Thursday, October 29, 2015

Character and Personality--It's not about fitting in.

A few years ago I found out a good friend of mine wasn’t attending the Relief Society class (the class for women taught by women) at church. When I asked her why, she replied, “I feel uncomfortable.” Upon further prodding she opened up and said, “I don’t fit in. I’m not like them. I can’t be like them. That’s just not me.” 

I watched this amazing woman ostracize herself from a group of wonderful sisters because she held onto the notion that you must abandon any sense of individuality in order to fit in or fit ‘the mold.’ What a deflating and damaging misconception! 

In my years of service in the Church I’ve worked with women and young women of all ages who are all striving to be more like Jesus Christ. Some have it in their minds that going to church requires you to conform to a certain personality type, to embrace hobbies that don’t come naturally to you, and to ultimately sacrifice any sense of uniqueness, as if sharing the same faith means sharing the same personality. They think of conforming as the death of who they really are, and that it is simply not true.

Yes, God does want us to change, even conform, but I don’t believe He wants us to conform our personality to the style and likings of the people around us. He wants us “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Romans 8:29). That means that we are to become like Jesus Christ. In His own words, He said, “Therefore, I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect” (3 Nephi 12:48). We are to conform to perfection. But what does it look like? Does it include highlighted hair, a size 6 dress, a spotless house, and a love of canning seasonal fruit? Thankfully, no. Not that these things are bad, but if perfection rested upon them, I’d be in big trouble!

Perfection isn’t a personality issue, but one of our character. There is a subtle, yet very distinct difference between the two. Your personality is made up of your behavioral patterns habits, temperament, and emotions. You may have the personality of an extrovert, an optimist, a jokster, serious, lazy, hard-working, etc. Personality traits are easy to see because we are always showing them in all that we do.

Character goes deeper and is not always easy to see because it is often times revealed in specific circumstances. Your character is based on your beliefs and can include things like honesty, virtue, kindness, and selflessness. Have you ever had someone you thought was one way (based on their personality) who, when put into a difficult circumstance, reacted totally different? You may have heard someone say, “Well, that’s their true colors coming through.” Our character is our ‘true colors.’ It’s the stable, constant, undercurrent of beliefs and the condition of our heart that lie under the ripples of our personality.

When we are asked to conform to the image of the Son, I don’t believe we are meant to abandon all the good and fun stuff that makes us us! We don’t have to change our personalities to match everyone else in the room. What a tragedy that would be! No, I believe we are to look at the things that lie deeper in our hearts, embedded in our character, that might not be congruent with the character of the Savior—things like pride, greed, selfishness, and anger. Those are the things we are asked to change and can change through the miracle of repentance.

Does this mean you don’t have to change your personality at all? Not quite. Just as there are negative character traits, personality traits like being bossy, impatience, aggressiveness, critical, secretive, or rude are all pretty bad. These negative personality traits can be hurtful to others, and can and should be recognized and addressed. You might find, however, that the more you focus on conforming your character to be like the Savior’s, these negative personality traits naturally will begin to disappear.

We don't have to become like everyone else, we simply need to become our‘best’ self. That happens as our character is refined through repentance and our personality is polished; the harmful stuff is washed away and all the wonderful stuff is left.

Paul of the New Testament is one of the most powerful examples of personality and character. Before Paul was converted, his name was Saul. Saul had a strong personality. He was dedicated, tenacious, and brave. There was one major problem: Saul hated Christians. He hunted them down, putting as many into prison as he could. On his way to Damascus to persecute more believers, a light encircled him and he fell to the ground. The resurrected Christ appeared to Saul and told him to go into the city.

In the meantime, the Lord appeared to man named Ananias in a vision and told him to find Saul. Saul’s reputation had preceded him, and caused Ananias concern, and perhaps even fear. The Lord answered, “Go thy way, for he is a chosen vessel unto me” (Acts 9:15).

How could Saul be a chosen vessel when he was persecuting the Lord’s own followers? The Lord knew who Saul was and what he would do when his beliefs and character conformed to the Savior’s. He was baptized by Ananias, and immediately set out to learn all he could about the gospel (part of that tenacious personality.) He changed his name to Paul as embarked on a life-long mission to right his wrongs preach the gospel to anyone who would listen. He was nearly stoned to death, shipwrecked, bitten by a snake, and imprisoned, and in all of it he praised God and gloried in his tribulation. That was his personality!

That is amazing and so very comforting to me that Heavenly Father sees who we are and what we can do. It reminds me of what I tell my kids, “Use your powers for good.” It is often half-jokingly, but always true!

It's not about fitting in. You belong. You have a place.You are wanted. You are needed. So, build your character and embrace your personality.Conform yourself to the character of Jesus Christ and be YOU!

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