By Annie Lavi
Personality tests have been used in psychology, counseling, and even business for decades, but as believers, how can we use these tools for the glory of God? From a participator, a student and an observer, here’s what I’ve learned.
“So I am over here….”
I leaned forward and looked at the paper. On the large wooden desk in front of me, my boss’s finger pointed to a long line representing an element of his personality.
His finger landed at the far end of the scale, the extreme end. I nodded. I hadn’t been working in his counseling office for very long, but I could have guessed as much about him.
“And,” he slid his finger along the scale to the far other end, “Here’s my wife.”
My eyes widened. This 70-year-old man, married for half a century, was committed to a woman with whom psychology told him he was doomed to live a life of unfulfillment. As a counseling student, it looked to me like a recipe for disaster. And yet, from what I had gathered from seeing them together now and then, their marriage was far from being a relational wreck: it was one I actually admired, the kind of love we all hope we will still have after 50 years.
“How….” I began, not sure how to continue without offending him. “How does that work?” I winced at the bluntness of my own question.
He laughed. Call it differences of opinion, call it personality types, we could call it anything we wanted: On paper, his marriage looked like it should be a lifetime of him saying one thing and her hearing another. I found myself silently thanking God that I was pretty sure my husband wasn’t that far from me on the personality scale, different as he was.
“I’m not going to lie,” he smiled and reclined back in his chair slightly, proceeding to tell me that the first few years of their marriage, he felt it. The distance, the differences.
“So how did you do it?” I asked, thinking that between his own marriage and a career counseling others with the Bible, he had to have a secret.
He leaned forward, folding his hands in front of him on his desk, and looked up at me with raised brows and a smile.
“By the grace of God.”
As people who are secure in our value, we are able to discuss and acknowledge our weaknesses in ways that unbelievers might struggle with.
1. Love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)
I am an avid psychology reader, test-taker and strengths-finder, and I love analyzing the results of these tests. I believe that personality tests can be helpful tools that point Christians toward a better understanding of ourselves and others, a trick up our sleeve that can help us empathize and understand.
And yet, I will be the first to admit that it’s easy to give these results, no matter the test, too much weight. Yes, my boss reminded me, marriage is hard, but where the world tells us that two people are never going to be a solid relational match, the grace of God will cover all things.
It is a beautiful truth that Christians can exemplify every day — that we can beat the odds. Not us, of course, but the power of God in us.I believe in finding a mate or even a good friend that is compatible, someone who has similar beliefs, hopes, or hobbies. At the same time, I need to be reminded that a fantastic relationship doesn’t begin or end with a mutual love of horses or hiking.
A beautiful relationship, romantic, friendship or otherwise between believers, is possible because He first loved us — and that love covers a multitude of character shortcomings.
On a different day, I sat with a small team of people I was leading on the floor in a circle. We all were going one by one, sharing our results from one of my favorite tests: the StrengthsFinder, an assessment that lists each person’s top five natural abilities. I began to share my strengths, starting with number five, and ending at number one, my favorite: WOO, or the ability to “win others over.” I beamed, proud of this skill and my ability to make quick friendships with almost anyone, when a woman on my team asked, “So, what do you do if someone doesn’t like you?”
My smile disappeared, and my stomach sank. Someone not like me? Why would she ask that? I squirmed in my seat. The entire circle was looking at me, waiting for an answer, and I was becoming more and more horrified at the thought of someone out there not approving, not enjoying my company.
Someone once told me there was a shadow side, a dark underbelly to all of our strengths, and in that moment, I realized how uncomfortably true he was. Living in my “nature” or out of my natural personality, I was very outgoing and good at making friends — a fantastic skill to have. And the flip side of that talent was that I also cared what people thought about me to the point of my own detriment.
“Ummm,” I bit my lip, trying to figure out how I could answer while still sounding like a good leader, “I really don’t like it.”
2. We rejoice in our weaknesses. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
I discovered in the days after that meeting that I too quickly forget that it is by the goodness of God that we have these shadow sides amidst our gifts. God tells us over and over to rejoice in our weakness, for that is when he is strong — but I don’t naturally take a test called “StrengthsFinders” to pinpoint my weaknesses. I tend to want to rejoice in my own power and might. But as a Christian, it is my call to recognize my own faults as well.
Our ability to see our faults is beautiful. As people who are secure in our value, we are able to discuss and acknowledge our weaknesses in ways that unbelievers might struggle with. We can even realize that when our “shadow sides” come roaring out, they are miniature red-flags for us: reminders that maybe we are relying too much on our own natural nature, and maybe not asking enough for His spirit to transform us.
We are all being transformed by the spirit of God, and so our temperament, our personality, is being transformed as well. Ultimately, we all hope and strive to have our personalities changed into one that looks more like Jesus. So while these tests are wonderful for understanding, they are also designed to point us back to the truth that only He is perfect. In a beautiful way, we can use these personality tests as mile markers: Are we trusting in God’s love to cross barriers? Are we rejoicing in our weaknesses and how they point us to Him? And most importantly, are we watching our temperament over time be transformed to look more like that of Jesus?