God made each of us to be unique, writes Gary Clayton, and this is one reason why we should recognise, acknowledge and celebrate our differences
It’s ironic, I think, that one of the things we all have in common is the fact that we’re all different.
Of the billions of humans currently walking the earth, each leaves a completely different footprint, has a totally different fingerprint, and makes an entirely different imprint on the world. No one person is like another, which – in some cases – is probably just as well!
It takes all sorts to make – or break – a world. So, if we’re to get on well with those around us, it’s important we’re aware of just how different we can be.
Some are pessimists. Some optimists. People who see things in terms of their glass being half full, or half empty. (Or, if you’re like me, the cracked glass is half empty, and what’s in it probably wasn’t worth drinking anyway!)
“It’ll never happen to me!” say some. “Just my luck!” say others.
Some see things starkly in terms of either wrong or right, with no room for grey areas, nuance, ambiguity or debate. Others see things from every possible angle, and are only too happy to make allowances, withhold judgment, and give people the benefit of the doubt.
Churches can also be like that…
…and then there are the introverts and extroverts.
Extroverts get their energy from being with people. Meetings, events and social activities charge their batteries, feed their furnace and fire them up.
If you’re an introvert, however, too much human interaction will probably fry your brain! The way introverts recharge their batteries is by taking time to think, decompress, and work things out on their own. Too much personal contact can wind them up, wear them out or drag them down.
This explains why attending house groups or church may be harder for some than it is for others. For introverts recovering from a hectic schedule, experiencing stress or coping with bad news, seeing lots of people requires more effort and may even be uncomfortable.
Extroverts, forced to view church services online because of age, injury or ill health, will miss out on fellowship far more.
So, if we’re to love our neighbour as ourselves, we should grant introverts the space they need when they need it and ensure that extroverts receive the human contact they require
Some people are sympathetic, empathetic, highly intuitive and emotionally intelligent. They are people who readily sense the mood, concerns, needs and feelings of others – and respond correctly. Others are not.
On one occasion, my wife suddenly told friends:
Oh, I had no idea it was so late! We better get going!
Later, in the car, I asked: “Why did you do that? We were having a wonderful time!
“But they were yawning!” she chuckled. “Your friend could hardly keep his eyes open, and his wife nearly nodded off! They couldn’t wait for us to leave so they could get some sleep…”
But I never noticed!
So let’s respond appropriately to the needs of those around us – valuing others above ourselves and not looking to our own interests or needs but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4).
And, while some are ‘thinkers’ who generally set emotion aside and concentrate on the facts, others are ‘feelers’ — people with a tendency to think with the heart more than the head, and who react more emotionally to things.
I remember an old boss (fortunately not from my current employer, MAF) who coloured everything I wrote with voluminous amounts of red ink and never said anything about the bits she liked.
Rather than realising how demoralising this was, she thought she was doing me a service by helpfully highlighting my ‘errors’.
As my Hungarian friend, Akos, once commented: “You showed her your soul, and she just crushed it!”
At the end of the film Toy Story 3, there’s a scene where the now grown-up Andy gives his toys to little Bonnie, who then plays with them as the young Andy once did.
Now, although it’s arguably an emotionally charged scene, I was genuinely shocked to hear a gut-wrenching sob coming from the cinema audience – particularly when I realised it was coming from me…
Am I a ‘thinker’ or a ‘feeler’, I wonder?
Our model, of course, should be Jesus – the One of whom Isaiah 42:3 says: ‘A bruised reed He will not break, and a smouldering wick He will not snuff out.’
If Jesus is our Brother, then, however different we are, there should of course be a family resemblance.
Appreciating the differences, working through them, and making allowances should hopefully draw us all closer together.
Gary Clayton is married to Julie; the father of Christopher (19) and Emma (16); and works for Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF). To learn how MAF aircraft help bring the love of God to Africa and the Asia-Pacific region, visit www.maf-uk.org