While digging through our apartment for things I could sell to my neighbors this weekend, I found the results for one of those personality tests I took a few years back as part of a group exercise. I remembered reading those results the first time and thinking, “Wow, this is so true!” But then later realizing, “I don’t think it’s all that helpful…”
I’m not a fan of these sorts of “check off the boxes so we can put you in a category” tests because they’re usually organized around some new way of describing what we lack or how we tend to fail. Some couch it in language about about “when we’re at our best,” but that’s mostly just a way to hone in on the other side of that coin.
I think we respond to these tests because most of us spend a lot of time thinking about what we’re bad at – buying the lie that obsessing over theses things will make us better people – but without any way to organize the information. So when a test “reveals” something about us along these lines, we get a sense of being known, along with a category and maybe even a few suggested action steps, that makes us believe this is a life changing revelation. As if knowing that there’s a whole category of people who, just like us!, go out of their way to avoid doing the dishes (silly example, but roll with it) somehow transforms an embarrassing character flaw into something to identify ourselves by and use to connect with others. (“I Hate Doing Dishes!” we could write on name tags and wear all the time, and then join up with all the other pile-them-in-the-sink-and-walk-away people and go to restaurants, where someone else will do the dishes!)
But why on earth would we want to be grouped and known according to how we suck at life? I’m pretty sure if Jesus says anything to us about personality & character development, it’s that he offers us a chance to be different. As the apostle Paul put it, “If anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” I’ve found that to be true when I let it happen.
And I’ve also found that when I take these sorts of shortcuts to knowing people – as I did for years with astrology, and I see others doing now with things like the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs – I miss so much about them because my lens is narrowed to a category, and it’s hard to shake the negative images that go with that category. It’s a grim sort of knowing. And no matter what sort of fluff you put on the test results – how nuanced they become when you add cusps or wings or planets on the ascendent at the moment of your birth – at the end of the day you’re still squishing a complex, interesting, fearfully & wonderfully made individual (who really is unique in all the world) into one of a few small boxes in order to believe we know them better. Which is lazy.
Let’s not be lazy. Let’s be brave. Brave enough to believe we don’t have to be defined by the results on a test, and that we don’t need shortcuts to discover the truth about people. Brave enough to trust God to reveal things, when and how we need to know.