Gathering Ambrosia

Richard Hobson gives me permission to write this sort of thing:

A few weeks ago, my mother sent me a personality test. A real one – not one of those quizilla things. It turns out that I am an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: An introverted, intuitive, feeling, judging type (In this case, “judging” refers to the act of making a decision, or defining something, rather than the act of condeming). We are rare birds, quite literally – INFJs are approximately 1-2% of the human population. If you have 100 friends, and I am one of them, then you might have one other friend who has a similar personality to mine, and if you know who that other person is, I really wish you’d introduce them to me because it’s getting a little bit weird over here being the only one.

The Personality Page has a list of potential career options for INFJs, starting with clergy, then teaching. Next, if you skip over the medical options which are nulled by my aversion to cutting and poking people, there comes psychology, psychiatry, and counseling, which are options I had actually at one time considered. So it seems I have been unwittingly working my way down the list.

I will pause to note that the teaching that is appropriate for someone with my kind of personality is clearly not the sort of teaching that I was attempting to do: that is, teaching children of an age to which I have never been able to relate. according to a subject matter with which I was not fully conversant. The “judging” part of my personality kicked into high gear, causing me to feel unqualified to present the day’s material until I had fully delved preteen psychology and had gained a total mastery of not merely Latin, but also a crystalline integrated overview of Biblical theology.

In short, I did what I always do in matters academic: I had to go the hard way and work things out from the ground up. You should have seen the paper my wife didn’t let me write for an apologetics class, wherein I decided to take pluralism head-on. (Ever take a gander at D. A. Carson’s 600 page tome The Gagging of God – the one where he introduces every with the phrase “There is not space here to discuss…”? That was my starting point. Or the time in undergrad that I attempted to write a paper on minimum wage laws by studying the concept of positive and negative freedom, beginning with the political philosophy of Isaiah Berlin?)

Then, having totally maxed my capacity for intelligent thought, the introverted part of my personality kicked in, attempting to repair systems by withdrawing totally from all human interaction, both in the classroom and at home. This of course left the intuitive and feeling parts of my personality (which, I am sure, are the only reasons my wife has to love me at all) dead in the water. There was no sensible interaction, let alone poetry, singing, prayer, or family vision.

Curiously, I’ve gone through these sorts of crises before (see the above book prototypes disguised as college papers; add a few qualifying life events). I believe I am right in saying that this last, in terms of the intensity of the circumstances and their duration, was by far the biggest hump I’ve ever had. But that’s difficult to ascertain because I think it may also be the one I’ve handled the best. It was tough, but by no means did it cause a nervous breakdown or a bout with depression.

Now, I know that part of the reason I dealt with things as well as I did was the wife. Never underestimate the positive effect of marriage to a good woman on a man under pressure. But I’d like to think that at least part of my success is due to the fact that I’m actually getting better at this. It’s starting to look like there will come a day when I can hit these steep hills and climb over them without even grinding gears.

Of course, you would think that there would be a simple solution: don’t do that. Don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t go tilting at whole realms of intellectual inquiry as if you were Don Quixote after a windmill. Don’t commit yourself to things that can’t be done. Or, having committed yourself to something reasonable, don’t go about it in an unreasonable manner. And the short answer to that simple solution is that I don’t know if “don’t” is possible.

I don’t want to say that this sort of thing is addicting. I don’t think that’s the word. On the other hand, it’s not as though I could stop at any time. The inner part of me – the part that authorizes me to keep on breathing, and is outwardly expressed in poetry, music, truly prayerful prayer, and the casting of a culture for my family – it feeds on the ambrosia of true Perception, of the Theos and of His cosmos. And this ambrosia must be harvested sometimes at great costs, for it is the nectar of a blue flower that grows sometimes at the tops of craggy peaks, sometimes along narrow ledges, and at times along the walls of deep shafts into the earth. I cannot not pursue it, for my heart would crumble in despair.

But the problem with people like me, who want life to be meaningful and have complicated definitions of what it means to be meaningful, is that we also tend to want everything to be integrated. Compartmentalizing our lives is obnoxious to us; we don’t like the idea of separating pastime from profession. So what actually happens is that I try to convert whatever task I have at hand into an expedition for ambrosia. (There is another word for this, I believe, which uses the metaphor of wool instead of nectar.) This is a problem, because “these things take time and time is rare on trips like this.” Whatever task I’m given is going to come with a deadline, and whatever that deadline is, it won’t be enough for me to dig as deep as I want.

Part of my solution, I’m sure, is proper pacing, but I think ultimately what I’m looking for is a career in gathering ambrosia.

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