During high school years I tried desperately to deconstruct and then reconstruct my personality. For starters, I hated being Southern. Television programs like The Beverly Hillbillies and Hee Haw embarrassed me, and I cringed every time I heard President Lyndon Johnson open his mouth: "Mah fella Amuricuns … " Since the rest of the nation in the 1960s seemed to judge Southerners as backward, ignorant, and racist, I wanted to disassociate myself from my region.

Vowel by vowel, I worked on my accent, succeeding so well that people ever since have reacted with surprise when they hear I grew up in the Deep South. I began a campaign to read great books in order to remove provincial blinders. I shunned any behavior that conformed to "appropriate" or "proper" Southern etiquette and sought only the "authentic." I worked to gain control of my emotions so that they were my servant, never my master. I even changed my handwriting, forcing myself to form each letter in a different way than I had before.

By and large the makeover worked, giving me a personality that has fit comfortably in the decades since. I became less vulnerable and more open-minded and flexible—traits not cultivated in my upbringing but useful in my profession as a journalist. It was only years later that I realized the limits to a self-constructed personality. In most ways important to God, I had failed miserably. I was selfish, joyless, loveless, and lacked compassion. With the exception of self-control, I lacked all nine of the fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. These qualities, I came to realize, cannot be constructed. They must be grown, under the direction of an inner power, the Spirit.

I have since made it a regular practice to pray through ...

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Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey is editor at large of Christianity Today and cochair of the editorial board for Books and Culture. Yancey's most recent book is What Good Is God?: In Search of a Faith That Matters. His other books include Prayer (2006), Rumors of Another World (2003), Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), The Bible Jesus Read (1999), What's So Amazing About Grace? (1998), The Jesus I Never Knew (1995), Where is God When It Hurts (1990), and many others. His Christianity Today column ran from 1985 to 2009.
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