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Monday, March 4, 2013

How I Failed a Personality Test: 13 Truths that Change Everything

About 8 years ago, I took my first class for my doctorate and I took a personality test. It was unlike any test I have ever taken. It asked me deep questions like,  "Do you like nature magazines?" In school, I could do well on tests without studying and this one, I was instantly sure that studying wouldn't have helped one bit.

After the week of classes, I sat down with the professor to discuss the evaluation of my test. He said that I failed.

"I failed?
How do you fail a personality test?"

He told me that I either intentionally lied while answering the questions or I had no idea who I was or what I liked.

I knew I hadn't lied. But, I didn't like the sound of that other option.

"What does that mean?"

I had been living by a set of rules. I had been trying to be "Good" and had answered every question on that test trying to find the right answer.

Actually, in every situation in life, I was trying to give the right answer.

Then, something he taught us in the class started to make sense.

"Only when we place ourselves quietly and deliberately in front of God are the secret places in our hearts opened and the real motives of our behavior laid bare. Under this test, we discover the many ways in which we deceive ourselves: The pride, with which we imagine ourselves smarter, better looking, and more moral than others; the self-righteous motives, with which we think ourselves acting out of selfless love; the self-flattery, with which we convince ourselves that we actively live the Christian faith we hear about on Sunday mornings. In these ways and many others, we construct images of ourselves to cover up the reality we do not want to see."[1]

I had been living a lie.

And so the inward journey to find the truth began. I had to get alone with God. I was desperate to be with him. From this same article, I read,

"To be in God's presence alone is to be confronted by his gaze with nothing to hide behind."

"Yes, we will be hurt when we put ourselves alone into God's presence, but the hurt will be healed by mercy."

So, I pressed on.

Here are 13 truths that brought freedom:[2]

1 - You are responsible for all you do, think, feel and want (and don't do, don't think, don't feel and don't want.) Think about it... how often do we try to blame someone else for what we do, think, feel or want. It's a waste of energy. We can't even blame God or Satan. It's all on us. Accept responsibility. It is the only way forward, the only way to be free.
2 - You are responsible for the consequences of all your thoughts, feelings and actions. This follows. If I am responsible for what I do, think, feel and want, then I am responsible for however things shake out from there. It may feel like a lot of burden to bear, but it's true, so we either live in the truth or we pretend and live a lie.

3 - You do not have to offer excuses. Once we accept responsibility, we have no excuses. "Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one." - Matthew 5:37. What more can say? I did it. I own it. Yes, that was me. And, if necessary, "I'm sorry. Please forgive me."

4 - You are not responsible for the how others think, feel or act. They are responsible for themselves. If the first two feel like an added burden, this one is the payback. Some of us carry the weight of the world on our shoulders feeling responsible for other peoples' choices, actions and feelings. We think that if we had just done a little more or said a little less or... then this person wouldn't (fill in the blank). Realizing that we are not responsible for others thoughts, feelings or actions is a complete game changer. We are free!

5 - You have the right to change your mind. We sometimes feel like we have to stick with our decisions even when we realize that we made a bad choice. We are afraid to go back and try something different, so we lock ourselves in. Being responsible for our choices doesn't mean we can't go back and try to change them. It means the opposite. We are free to choose something different now.

6 - You have the right to make mistakes. We don't have to stop our lives, frozen in indecision, afraid to make a mistake. If we freeze up, that is a choice too, and it is guaranteed to be a mistake. We need to take a risk. We will make mistakes, and we will be responsibility for the consequences.

7 - You have the right to be wrong. Similarly, don't be afraid to be wrong. And, if someone tries to rub it in your face, just accept responsibility and move on. "You're right. I was wrong." Usually, you don't even have to apologize. It's just a fact of life.

8 - You have the right to say, "I don't know." Because sometimes it's true.

9 - When others do good things for you, you don't have to "give yourself up" to pay them back. Just because someone did you a favor, whether it's lending you a pencil or giving you a car, you don't owe them anything but love and respect (what we owe all people). We don't have to do something we don't want to do in order to pay someone back.

10 - You don't have to "give yourself up" to be loved by others. Same principle but in another situation. If we want to be loved by someone who is not loving us, whether a parent or significant other or anyone else, it is tempting to do and say things that aren't true to who we are. We want to morph ourselves into a mold that we think they will be more likely to love. This never ends well. Whether it is overworking to please a boss, entering into an abusive relationship, or working extra hard to be who our parents want us to be, we wind up losing our true selves.

11 - You have the right to be illogical in decision making. This was a tough one for me. We don't have to explain our reasons behind our thoughts, actions or feelings. There is nothing innately better about a logical argument than an illogical one. I want to... is enough. Anyone who cannot accept your decision is struggling to accept you.

12 - You have the right to say, "I don't understand." How else will we learn unless we are willing to admit that we don't understand? In relationships, being able to understand another person helps us to love them more. If you want to know someone better, these words are indispensable. If you just want to prove them wrong, these words can be reduced to the beginning of an argument.

13 - You have the right to say, "I don't care." It's almost never true. We care about almost everything. But, to the extent that other things are more important and this one doesn't rank up there as a major priority. Sometimes we just don't want to expend the energy to decide what we want. And, so it is fine to sometimes say, "I just don't care," because my love for you is more important than this.

As we can learn to live out these truths in our lives, we will grow to love and respect ourselves and others more each day. Grace and forgiveness follow love and respect. And, soon, we realize that we are on a journey and we can either share the road or try to beat everyone else, we can't do both. 

I hope one of these truths will help you move toward freedom today. Which one(s) do you find hard to believe? What would you add to this list?

[1] Clifford Williams, “When Mercy Hurts: Receiving God’s grace means facing the truth about ourselves,” Christianity Today (Feb. 1989): 17.
[2] Frank Green, “How to Be the Person You Want to Be: Learning to deal with some of life’s vital issues,” Wake Forest Baptist Church, Wake Forest, NC: 6.

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