Nature vs. Nurture- Renewing the Mind {The Grove: Personality}

personality grove

I believe in asking the question, “Who am I?” It is a good question to ask and information from personality inventories can spur on conversations about our inner selves. They can also help with interpersonal relationships as we try to understand each other and extend grace, helping to facilitate healthy team dynamics while we live overseas.

The more personality inventories I have taken, however, the more I have found them lacking. They barely scrape the surface in answering the questions of our unique personhood. Perhaps for good reason.

The root of the word personality comes from the Greek word for persona, meaning “mask.” It is what we wear on the outer shell of our personal selves. It’s what people see. I like to think about it as the culture of a person’s core; it is what is seen, but it is not the sum of who we are.

I’ve been reading and researching the brain, about how, beginning in utero, our brain is in a state of immaturity. It is through our experiences that we form and inform our perceptions of the world and our place in it. So, as I look at the question, is it nature or nurture that makes us who we are, I have to concede that nurture and nature are inseparable.

Dr. Daniel Siegel, in his book, Parenting from the Inside Out, makes the point that, “Experience is biology.” He is referring to the phenomena that as we grow, from infant to child to adult, our development is shaped by the experiences we have as the neurons in our brains fire and are wired together.

This has made me curious and I have been ruminating on the verses in Romans 12:2, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  And also Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

This idea of renewing the mind is beautiful for me because we can’t control external experiences. Life happens and our bodies respond in ways outside of our control, making connections that make sense. Yet God has made us with malleable minds that can be transformed and renewed.  There is hope in that.

My first pregnancy was a twin pregnancy and I went into pre-term labor at 34 weeks. I can remember being alone, feeling anxious and driving myself to the hospital. I signed myself in and after being processed and examined, I asked the Dr. if this was serious enough for me to call my husband back from a work trip. I still remember the look she gave me—a confused look—and I realized I had said something unusual, although I couldn’t understand what I had said to warrant such a response.

I mull over that moment in my head. Why didn’t I tell my husband to come home to me? Why couldn’t I discern if this experience was difficult enough to ask for support? Why didn’t I believe I was worth some inconvenience? Why do I feel the need to bear the weight of suffering alone?

Three weeks after that hospital visit I delivered those babies via an emergency C-section and my daughter was born not breathing. She was resuscitated quickly by a team of doctors and nurses and placed in an oxygenated incubator for her first 12 hours of life. I can close my eyes and imagine her in that place, alone, scared, shaking without the support of her mothers’ heartbeat and arms. I can see myself in her place, closed off, and untouched, feeling alone. I know that emotion well. How many times have I been scared and afraid without the arms available to support me?

I’d like to think that she was too young for that experience to have an affect on her, but it did and it does, just as my own past experiences have affected me.

Over this last year I have become an active participant in the renewal of my mind. I am seeking, searching and working hard to walk in the pain. If I contented myself with surface-level inventories and didn’t delve deeply into the experiences that molded my personality, I wouldn’t be able to know my own self genuinely.  I would continue to react to circumstances and conversations instinctually based on my unspoken memories without the possibility for growth.

So, the renewal of the mind is only feasible when we do the work of self-reflection, compiling memories and turning them into coherent narratives, creating for ourselves a testimony of God’s work in our lives. It is from here that we can become renewed in our thinking, as we understand our personal experiences and how they have influenced our minds to create a beautiful and unique creation of God.

It is through the tough work of internal processing that we begin to heal our own souls (through God’s grace) and it is from this healing that we begin to bring healing to others.

What experiences have shaped you most? How have you found healing and the renewal of the mind?


Are you preparing to return to your passport country after serving on the field? Are you in the midst of settling in to a new normal? Our Re-entry Kit is designed just for you! The kit includes a live class on May 22nd, hosted by Danielle Wheeler and Sarah Hilkemann, as well as access to a private Facebook community to help you process your re-entry journey, and a timed email series that shows up right in your inbox with tips and encouragement. Check out the re-entry toolkit by clicking on the button to learn more!

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  1. Spring May 17, 2019

    Have you ever read or listened to anything by Dr Caroline Leaf? She amazes me with her connection between scripture and science. she talks about the verse you are referring to, how renewal of the mind can actually change brain chemistry. It’s amazing stuff! (and I am only in the second chapter) I could tell you that the experiences I had on our first term have shaped the way I have lived my life the past three years. I have found myself in a place of bitterness that I am working at climbing out of. It is a difficult journey, that I am hoping I am thankful for in the end.

    1. Joy Smalley May 18, 2019

      Hi Spring, I haven’t listened to anything by Dr. Leaf but I am totally going to look her up. I love learning how the physical world connects with the spiritual one in such insane ways. I get a little giddy. First terms are brutal and life-altering and exposing. Bitterness and anger connected with grief are also what I am walking through after our term overseas. It is so hard to face it and move toward healing. It’s even harder to trust that God is good and has a purpose in it all when the pain is pressing in. May God bring us both peace and hope as we journey.

    2. Michele May 18, 2019

      I also immediately thought of Caroline Leaf when I read this! Joy, I think you’ll love her stuff- you can watch her Ted Talk and then more openly Christian talks on YouTube. She gives scientific proof for what you’re saying, and it’s amazing!

      1. Joy Smalley May 19, 2019

        Hi Michele, I just watched her Ted Talk and looked up some of her books. So interesting! I love when science and spirituality intersect. I think I just found my new information to binge, lol.

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