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 ...1
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