly analytical, think that I may actually be an INFJ. Which then leads me to consider the weaknesses of an INFP and think that perhaps those are more my own. And so on and so forth. ;) The key is to keep a sense of humor, I suppose, and to read Ogden Nash poems now and then. Or speak in a British accent. Or cling to the words "I am with you always, even unto the end of time...You are precious in My sight."

Karen Edmisten said...

Alanna, so glad to hear it! Yes to keeping a sense of humor, and reading Ogden Nash, and speaking in a British accent. :) And yes, yes, to clinging to "I am with you always...." Blessed Lent to you!