My Rediscovery of Prayer in Light of MBTI Temperment

This week’s Revisited is part 2 of 2, the first of which appeared here last week. Between writing the two reflections, as part of a spiritual formation workshop on prayer I participated in in 2004, we took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and discussed the implications of our scores. Of the Extorvert/Introvert pair, I am an Introvert; between Sensing and Intuition, I prefer Intuition; of Thinking and Feeling, I am Feeling; and between Judging and Perceiving, I tend slightly toward Judging.

Photo by Susan Fischbach Isaacs

What a difference two days has made in my evaluation of my own prayer life. I’m an INFJ on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and plugging that new understanding of myself into the area of prayer style preference really turned on some light bulbs, illuminating what are perhaps obvious facets of my personality that I had ignored in my search for the ideal prayer life. 

Rereading my pre-workshop thoughts, I realize that I concentrated on my lack rather than on recognizing completely that which was already legitimate prayer for me. I know now that as an Intuitive, in presenting my prayer life in such a way I was probably both looking for affirmation and challenging myself to grow. It is important to me to be perceived as prayerful and spiritual because that is the person I want to be; but because of my natural tendency to use creative imagination, it follows that I will most always be at least somewhat dissatisfied with my prayer life (however healthy others may perceive it to be), because there will always be a new avenue to explore. The term “divine discontent” came up in class and suits me well. Understanding this about myself allows me to make peace with it. I don’t need to beat myself up when my prayer life feels stale; it is a sign that I am ready to explore new forms of prayer. I can now embrace this divine discontent as the work of the Holy Spirit prodding me forward when my prayer life loses focus. 

So much of the Intuitive spirituality resonated with me. My mind does wander when I pray, and it is much easier for me to pray in generalities (for my sons to be able to see God in their lives, for example) than to pray for specifics (that they do well on an important exam, perhaps). Until now I have seen these traits as faults, chiding myself for not being sensitive to particular events, but now I see that this is just a natural expression of my concern for the larger context of life. As an Intuitive, the big picture seems much more important than the myriad combinations of details that can paint the same canvas. That is not to say that I don’t believe the little things in life are important, but rather that I tend to choose my battles and not worry over every detail. Understandably, I don’t find it necessary then to go to God with every detail in my life. 

The intimacy with God suggested by my Feeling spirituality expresses itself in my belief that God is with me everywhere, at all times, which also makes it seem less necessary to “call on” Him in prayer often. Since He remains with me, I don’t need to get his attention, as it were. A wordless thought reaches Him, speaks to Him of who I am, in a deeper way than I can consciously formulate.

I hadn’t realized until identifying the Feeling part of my temperament, that I often  pray with my heart but had discounted it since in those times I am not able to use words. These are often prayers for others whom I know to be in need; but I can’t presume to  know what God may have to offer them, so how can I limit Him by asking for specifics, and how can I put into words that which is beyond my comprehension? These prayers of the heart are prayers of faith in the omniscience of God, His wisdom and His love. 

My spiritual director has spoken of people who “pray the newspaper,” which at once appealed to me as a reader, and confounded me as to what form of prayer a person uses. It dawns on me at this writing, however, that I have been praying the newspaper for years – again not realizing it for its lack of formality and even of words. When I read stories of sadness that cause my heart to go out to people or positive stories where I feel pride for people I don’t even know, I believe that these are real times of prayer. My heart really does go out, through God, and can reach them in their awareness of Him. In a similar way even non-spiritual reading can feel like prayer for me when, even through fictional characters, I gain insights into my relationships or experience a depth of feeling new to me. These illuminations can be real illuminations of the Spirit. 

Judging was the least clear of my four preferences, showing as “slight” where Intuition and Feeling were each “very clear.” I also scored out of preference as “casual” rather than “systematic” in this category. The fact that I identified as Judging, however slight, points to my instinct toward more definite prayer forms when I’m feeling dissatisfied with my spiritual life. Having learned what comes naturally and easily also makes me aware to challenge myself in order to nurture my Judging spirituality with more detail and structure periodically, 

As in my previous discussion, I do find value in formal prayer, especially in a group setting where I’m feeding both the Feeling and Judging preferences. This is also true of my recent Lenten practice of praying the daily office, which both grounds me in structure and Tradition and allows me to feel a deeper connection to my grandma and others of the faithful who have gone before me. The “connectedness” I mentioned feeling as being “the most prayerful part of this kind of prayer experience” also makes perfect sense to me now, referring back to my tendency to focus on the big picture. The feeling of belonging to the Universal Church is of such importance to me that I cannot conceive of membership in a local church with no connection to Christianity outside of itself or in any church not Universal. The comfort of Tradition, then feeds the Judging spirituality, while the universality feeds the Feeling spirituality. 

My previous summary also comes into focus in the context of my MBTI. It is no wonder that I’ve tried so many styles of prayer and that I’ve felt a failure when I’ve inevitably become dissatisfied. What I understand now is that I do need to challenge myself with more traditional, structured prayer and to expect that I will become restless and ready for something new even when praying in a way that seems more natural. My restlessness does not then negate, as I thought it had, the authenticity of a prayer style that did work for me at least for a time. With new understanding I can now eagerly anticipate future opportunities for growth in my prayer life.