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Teaching a pig to sing

Jim Coffield April 14 2009

“How have you been doing, are you ill?” “No, just tired.” I wanted to tell my colleague that he would be a great mother, but I behaved. I looked at myself in the mirror later and realized he was right. I looked like the Lock Ness monster after a night in Lake Erie. My morning was spent grading papers and doing tedious paperwork. Some background might help here — I hate to grade papers (this is somewhat problematic for me, I am a seminary professor). Some of the more rigorous among you will believe that I’m lazy and you may be right, but there may be more. Nothing I am about to write gives me permission not to do my job.

Speaking of my job – the purpose of this note to you is to address one of the possible reasons for our tiredness. In my last blog post, I suggested that your tiredness is not the problem but a symptom. So in the next few entries we will explore some of the reasons that you are exhausted. One of the possible reasons lies in not understanding how you are wired. Psychologists call it temperament and with both great anecdotal and empirical evidence it seems that we all have tendencies that are not based on character or simple choice. They are based on hard wiring in our personalities. Consider two different pastors who are attending church socials after a long a hard week. The extroverted pastor can participate in introverted activities and can learn to enjoy solitude, but receives energy from being with people and most likely always will. An extroverted pastor will “work the crowd”. He will be tired but becomes revived around people. He will stay until the end and will be heard saying, “The church needs more events like this.” An introverted pastor at a “covered dish” supper may show up late, find one person to sit and talk with, be extremely gracious with a few people the entire evening and not particularly enjoy the activity. He will leave the event even more tired than when he arrived. He will look at his watch and wonder “how soon can I leave and still get credit for being here”. Being alone energizes an introvert. The issue is not character, the issue is temperament.

Fun facts about temperament – most people do not leave the pastorate for theological reasons – most people do not leave the mission field due to theological differences. They leave because of interpersonal issues with co-workers, elders and parishioners. It is often not issues of right vs. wrong that drives anyone out, it is the inability to read, understand and manage our own hardwiring and the hardwiring of others. We spend countless hours trying to convince a realist that they need to think like an idealist. You may try to get your youth pastor to be more detailed – after seeing all the empty fast food containers in his back seat. He may own stock in McDonald’s. We all have internal tendencies that are based on biology rather than discipline. Researchers have even identified basic temperaments in infants. Follow up studies show that the temperaments identified in the nursery are very consistent into adulthood. So, some of your tiredness may spring simply from a lack of knowledge of your hard wiring and shear exhaustion from swimming up stream.

We still need to do things that are difficult for us – but we need to prepare for it. I need an entire morning to grade papers or write. When I do our taxes the whole family has to leave the house and I need to prepare – I listen to blues music. I surf the web for a while. I must be up against a deadline. When you are working against your wiring it helps to have a sense of urgency. I eat nasty food because I feel so entitled and then I get to work. The guy who says, “I just spend a few minutes everyday putting in my data” and shows me his spreadsheets is not wired like me. If you work against your wiring it will take more energy and will need a better plan. I still need to do my taxes –it will exhaust me in a way that it will energize someone else.

The first step may be just to identify your own tendencies. Become a student of your own temperament. It can be done formally by taking some basic personality tests like the Myers-Briggs or a Disc test.* Contact a coach, spiritual director or a counselor and have them give you one of the formal assessments. You could also do it more informally by asking your spouse, friends and co-workers to describe your relational style. Remember the reason you study yourself is not for the sake of self – there are such better things to focus on in life than ourselves. You do not want to become self focused. No, you look at your temperament so you can untimely love others better and serve Him more effectively. See what things in your job description go with your wiring and which ones go against it. Get help and assistance with your weaknesses – don’t try to hide them. Everyone who works with you knows anyway.

Next become a student of the people around you – how is your spouse wired, your kids, your elders and members of your staff. As an extrovert I think while I talk – so I do not need time to formulate an answer. I figure out what I am going to say as I am speaking. However, one of my kids is more of an introvert – when confronted he needs time to formulate his answers and to think on how to respond. I had to learn to parent him in the way he was wired instead of demanding a quick response to my questioning or concerns. I am finally learning that he will be more comfortable and more thoughtful in his responses if given time to think about the situation before he is forced to go toe to toe with me. Real love is giving the way the recipient needs it not in the way the giver wants to give it – doesn’t the cross teach us that?

You may be tired because you are swimming up stream and do not even know it. You may be tired because you are trying to make your staff, family and friends work, think and behave like you. I guess with the right experts and enough resources you could teach a pig to sing but the pig would not like it and it would never be very pleasing to the ear. So learn about your wiring. Realize that some wiring was yours at birth and some developed as a way to cope with life. It’s good to explore how and why you are wired the way you are. It will save you a lot of time and it may be one of the reasons for your tiredness.

You humble me with your willingness to read these thoughts – next time I will explore the issue of “incongruence” as the reason for your tiredness– until then I have some papers to grade.

* one of my favorite web sites dealing with temperament is:

6 Responses to “Teaching a pig to sing”

  1. Jim, this was great! I am very extroverted most of the time, including how I also formulate thoughts while I speak. My wife is introverted and we had some awesome premarital counseling that helped us learn to communicate through that.

    Strangely enough though, at the church socials at the end of a busy week, I really don’t want to be there. I hang around a couple of people until I think I’ve “done my time” and then bolt. I am already exhausted and things like that really wear me out.

    Great article, which has really got me thinking about some things. Thank you!

  2. Dr. Jim,

    I’ve discovered many of the realities of the singing-pig syndrome. Or, should I say, these realities have uncovered me – I’m not sure which came first. I’m an introvert that plays well with the extroverts.

    Pastors are not play-dough. They are people. We are not molded, although we do learn to make adjustments; because we are called.

    I’ve been that singing-pig in a few of my pastoral assignments throughout the years, becoming involved in areas that are not well suited to my personality. Your correct. Its not enjoyable.

    Dr. Brown was right – Great Article!

  3. Dusty Hart says:

    Thanks Jim for taking the time to share with us this valuable information. It is very encouraging to be reminded that we aren’t all the same, and that by being the person God has created is honoring him.

    Have you ever considered paying someone to do your taxes and/or getting a TA to grade your papers for you? Just a thought about surrounding yourself with people who are strong in areas you are not?

  4. Tom Fleming says:

    Jim, Thanks for that article. Your use of the phrase “swimming up stream” really spoke to me. I’m a big-time introvert. Give me a funeral any day over a wedding! Generally, people at funerals are quiet (especially the one in the casket) and thoughful, and looking for me to say something thoughtful and helpful. Generally no big party after the funeral, perhaps just a quiet meal. Weddings are often one big social event. Anyway, I need to accept the way God wired me, and learn to use it to my advantage, for His glory. Thanks again!

  5. Steve Hayes says:

    I don’t know if you’ll get to a reply on a post this old, but I can’t resist referencing one of my all-time favorite t-shirts (to which you obliquely refer) after recently discovering your site & this post:

    Never try to teach a pig to sing.
    It wastes your time and annoys the pig.

    Jesus warned us about this, but I’ve spent many days annoying pigs.

  6. David Coffield says:

    Glad to be reading my uncles work.

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