When I was an Elementary Education major in college, I had the privilege of working on a research project under the direction of one of my professors. His hypothesis was that middle elementary students who had no diagnosed learning disabilities or physical impairments might still be missing some “pieces” in their learning process that would account for their low achievement despite their hard work. The skills were seemingly simple, like distinguishing background and foreground elements in a picture or being able to predict the next in a string of objects or numbers. We had a series of learning activities that we used with these kids to practice these very discrete skills to improve their overall learning profile. In doing these structured activities week after week, I learned a valuable lesson about the diversity of human beings.
These kids were all from the same neighborhood. They were all the same age, and they looked very similar. But the way they saw the world was entirely different. Some were incredibly literal; ask them to put a finger on a picture and they would carefully place one finger in the center. Others seemed to just skim over the surface; if I asked them to circle a recurrent element in a picture, they would do a few and then lose interest. Some could tell you an answer, but struggled to write; others could draw in detail, but had a hard time answering questions. And these were all kids within “normal limits”; whatever that means. They were just different from one another, and our job as educators was to figure out what skills they needed to succeed, not to make them all the same.
Our spiritual practice highlights our differences. Some people “think” about God, some people “envision” God, others “hear” God, others “experience” God. Later in this series, I have some suggestions for prayer styles based on these different personality types. But on an even more basic level, we need to listen to ourselves and know our own dynamics in order to choose spiritual practices that will work for us.
Our personalities are not deviations from some ethereal standard. Our differences are not defects to be corrected by someone else’s opinion. Our personal style is a guide to what will fill our souls and connect us to God. God made us this way. All of us, in our diversity and complexity are a part of the reflection of the Divine Will. When we get to know ourselves and believe that there is a way to God that fits for us, we unlock the beauty and power of our creation.
There may be skills we need to learn, experiences that we need to have, changes that we need to make. Those needs can be discerned out of who we are, and who God uniquely created us to be. Our growth is as the Beloved, the apple of God’s eye.