My wife started to read a book called The Temperament God Gave You by Art Bennett. I think all of us have gone through some phase where we did some online tests to determine what our temperament is. Some of you are probably familiar with Myers Briggs, some perhaps know the four classic temperaments (choleric, melancholic, sanguine and phlegmatic) and are familiar with that terminology. I recently did another test from Gallup that I did for my work that looked at your top 5 strengths. The tests are endless.  Lots and lots of tests on trying to define who we are and perhaps how God made us. Even though at times these tests can prove to be simple and perhaps just slightly accurate I think there is great value in taking the time to know ourselves more so we can see some of our natural strengths and weaknesses that we will have to contend with during our spiritual journey here on earth.

Before we dive into temperaments, I want to talk about the benefit of knowing oneself in a relationship. One of the few useful tools I learned from going to marriage prep with my wife is on how we express our love (called loved language) and our different argument styles. In our relationship I deal with conflict as a hawk which means I want to solve the problem ASAP and I feel love through physical means. In contrast my wife deals with conflict as a ostrich which means she buries her head in the sand and really needs to brew on the issue at hand before beginning to solve it. Her love language is spending quality time together doing something she enjoys such as watching her favorite TV show or playing a board game. It may seem like a small matter but knowing that we are different has made marriage life a lot easier because we understand how we naturally are inclined to resolve arguments and how we express and feel love. Now this is just one small example of the great benefit of knowing oneself in marriage life but lets get back to the four classic temperaments and how they can not only benefit you in your temporal affairs but more importantly in your spiritual journey.

Here is a very brief definition of each of the four temperaments from Wikipedia. There are plenty of other sources online and in books:

1. The Choleric

People with this temperament tend to be egocentric and extroverted. They may be excitable, impulsive, and restless, with reserves of aggression, energy, and/or passion, and try to instill that in others.

They tend to be task-oriented people and are focused on getting a job done efficiently; their motto is usually “do it now.” They can be ambitious, strong-willed and like to be in charge. They can show leadership, are good at planning, and are often practical and solution-oriented. They appreciate receiving respect and esteem for their work.[Wikipedia]

2. The Melancholic

It has been said that the Melancholy personality is the “richest of all temperaments, but at the largest cost.” History would probably reveal this to be true. Melancholy personalities are people who have a deep love for others, while usually holding themselves in contempt. They tend to be deep-thinkers and feelers who often see the negative attributes of life, rather than the good and positive things.  

Melancholics are often very gifted people in area’s of art, literature, music, healthcare, ministry and so forth.  They long to make a significant and lasting difference in their world.  Sadly, many melancholics are also victims of deep bouts of depression that come from great dissatisfaction, disappointment, hurtful words or events.  In short, melancholics take life very seriously…too much so sometimes, and it often leaves them feeling blue, helpless or even hopeless.

Melancholics usually have a high degree of perfectionistic tendencies…especially in regards to their own lives or performance.  They are very “introspective” and hold themselves to a very high standard…one that can rarely be achieved. [Reydon Stanford Counseling Studies]

3. The Sanguine

The sanguine temperament is traditionally associated with air. People with this temperament tend to be lively, sociable, carefree, talkative, and pleasure-seeking. They may be warm-hearted and optimistic. They can make new friends easily, be imaginative and artistic, and often have many ideas. They can be flighty and changeable; thus sanguine personalities may struggle with following tasks all the way through and be chronically late or forgetful. [Wikipedia]

4. The Phlegmatic

People with this temperament may be inward and private, thoughtful, reasonable, calm, patient, caring, and tolerant. They tend to have a rich inner life, seek a quiet, peaceful atmosphere, and be content with themselves. They tend to be steadfast, consistent in their habits, and thus steady and faithful friends.

People of this temperament may appear somewhat ponderous or clumsy. Their speech tends to be slow or appear hesitant. [Wikipedia]

They barely express emotion at all. While the sanguine might whoop and cheer and jump for joy at the slightest provocation, phlegmatics are unlikely to express more than a smile or a frown. Their emotions happen mainly internally. [Temperaments.FigHunter.com]

Any of the above four resonate with you? I recommend taking one of the many online tests to get a flavor of who you are. Sometimes it can be very clear. For example, I am primarily a melancholic and secondary as a choleric. My wife is primarily a phlegmatic and is secondary as a sanguine. Quite a difference no? We get by of course but it did take some learning to understand that God truly made us different. My choleric side wants things done a certain way and I will take over a task if it is not moving well. My wife’s phlegmatic ways means she needs very specific directions in order to accomplish a task and relies on that in order to do a good job. There have been many a silly fights because of this throughout our marriage but the more we took the time to understand each other and how the Lord made us, the better equipped we were to deal with each others natural temperaments. What’s wonderful is that we can put some definition to how the Lord made us and we can use this to our advantage and this is extremely important as it relates to pray life and our relationship with Jesus Christ.

If we look at a melancholic, mental prayer and meditation in silence come very easily, making this type of prayer easier for a melancholic but this can be challenging for a outgoing sanguine who may breakdown due to all the silence. Melancholics are prone to scruples and due to their perfectionist tendencies may put undue weight on themselves (and others) in order to achieve unrealistic goals. Having unrealistic spiritual goals can cause melancholics to fall into despair and depression because the inability to reach spiritual perfection makes the melancholic feel incomplete and never good enough. The perfectionist tendencies of a melancholic can push others away because the stress of never living up to the melancholics definition of perfection is not healthy in a relationship. Melancholics are very fixated on truth, beauty and the like but at times when we obsess about the truth we sometimes forget the joy of our faith and need to really focus on being joyful. Does this sound like you? It sounds like me quite a bit and at the same time it is reassuring to know that there are some areas that I am naturally strong in and there are some areas of weakness that I need to look out for. Similar to knowing my love language and argument style, this has helped me tremendously to bring to light some of my natural strengths and weaknesses. All of this can be used to guide us down the road to Christ and help us come to the Lord as quickly as possible.

You may find that if you try to go through one of the tests you may not get exactly the answer you expected or the clarity. Two things to bear in mind:

  1. Sin can make it difficult to see your true temperament and may skew you results. That is why it is utmost critical to be rid of mortal sin so that your true temperament may shine through.
  2. A reality of this will be that for some the answer may not be as straightforward as you like. My wife feels that she is a melancholic, sanguine and phlegmatic and this just makes life even more challenging but clarity is emerging.

Do not let this be a discouragement. We must make every effort to know ourselves, both our strengths but also our weaknesses. I have heard of a few individuals who do not like to take such tests as it may arbitrarily put them into some sort of bucket and categorize them. I am confused by the reasoning but from my own life, I found that my strengths I was mostly aware of but I think the greatest benefit is knowing what your weaknesses are. The patient may have a hard time distinguishing an untreated disease if they have become numb to its damaging effects over time.

For United Body to proceed in full strength we must work to understand our strengths so that we can identify the specific areas in which we can bring about change. I recommend you pray often to the Lord that by His grace he may make these strengths and imperfections more visible to you. Persevere and proceed in faith.

JM