To prepare for a new project at work I’ve tried to glean as much as possible from the current spiritual formation conversation. One of the books I’ve read recently–M. Robert Mulholland’s Invitation to Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation— reveals some very helpful tools in helping us discover not only who we are, but why we are.
According to Mulholland, there are four essential preferences that shape the way we relate to the world around us and process the “stuff” (my word) we receive from the world:
• Introvert (inner world of self and ideas)
• Extrovert (outer world of persons, events, and things)
Preferred means of receiving information
• Sensing (physical senses)
• Intuition (inner urgings of the spirit)
Preferred means of processing the “stuff” received through sensing or intuition
• Thinking (cognitive process of reasoning)
• Feeling (reliance on stirring of the heart)
Preferred relationship to the flow of life
• Judgment (closure, completion, control)
• Perception (open-ended and laid-back approach)
Regarding one’s preferred focus, the differences between the introvert (I) and the extrovert (E) are not particularly insightful. The extrovert is a people person who not only enjoys company, but is energized by it. The introvert prefers solitude to fellowship, reflection to action. Keeping in mind that this is a preferred focus, or “default”, I believe I am an introvert.
Regarding the preferred means of receiving information, Mulholland distinguishes the intuitive person (N) as a problem solver that first solves the problem, then wants to move on to the next. This person does not like repetition and grows impatient with details. The sensing person (S), on the other hand, receives information primarily through physical senses. The sensing person likes routine and details and finds comfort there. Initially I thought I’d fall categorically into sensing, but after reading Mulholland’s description I am closer to intuitive as a preference here.
The third pair of preferences, thinking and feeling, suggest the means for processing the data received through intuition and sensing. Thinking persons (T) do not show emotion easily and tend to be uncomfortable around those who do. They are very analytical and logical and tend to make decisions in an impersonal way. Feeling persons (F), however, are very sensitive to how others feel. They like harmony. They have a need to please others and sometimes let their decisions be influenced by others’ likes and dislikes. This one was tough for me, but give myself an “F”.
The final pair, judgment (J) and perception (P), refers to our preferred relationship to the flow of life and is an easy distinction: closer, completion, and order vs. open-ended as a preferred way for dealing with the flow of life. I concluded my own assessment as an INFP.
Basically, a person’s non-preferred methods for shaping the world and processing information become his or her “shadow side”. Because Mulholland believes that to be conformed more and more into the image of Christ, we must not be allowed to habitually default to our preferences. We must put ourselves in positions that force us to exercise this “shadow side” in order for God to form us more holistically. In other words, we need to “get uncomfortable.”
But more than just getting uncomfortable, these shadow sides point us to a set of personal spiritual disciplines. In addition to the classic disciplines, my shadow sides suggest to me those areas that need unique, personal attention in order for me to become more Christlike. In other words, it’s in those areas where I am least Christlike that God most wants to work with me. I need to be more inclusive and engaged. I need to be more prayerful about showing emotion and, maybe even more important, being comfortable around those that do (instead of trying to “solve” their emotions). If allowed to default to my preferences time after time, my spiritual formation will become more and more self-referenced and less and less holistic. For instance, because I tend to be more introverted, my natural spiritual path is reflective. Because of this, one of my “personal” spiritual disciplines would being more engaged with the world around me.