On any given day of the week, a scan of my Facebook newsfeed reveals secrets about my friends I might never have guessed on my own. It turns out that several friends closely identify with a variety of Disney Princesses, from the bookworm-ish Belle of “Beauty and the Beast,” to the kind and gentle maternal Snow White, to the adventurous Mulan who is the heroine of her own story. I’ve discovered some of these friends are most likely to enjoy time in Paris, France or Stockholm, Sweden while others are destined to live in New Mexico or New Hampshire. By answering a series of multiple choice questions, usually with nine choices depicted on a grid, each of us can discover our inner superhero, the color of our soul, or even the kind house in which we are meant to live. You can find almost anything out about yourself, including but not limited to:
What classic fictional character are you?
What burger topping describes you best?
Which US city should you live in?
Not only are online quizzes a fun diversionary escapism, they also illustrate something called the “Barnum Effect.” The “Barnum Effect” occurs in most popular internet quizzes designed to reveal results that appear tailored made, but in actuality, are really so vague and general that they apply to a wide spectrum of people responding. (For the record, I self-identify with courageous Merida from “Brave” who longs for a voice in shaping her destiny, I should enjoy time in Aberdeen, Scotland and I’m best suited to live in the New England states. If you know me, it sounds about right, but really, those answers should apply to any East Coast red head who enjoys the cooler seasons and climates and likes to travel to the UK.) Very little, if any, inner truth is revealed. These quizzes actually say nothing about who I am as a child of God, what God has done or is doing in my life, nor what God wants me to do with the gifts and graces I am provided with in order to be a faithful disciple growing in grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
As it turns out, understanding the inner character God created within me and revealing the imago Dei (“image of God”) embossed upon my heart does involve responding to a series of interrelated questions. In his sermon, “The Witness of the Spirit,” John Wesley asked just four questions, but of a different variety than the ones on a pop culture website. His questions included:
What is this “witness of our Spirit”?
What is the “testimony of God’s Spirit”?
And how does he “bear witness with our Spirit that we are the child of God”?
How is this joint testimony of God’s Spirit and our own clearly and solidly distinguished from the prescription of a natural mind and from the deliverance of the devil?
With hard hitting, open-ended questions like these, discerning an answer to discover the path to your inner self involves more than choosing from a bank of multiple choice responses designed by computer-programmed algorithms on popular internet websites.
Lack of multiple choice responses might seem daunting, but it only makes the process of finding the path to our true inner self more rewarding. After all, Christian disciples know what it is they are looking for! With the imago Dei stamped upon the heart of each believer, Christlikeness is the true and valid goal for each and every Christian. The questions help us navigate the journey and our resulting growth in and towards Christlikeness. Each journey towards God’s holiness is as unique and as personal as our age, gender, race, ethnicity, occupation, or status.
To aid in the soul-searching that occurs during this journey, Wesley advocated the use of a small group, what he called bands and classes, made up of other disciples, who covenanted with one another to “watch over each other in love.” True soul searching is done in the company of others; there is no isolating one’s self behind a laptop or in a crowd transfixed to our handheld screens and devices.
Small groups in the Wesleyan tradition seek to help individuals discern an inspired life particular to their individual context. Every disciple committed to share in accountability and spiritual discernment with one another seek to craft an uniquely tailored life that still shares in God’s goodness and demonstrates towards others. Questions such as
Do we love God and our neighbor?
Do we keep his commandments?
How does it appear to you that you are alive? (a classic Wesleyan question familiar to any one who attends annual conferences in the United Methodist Church)
helped early Methodist disciples probe the depths and breadth of their public and private lives to see if they had “holiness of heart and holiness in outward conversation,” double-check that they were producing the fruit of the Spirit, as well as demonstrating love towards God and one another.
The crux of finding the path to our inner true selves and becoming more Christlike is a matter of responding to questions – not just random questions – but ones carefully posed by friends in spiritual conversation and in holy love. I suggest a far more fascinating and revealing quiz would be, “Which Saint Does Your Life Emulate?” Answers are not meant to be computed according to a standardized algorithm, but discerned and deliberated in the company of others. The value of other Christians dedicated to “watching over one another in love” in the process of spiritual discernment is that no one is left to the whims of fleeting emotions or how one feels before their morning coffee. It is then, in the company of other disciples, who are also witnesses to the truth of the Holy Spirit, that we can truly find and navigate the path to our inner self that is found in Christ.