For more than 50 years I listened to people telling me about problems, usually in their marriage and family circumstances. One of the most revealing tools I used was a series of personality tests. When my patients saw the results of one of those instruments, they very often learned some of the factors about their situations. Seeing the descriptions of attitudes and behavior was often an eye opener.
When we face difficulty in our lives – such as the pandemic through which we are living — the dominant characteristics in our personalities rise to the forefront. If you examine your behavior closely, you will discover some of what is revealed.
For instance, the creative or imaginative person looks at the issues he is facing; and almost immediately begins to explore what he can do to tackle the problems or change the circumstances. It is a personal challenge! What can I do to take control of this problem? Often the optimism of a person like this will encourage others to cooperate in seeking a solution.
Another personality type is more of a guardian. His first question is, how can I keep myself and my loved ones safe in the midst of this threat? Especially if this person is a parent, he focuses on his children and their immediate needs. In our present circumstances, he may have older parents and feel the need to plan for and protect them.
One cannot survey the circumstances we face without recognizing the caregiver personality. Much of our focus these days is on the professionals – doctors and nurses and medical attendants who assist them in saving lives and treating the seriously ill. Other professions like sheriffs, police officers, first responders and caring office staff should be included. Demanding times draw out the best in some of us so that we reach out to those in need around us. Many of our friends and neighbors will seek out those who may need assistance or comfort too. The first thought from the caregiver is how can I help? Or perhaps, what role can I play in facing this crisis?
There are other personality types for which we are grateful. The investigator, perhaps the scientist, will observe and study the circumstances, hoping to uncover a cause or a solution to one part of the problem faced.
Other descriptions of personality types will become obvious as we survey the landscape of need and response. This article is not meant to be exhaustive. My purpose is to ask you to think about what you can learn about yourself and how you can apply that to coping with the pandemic we face together. I believe that our response to these times will contribute to our recovery.
I heard a man say: “Well, I guess if we can’t do anything else, at least we can pray!” I think he got the order wrong in his description. Prayer is not the last resort of our weapons against anxiety, confusion, discouragement, and disease. Prayer connects us with the lasting hope that our God will not leave us to suffer alone. In fact, one of the most encouraging words Jesus spoke to his disciples before his ascension into heaven after the resurrection were these: “Lo, I am with you, even to the end of the age.”
I believe we have two responses we can make to today’s mighty and mysterious health and economic war. One is to be escapists. Like an ostrich we can hide our faces in the distractions and preoccupations of our daily living. “Sheltering in place” makes that a little easier!
But a second response is to energize us! When we focus on others and, as Jesus did, reach out to the hurting, the discouraged and the hopeless, that energy flows through us to help them. In almost a miraculous way that energy boosts us too!
It comes down to a matter of perspective. A poet wrote: “Two men looked through prison bars. The one saw mud; the other stars.” May God help us to see the stars rather than the mud in these difficult days! In the process we may find that encouraging others, our own scars become stars.