One of my friends and I were looking at a listing of the different “definitions of Hell” based on a person’s Myers-Briggs personality type. There were a few that seemed to fit well with me, but the one that stood out was for the INTJ personality. “Every time you open your mouth to say something intelligent, something entirely idiotic comes out instead.”
We agreed that the scenario would be pretty awful. Then I remembered when I had my four wisdom teeth removed. I was awake for the procedure, but my mouth was injected and numbed so that I couldn’t feel pain. Afterwards, my mom came in to see me. For some reason, it was incredibly important for me to convey to my mom that I was still perfectly logical, even with all of the pain meds.
“Mom, my mouth feels funny, but my brain is fine,” I told her with a numbed tongue and mouth. She laughed when she couldn’t understand me. So I said it again, sternly, my eyes telling her that this was serious and she needed to know that I was thinking clearly. She repeated what I had said and nodded at me, no longer laughing because I was genuinely upset that I wasn’t being taken seriously.
Recalling that story, I am led to wonder why it was so crucial for me that she knew I was still reasonable even though my mouth was drugged up. Answer? Pride. I didn’t want my mom to think I was silly (like my younger sister behaved when she was on “Mr. Nose”). It was important for her to know that despite my mouth moving awkwardly, I was the same rational, logical person inside.
Saturday night, I went and visited my grandmother. As I watched her struggle to remember some words and fight to prove that she was not confused or forgetful, I remembered me in the dentist chair, angrily insisting my mother recognize that I was fully aware of everything. The difference was that my grandma actually was confused. She spent the meal worrying and thinking about a situation that had happened a week ago. At that time, in the midst of not feeling well, she grew a bit confused. But she now feels like she has to work really hard to prove to us that she is not losing her mind or going crazy.
I wanted to tell her to not worry. I wanted to tell her to let it go and move on. She would not have listened to me, though. Instead, watching my grandma struggle to prove her independence, I thought of myself. Not in an egocentric way, but rather I saw that what my grandma is struggling with is something I struggle with in a different way. I place a great deal of value in people seeing me as logical and clear-minded. I like to employ a sharp wit, partially because I think I’m funny and partially because the quick retorts show that I am able to think on my feet and respond with zest.
The INTJ version of Hell sounds terrible to me. Talking to people but sounding like a fool? My pride would find that unbearable. And to be seen as less than capable? It would wound my identity that I am self-sufficient and independent. Both my grandma and I find it difficult to admit that we cannot do something. In some ways, I think I would have a response similar to that of my grandma. I would wrestle for minutes to find the perfect words. I would refuse to accept that I need help or that I have a weakness. I might feel compelled to convince others that I am rational and logical. Simply being on pain drugs made me feel like I needed to convince my mom that I was still thinking clearly.
Yet as I watched my grandmother struggle, I was thinking, But if I was in this situation, I hope I would invite Jesus into it. I envisioned myself being where she is and I hoped that I could tell my kids, “You know, I got pretty confused and I’m not sure what happened. But I can think clearly right now.” To simply admit that I don’t know could be a step forward in that circumstance. Perhaps that would be impossible if I was exactly where she is now, but I hope it could be something along those lines. I hope that I could surrender this fear of inadequacy and losing independence to the Lord and move forward.
Over the last decade or so, I have watched different grandparents age and eventually die. I hope that when I am at that stage in my life, that I can surrender control. The truth is we are never really in control (though we may think we are) but age seems to highlight that fact. As mind and body gradually or suddenly begin to lose their capabilities, I want to be able to give that over to Jesus. Bl. Chiara, as she would lose her hair due to cancer treatments, would hold up her locks and say, “For You, Jesus.” She was eighteen when she died, but her witness models great spiritual maturity. I desire this type of surrender. Whether it be mental confusion due to illness or being thought a fool by my students, may I be willing to surrender the cares of the world for the freedom found in Jesus.
Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. (1 Cor. 1:26-29)