“Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength’” (Mark 12:30 NKJV).
When Robin and I were first married there was a difference in our bathroom and bedroom behaviors that immediately caused some consternation. One, was the way she squeezed toothpaste. In every area, my wife is the most clean and organized person. Yet, when it comes to toothpaste she just squeezes it by whatever part of the tube she grabs first (usually the middle). After applying the paste to her toothbrush she lets part of it drip from the tube while screwing the lid back on half-way, leaving residue running down the side. When Robin uses the toothpaste, she leaves behind a tortured and twisted sight.
I, on the other hand, am a tidy tube user. I roll it up from the bottom, making sure not to waste, and carefully replace the cap on the opening after making sure all the paste is on my toothbrush. My tube is left in a nearly pristine and ready-to-use again fashion.
These different approaches to toothpaste tubes may seem trivial, and if it had been up to my easy going wife, they would have been. But there is something about my personality that made this morning ritual in the bathroom a daily problem for me. And because I am me, it became a problem for both of us.
“Why can’t you squeeze the tube from the bottom?” I would grump, when discovering what she’d done to the tube again.
“What does it matter?” She’d mutter, with a frustrated look. “Here, let me fix it.” She’d add, trying to appease.
“No, never mind. I’ll do it. Besides, you’ll just get up in the morning and mess it up again.” I’d say, with a look of aggravation.
These were not pleasant conversations to begin the day.
Then there was the problem with the unmade bed. The first couple of years of our marriage, Robin made the bed every day without complaint. At least she didn’t vocalize any complaint that I noticed.. until a certain Saturday morning.
On this particular day I was in the den wrestling with the kids and watching cartoons. I was being what I thought was a good father, keeping them out from under mom’s feet. That’s when I started hearing the slamming of the kitchen cabinets and banging of pots and clatter of dishes.
Finally, I went to the kitchen and asked, “What’s going on in here? It sounds like a construction site.”
“Nothing.” She huffed, without making eye contact.
“Well, it certainly sounds like something.” I answered. “Are you mad at me about something?” I added, completely oblivious to any wrong doing.
After a long period of asking and her denying, she finally looked at me with tears welling up in her eyes, and said, “You know what’s wrong. You don’t care about me. You never make the bed. I make it day after to day. And even on Saturdays, when you are off work and get to sleep late, you still just get up and go play with the kids, leaving me to make the bed. I feel like your slave.”
I was dumbfounded. At first, I thought to argue with her over the “you never make the bed” statement, thinking of a time when I, in fact, did make it. Fortunately, I thought better of it that day and apologized.
Robin’s personality tends to cause her to avoid conflict. She doesn’t like to complain or rock the boat. With my personality I tend to confront problems caring more about the facts than people’s feelings. In most ways, our personalities are opposites. And as we all know, opposites attract. But they also rub together and sometimes cause sparks to fly!
I’ve learned that it’s important to know and take into account our personality differences. Our tendency is to let the sin of selfishness cause us to judge others or to have expectations of others based on our own personality preferences.
There are a lot of psychological theories about personality. From Hippocrates and his four “humors” (sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, melancholy) to the Carl Jung based Myers-Briggs approach that has 16 types (E/I, N/S, T/F, J/P) to Gary Smalley’s four animal types (lion, beaver, otter, golden retriever), there is much human study and observation about personality. It’s not an exact science and its methods and conclusions are often questionable, but much of it can be helpful when viewed through a biblical lens.
I believe that God created us in His own image. He is personal, therefore we have personality. But because of man’s sin the image of God in us is fallen and our personalities are marred. This means that our personalities are like an impure mixture of good and bad traits. Unlike some psychological theorists, I don’t believe that our personalities are fixed and unchangeable. Neither do I believe that we should view our personality preferences as an excuse for selfish and immoral behavior. I believe that God wants to redeem our personalities. He wants us to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior and to be conformed to His Image, restoring us to oneness with Him.
God is One, yet in His oneness, He is three distinct persons. This is the doctrine of the Trinity. The Father, Son and the Spirit are three persons, yet they live in perfect harmony and oneness. This is a mystery, yet it is the mystery to which Christ invites us. Regardless of whether your personality is more about the heart or the mind, the soul or strength, Jesus says to love God with it all. He invites us to bring our fragmented personalities and find wholeness and unity in Him. And out of that reconciliation to Him, we are also to be reconciled to one another, loving our neighbor as ourselves.
After nearly 35 years of marriage, Robin and I have learned much about how to love one another better in spite of our different personalities. Our oneness in Christ has resulted in oneness in our marriage.
So, today I make the bed nearly every day. Robin keeps two tubes of toothpaste, one for her and one for me. And we are at one. That’s what happens when love overrules personality.