Midway, Ministry, The Inner Landscape


I went to a Myers-Briggs workshop for pastors today. It's not my first go-round with Myers-Briggs. I remember being so fascinated with the type indicator when I first learned about it that I could not resist "typing" everyone I met. My karma ran into my dogma when my daughter became equally fascinated a couple of years ago and started to do the same thing. I remember trying to figure out my parents' types, getting them to take the MBTI short form, talking to them about it. 

"Daddy," I said, "just because you scored as Thinking doesn't mean you don't have feelings, too."

"Well, Mawtha," he answered in his slow drawl, "maybe I don't!" 


My mother came out right on the line for 3 out of 4 categories; it would have taken a more subtle version of the instrument to capture her, perhaps. And at the age she took it, I suppose she had done some of the lifework that brought her closer to the middle, naturally. My attempts to comprehend her did not end with her death, but there was one breakthrough moment that came for me the last time I did one of these workshops, an insight into how our relationship influenced my approach to the world, at least in her lifetime.

I've done some official version of the MBTI four times: twice in 1992 (for a church couple's group event and for a church governing board retreat, different facilitators so I did it twice within a few months); for a pastor's retreat about five years ago, and for today's workshop. There were differences between the first two scores, and I attribute those to the loss of a baby in between. I was grieving, and felt significantly less extraverted than usual. But even then, my letters were the same as the previous time, ENFJ. 

It became a complaint from a certain person in my life (you know who you are–if you're reading…), that I was "just so J."

So it came as a surprise to take the test some years later, 13 or 14, and get a different set of letters, and to have them be ENFP.


I remember sitting in the living room at Rockcraft Lodge, surrounded by people I knew pretty well, wondering if I knew myself! I read the materials on ENFP, including that famous prayer interrupted by, "Look, a bird!" 

They have a lot in common, those two ENF types. It's no wonder I felt okay about the other type description. But I've come to believe that in the dozen years between tests, the first two being followed closely by my mother's death, I came out from under her influence. 

I realized that as a child, my people-pleasing little ENF self had bent toward J because it seemed like the simplest way to fit into her world. 

I couldn't be I. 

I couldn't be S. 

Maybe I could be J. Maybe I could strive to be more orderly, to organize my brain like the one that penciled beautiful lists on paper lined and unlined. 

I guess I gave it a good try. But in the years after her death and my divorce, I loosened my grip and found it felt right, and all those years later, a test validated the emergence of what was there all along.



I don't know why I'm a person who tries so hard to adapt to the people around her. I suspect it's a combination of my nature and the way my mother raised me, and I don't want to lose that quality entirely. But at 49, I wouldn't mind a life that fits like a hand-knit sock instead of the high heels borrowed from my mother's closet.

17 thoughts on “Perceiving”

  1. I love this entry, and I love that you are ever more at peace with yourself. Kudos, Ms. P. Kudos.
    That said, having worked with you at staff meetings, I would have thought you were an ENFJ, haha. 😀

  2. I took the MBTI the first time when I was in couples counseling way back in the early 80s and I was INFJ– pretty much off the scale on I and N and most moderate on J/P bit still definitely J. I’ve taken the “offical” test several times since then as well as a host of “informal” ones. And lo and behold I just keep getting more ‘P’ all the time to the point that the last time I did it, I had NO J points at all. I think that I was holding so tightly to control, facing the likely prospect of becoming a single mom of three as well as a poor unemployed full time student that ther was NO way my P side could have manifested itself except pehaps in my perpetually messy desk! None of my other scales have moved. Even though I am much more sociable than I used to be, I’m still an off the scale I.

  3. I’ve taken a formal Myers-Briggs test three times. The first two times I was a INFJ, the last an INFP. Maybe I’m mellowing with age. Maybe I’m learning a new way to do things. I’m not sure, but your last line seems to sum it up quite well.

