Sunday, October 12, 2008


When I first took the Myers-Briggs Inventory, I was categorized as an INFJ. As years have passed, I have taken it a few times more and seen a shift. Now the “I” is creeping toward the middle, and the “N” and “F” have been at or very near the middle for a decade or so; however, the “J” is still strong. One person told me recently that the “J” means that I need closure whenever situations or relationships terminate.

This is true. I am uncomfortable when something in my life comes to an end but there is no resolution. As I look at what this might mean in my Christian formation, this verse comes to mind: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another” (Romans 13:80).

This verse recognizes that love is a “continuing debt”. Loving someone means making an obligation to them, at the very least. Committing oneself to another. Making and keeping promises even when it’s hard to do so. And since genuine love can never be “paid for”, there can never really be comfortable closure. Or so it seems to me.

When I was in the first grade, I became friends with two girls who were themselves nearly inseparable: Vicky Brown and Melissa Fisher. We did a lot together in school and even visited in each other’s houses. When a new elementary school was built near my home, I was transferred there. Vicky and Melissa stayed at the old school and I lost contact with them. When I started junior high two years later, two girls came up to me while I was talking to someone else, and asked, “Are you David Baumann?” I turned to them and with sudden joy and amazement I recognized Vicky and Melissa. “Yes!” I said, and turned back to the person I had been talking to so that I could quickly close that conversation and then give my full attention to my two friends. But when I turned back to them, they were gone. Clearly they must have concluded that I was extremely rude and walked away. I never saw them again. It was my first major experience with “lack of closure” that I could do nothing about. I’ve never forgotten the incident and still wonder where Vicky and Melissa are now.

In that same new elementary school there was Mr. Elliot. Fortunately I never had him as a teacher, as he was a controlling, strict, humorless man. A friend of mine and I made a game out of our dislike of him. We drew “Elliot Wreckers”—massive machines like street cleaners that would inhale our foe and do him measureless bodily harm inside and then spit out the luckless and ghastly remains. Maybe that was the best protest that eleven-year-olds could do to rebel against capricious adult authority. I realize now that I was doing Mr. Elliot an injustice. It would be nice if I could see him again and treat him with respect. I can confess to God, but with Mr. Elliot I will not have closure.

When I was in the third grade, back at my original elementary school, we had a substitute teacher one day who acted like a dictator. Even then I realized that he was severely deficient in self-respect and self-confidence, and needed to shout orders and try to impress nine-year-olds with his knowledge to feel better about himself—a method doomed to failure. I wish I had known then how to minister to him, but there was nothing I could have done. I still empathize with his inner vacuity and wonder what happened to him.

There are also people I would like to thank, and never did. My second grade teacher was Mrs. Sawyer. She was magnificent! I don’t remember details now of her teaching, but I still can picture her face, kindly and caring and encouraging. I probably thanked her when I said good-bye and moved on to third grade, and maybe that was enough for her. The affections of a second grader do have value. But I was very pleased when I wrote a letter to my son’s third grade teacher, Mrs. Carter. In it, I told her what a fine teacher she was and what a difference she had made in my son’s life; and I added that it was, in some ways, the letter I wish I could have written to Mrs. Sawyer.

In probably nearly every relationship there is unfinished business: things left unsaid that ought to have been shared; things said that can’t be unsaid but which need to be forgiven.

Those who are “Ps” in the Myers-Briggs are comfortable with open-endedness. There certainly is value in that, but it can also mean leaving important work undone. The danger for us Js is wanting to control people and their reactions too much so that we force some sort of resolution when it is impossible to do so, or is at least untimely.

Which brings us back to “the continuing debt to love one another.” In genuine love there is the true freedom that is experienced both as “open-endedness” and the satisfaction that there is no unfinished business. Maybe someday my “J” will move more toward the center the way my other letters have done. I won’t look for it anytime soon, though.

But what should I do about the German soldier(s) who gassed my grandfather in the Great War so that he was often sick and then died at the age of 40, leaving my father fatherless at age ten, who did not know how to handle grief when he was a child nor had a model for raising sons past the age of ten, which in part contributed to my current awkwardness in relationships? The gassing happened more than ninety years ago. When I consider that event and how it affected me, so that my clumsiness with people makes them and me discomfited sometimes, I am daunted at the complexity of relationships across time, through generations, beyond the shores of distant oceans, spanning different languages and cultures. Can I draw a line through time and space from that German soldier to my loss of relationship with Pam and Vicky, because I didn’t know how to converse very well? Who knows? —but maybe so. I can only throw up my hands. Maybe I should just feel satisfied when I can trace only a few of the threads out of the thousands that make up the tapestry of life.

The fulfillment, the answer, is where all things are fulfilled and answered: in Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all—all time, all space, all love, all mercy, all laughter, all peace, whose Father is the One “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid.” In him, and in him alone, will I ever find and truly love Melissa Fisher, Vicky Brown, Mr. Elliot, Mrs. Sawyer, … and perhaps even a German soldier.