Temperament and Prayer

If there’s one glaring absence I see in the modern Catholic Church (in the west, at least), it’s that we spend far more time telling people what to do and what to believe (or, worse, telling them to do and believe what they like) than how to love God. Morality and doctrine matter, of course. After all, how can you know God if you don’t know anything about him? And how can you love God if nobody’s told you what he asks of you? But most of us—even those of us who have spent years and years following him—have never been taught how to pray. We’re told to go to Mass and possibly handed a pamphlet on the rosary and then our pastors and teachers wash their hands of it and go back to whatever good or useless lesson they were teaching.

I’m guilty of it myself. There’s so much to learn about the faith that it’s awfully hard to take time out of the classroom to spend it in the school of prayer. I always figured if I could keep them Catholic by defending the faith beyond possibility of attack, someone else would teach them. But with rare exception, nobody really does.

2015-09-09 20.44.28The trouble with teaching prayer is that it’s hard. It’s hard because prayer is hard, but also because there’s no systematic way to do it. There’s no one-size-fits-all style of prayer. And while the Mass is certainly the highest form of prayer, other devotions can’t really be ranked in effectiveness or importance. So, what? Throw everything at people and see what sticks?

Well, yes and no. For all I play up the importance of the Examen when I speak, I know that it’s not as easy as just saying, “Tell God about your day and then you’ll be a saint.” Prayer is much more complicated than that—and, as it turns out, much more individualized.

Because I’m particularly self-centered, I assume that everyone is (or ought to be) just like me. As it turns out, though, God has made all different kinds of people. And just as different kinds of people learn differently or relate differently or love differently, they also pray differently. Some people pray really well with Scripture. Others need to find God in creation. No, really—this isn’t some hippie cop-out about meeting God in nature (as I may have assumed for several years). It’s an ancient expression of spirituality and a genuine encounter with the divine, just as much as the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours.

Prayer and temperamentLast fall, Fr. Stephen Billington1 handed me a copy of a book to flip through, thinking I might find it interesting. The cover of Prayer and Temperament had me thinking it might not be the most helpful book I’d ever encountered, but I flipped to my personality type to give it a shot. There I found a minute-by-minute description of my prayer regimen. So I looked at the Bible passages it recommended; I had fully half of them memorized already. That’s when I began to think this book might have something to offer.

Prayer and Temperament, by Fr. Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey, uses the Myers-Briggs personality types to explain how different people might profit more from certain types of spirituality. It’s a fascinating read, although I would recommend skipping the chapter on liturgy entirely and remembering throughout that the book was published in 1984 and is occasionally quite dated.2 It’s certainly worth picking up a copy just for the prayer suggestions, which I won’t be able to reproduce in full here.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing a summary of the authors’ findings in an attempt to help you all discover styles of prayer that you’ll find more fruitful. Many of us, I think, expect prayer to follow a particular model. When that model proves frustrating and fruitless, we abandon any serious attempt at prayer. My hope is that this series (and the book, if you’re inclined to read the whole thing) will help you to find the way that you/your children/your spouse/your students/your friends pray best and that in doing so you come to a deeper love of the God who loves you more than you will ever know.

So if you haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs personality test recently, click over to this one (or recommend a more accurate one in the comments). According to Michael and Norrissey, there are four major schools of spirituality, determined by your MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator). These types are SJ (ESFJ, ISFJ, ESTJ, ISTJ), NT (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, INTP), SP (ESTP, ISTP, ESFP, ISFP), and NF (ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP, INFP). For a little clarification on the vocabulary, S stands for sensing, perceiving via the senses rather than intuition, and N for intuition. F is for feeling as opposed to T for thinking, a distinction about how decisions are reached. Finally, J is for judging, those who tend to see situations objectively, while P (perceiving) takes people and situations into account when making a judgment call.3

Take the test to figure out where you fall, then read on and prepare to be amazed. (Or, if you can’t wait for it all to be published, listen to the podcast explaining it all.)


Ignatian prayer, Augustinian prayer, Thomistic prayer, Franciscan prayer

  1. Whose house I’m actually at right now. []
  2. Theologically dated, which is an odd thing to say but quite true. []
  3. I’m really no expert on this, so hopefully my attempt to put it all in layman’s terms isn’t entirely inaccurate. []

About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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7 Responses to Temperament and Prayer

  1. Maria says:

    Which category do you fall into? Mine seems to be NT, but I’m always in danger, I think, of over intellectualizing (can you say that?) prayer and making it into a thought exercise/experiment. No advice, by chance?

    • Maria says:

      Also.. Adoration/praise is prob the hardest. I feel like I’m parroting things other people say. Unless it’s off the cuff/spontaneously, but that happens pretty rarely. Certainly not daily. Peter Kreeft claims that adoration should make up the bulk of one’s prayer, but it seems like it is the least in mine.. I feel like if I don’t ask for everysingleperson I can potentially carry any responsibility for to be led the way they should, without forgetting anything, that I’ve been slacking, and by the time that and the readings are done, I’ve run out of time! (Well. And a chapter or two of Francis de Sales, who is the best ever and who insists that prayer not interfere with the wife/mother vocation, so I try and listen to him and not use more prayer time as an excuse to ignore my breakfast-making/kid-parenting duties.)

  2. Chris says:

    I’m right on the border between INFJ and ISFJ (I’ve taken a bunch of Myers-Briggs tests, and it’s almost exactly a 50-50 split which one comes up, with at least one of them saying it’s too close to call); do they say anything about people who don’t neatly fit in one of the four groups?

  3. Lianna says:

    That is a great book! Thanks for these posts, I am sure they will bring clarity and help to a lot of people!

  4. Pingback: Franciscan Spirituality (SP Types) - Held By His Pierced HandsHeld By His Pierced Hands

  5. Pingback: Thomistic Spirituality (NT Types) - Held By His Pierced HandsHeld By His Pierced Hands

  6. Pingback: Ignatian Spirituality (SJ Types) - Held By His Pierced HandsHeld By His Pierced Hands

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