  4. I love the last line of this!
    I always come out ENFP. And I’m an extreme in every category.

  5. The difference between P and J is actually what you prefer–the perceiving processes (N and S) or the Judging processes (T and F). Being a J means that you prefer making decisions over the process of gathering the data. It also means that your Feeling attribute (your judger) is the most dominant characteristic, which I would say is true. (i.e. when all else fails you bend to the feeling which is also called the mercy trait.) I would still suspect you are an ENFJ who has learned the test well enough to skew it to P. A lot of people hate being cast as a J because of the connotation of the name, but it really just means which process you prefer….taking in the data or acting.
    (As an extrovert, it means that the world also SEES your predominant trait–introverts are known for their second most dominant trait, because they keep their dominant semi-hidden. Extroverts give the world their best and keep second best for themselves. This is one reason an INFJ and ENFJ can look so similar to others, particularly if the I in question is more outgoing.
    If you really are an ENFP, then your dominant would be intuition and your second dominant would be feeling, which would mean the world would see the hunches and theories side of you first and you would only let others see the mercy side if you really knew them.

  6. I loved your last line too. Great post!
    I tend to come out very, very close to the middle whenever I take the MBTI. I suspect it reflects the fact that I tend to absorb the energy of the situations in which I find myself, and tend to switch into an opposite mode to recharge and rebalance myself afterward. If I’m working alone on an intellectual task for a long stretch of time, for example, I’ll seek out some intensely social stuff afterward. If I’m doing committee work for a few nights in a row, I try to hunker down with a book or do something else introspective. I can’t decide if this means I’m integrated or just skittering back and forth between extremes, but it seems to work, mostly!

  7. It’s an interesting test and I wish I knew a way to take it without manipulating it. These days I come out IXFJ. The I and the J are extreme (and my partner is an extreme P which keeps life interesting). I don’t know if I am a stronger S or N and reading the descriptions doesn’t really help–I can fit myself into either of them.
    The thing your post brought to mind, though, is the way my father (the parent I struggle with) influenced me. When I was younger, I tried so hard to be like him that I buried my natural F responses and absolutely came out a T every time. It was freeing one day (after a couple of years of finding my own way) to realize that I had never made a decision based on logic/thinking in my life. I’m a good thinker; I can understand the logical thing (sometimes), but that’s not what guides my choices. So I’m a feeler and I’m proud of it.

  8. Loved your summarizing line. Chuckled at at sko3’s comment. I too have repeatedly tested as an INFJ and would probably pen a similar sort of response if I were “in to” the M-B types.

  9. I didn’t mean to be funny, Valerie, so I’m not sure what made you chuckle. I’m not “into” the MBTI. I’m certified for it, as part of my career counselor job.

  10. I didn’t think it was funny, sko3. I took you very seriously, although I have to say I’m a little taken aback that you would suggest I skewed the test, either consciously or unconsciously. In fact, I’m not sure which of those bothers me more.

  11. I’m happy that you are comfy as YOU…because you are a you of whom I’m very fond.
    And if that’s a thoroughly ENFP response, this could be because there has never been any question about my MBTI category. The moment I read the prayer, I knew that was me…all scores, over 18 years, have confirmed this.

  12. Could someone please translate the letters for someone unfamiliar with them?
    I’ve guessed that I = Introvert and E = extrovert, but beyond that I’m confused. Fascinated, but confused.

  13. (o)
    My P has gradually migrated over to J as I’ve gotten older. I don’t know whether that means I spend more time waiting and watching than I used to.

  14. It’s great fun to see your MBTI journey, Songbird, as well as those of the other commenters – I am guessing most of you are a bit older then me (because how many other 25 year old’s read minister’s blogs in their spare time?), and so have had a bit more time for your changes to make sense.
    I have taken the formal test twice, and multiple informal ones, and I come out something different every time for the bookends – ENFP, INFP, ENFJ, INFJ… I can’t figure out the difference for me between the J and the P (though you’ve got me wondering if it has something to do with the influence of a super J in my life…) but I recently stumbled across the term Ambivert, which so creepily described me that it was like reading the description of a Capricorn all over again!

  15. I do appreciate poor LaReina’s confusion about all this comfy chat about four or five seemingly meaningless letters. It made me recall an incident years ago when my immdediate supervisor, who was thoroughly conversant with MBTI, interrupted herself in the midst of a presentation to a group of auditor/accountants (typical ISTJs), then excused herself by offering “I’m sorry, it’s just my pesky P-ness”
    You want “confusion” — there it was in abundance 🙂

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