I’m not a stranger to loneliness. I understand the pain of being uninvited, yet those are feelings that most who know me would never guess I carried. They’d be shocked because they’ve made assumptions based on my extroverted personality type.
I’ve always been the girl who strikes up conversations with strangers in the grocery store, even as a young child. So when I started kindergarten, I was thrilled to meet new friends and hear their stories. Then my first progress report came home. A check mark indicated ‘lack of self-control’ with the teacher’s comment: “Jenny (my childhood nickname) needs to stop chatting with her neighbors.” And so, second-guessing who I was began. An endless cycle of wishing away how the Lord made me.
By the time I could actually pen New Year’s resolutions, my January list contained some form of “You’ll be more popular if you’d be like the quiet girls. Stop talking so much. Just don’t talk.”
As my identity took shape, my tender heart held on to my “lack of self-control” and failed to embrace the other remarks. The ones where the teachers observed, “Jenny is a friend to everyone. She always has a smile.” Those words didn’t matter. I saw myself as a talker and I didn’t like it.
Early on I identified this “character flaw” and was determined to stifle how God creatively fashioned me in a pursuit to be more introverted. I’d pray for wisdom before group interactions, but it always resembled something like, “Lord, let me not talk. Let me sit and be quiet.”
A few years ago I found my junior high diary buried deep in our attic. Time stood still as I leafed to a page that read, “I have totally changed my image. Now I am not Big Mouth Jenny, but much better.”
Much better? In comparison to what? I instantly felt transported back to my childhood bedroom. Crazy how our deep-rooted wounds can rear their heads at the most unlikely times.
But now I was ready to fight back. Don’t we all need to speak truth to our younger selves?
This is what I said to little Jenny and what I’d say to younger you, too:
Precious daughter of the most High God, when He created you in His image, He destined you to use your words for His glory. He cares about your heart and made no mistakes when He formed you. He certainly does not want you to spend emotional energy concerned with changing how He gifted and wired you.
This January’s lists and dreams have me praying through and resting in Psalm 139. Now I see through the seasoned lens of a fifty-something woman, and I write: “Lord, You search me and know every hidden crevice of my heart and personality. You uniquely created me and understand me more than anyone. Before my journey even began, You went into my future to prepare a way for my past. It’s such a breathtaking reminder that not one single detail of my life fails to pass through Your hands first.”
Yet, can I be honest, sisters? Even as God has grown me in embracing exactly how He crafted me, even as I intentionally praise God for His mindfulness of me . . . it’s still tempting to sometimes believe that I would be better off being a different version of me.
I went out to dinner recently with some new friends who are knowledgeably trained in analyzing enneagram personality types. I found our conversation fascinating until a question got posed to the group, “What’s the personality type you have the most trouble with?” I became paralyzed when nearly everyone declared, “Sevens!” — the Enthusiast.
Can you guess? That’s my fun-loving, spontaneous, hospitality, people-person type who can sometimes have way too many distracted balls in the air. Sigh.
I awkwardly admitted to being an extroverted “7″, and they quickly reassured me, “Oh don’t worry, you’re different.” Yet for a moment, I slipped into my childhood shadows where I’d be less conspicuous.
I think of the saying, “The grass is always greener on the other side.” Extroverts wish they had more introverted tendencies, and introverts wished they were more extroverted. We shove ourselves into a box that doesn’t fit us, attempting to dress it up with a perfect bow so no one knows. We wrestle — a push and pull tension between accepting who God made us to be, and imparting grace to ourselves as we work on our flaws.
How we treat ourselves in the midst of our wrestling matters. Instead of telling myself, “Just be quiet like the other girls,” I remind myself, “Jen, listen more than you speak. When you do speak, speak with love and discernment. Speak boldly with passion and always anoint others with words of blessing and encouragement.”
I’ve witnessed decades of the Lord’s faithfulness as He continues to allow me to use my gift of words to reach the kingdom. When I struggle with junior high feelings, I remember that I am made in His image and living fully as God created me to be is worship lived out.
Just yesterday I received an email that said, “Jen, thank you for seeking me out today after you spoke. Your story resonates so much and you made me feel less alone.”
What a gift. He redeems it all. My wordiness, my loneliness, my self-control check marks are all for His glory.
Have you held onto childhood labels or personality traits that you’ve wished away for far too long? I’d be honored to kick them to the curb together in the comments.