The Common Grace of the Enneagram in My Life

“Identity is never simply a creation. It is always a discovery. True identity is always a gift of God.”

David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself

About seven years ago, when I was still working as a graphic designer, another blogger asked me to work on a site she was building for her new role as an Enneagram coach. Ennea-what? This was before the recent surge in interest that’s come in the years since. I had no idea what this nine pointed graph was, nor did I care that much. She seemed to have learned a lot about it and wanted to share her information with others. To me it just looked like yet another personality test like Strengths Finder or Myers-Briggs, some way of compiling information about ourselves and giving it a number or acronym or bullet pointed list to introduce ourselves as What I Am. Like shorthand for getting to know a person. Or an excuse for our bad behavior.

In the past few years, though, as more and more people were talking about it and sharing about it, I thought it would be helpful to do some of my own research. On one hand, you had people decrying this nine-pointed star as the work of the enemy. Some people said its roots were in paganism. Others argued it was the work of early Christians. Some people thought it was just another meme. And others couldn’t shut up about all the good it had worked in their lives. I took a test (And although some diehards say taking a test isn’t the way to go, my aim in this post will simply be to share information, tell you to do your own research and discern your own thoughts on the Enneagram, so here’s the test I took.), and came out as a 9 (The Peacemaker) with an 8 wing (The Challenger). Nothing like a confusing beginning.

I didn’t really know what to do with this new information. Because I still thought of the Enneagram as just another personality test, it just seemed like I’d stick my newly minted 9w8 crown in my pocket along with my MB INTP and SF Intellection, Relator, Strategic, Input, & Ideation. THIS IS WHO I AM, I thought it said to the world. Like it belonged in my bio along with where I lived and what my favorite color was.

You should know this: I’m slightly uncomfortable with the current obsession of knowing ourselves. First, Scripture tells us we can’t even know our own hearts. Second, I know even what I see in the mirror or in photos of myself look slightly distorted from reality. Third, how does knowing more information about my wiring and sin, help me to move into a fuller expression of the gifts and the fruit of the Spirit? It wasn’t until I began working on Handle With Care that I began to see how intricately complex the human body, mind, spirit, and soul were—and how deeply connected. God did that. Not pagans. And the Enneagram, for me, was helpful in seeing how God wired me not to simply stay in my sin, but the specific ways He would draw me out of it. David Benner in his book, The Gift of Being Yourself, writes,

“The self that begins the spiritual journey is the self of our own creation, the self we thought ourselves to be. This is the self that dies on the journey. The self that arrives is the self that was loved into existence by Divine Love. This is the person we were destined from eternity to become—the I that is hidden in the “I AM.” 

Benner is saying, when we start out on a journey of “finding ourselves” we will come face to face with the disappointing reality that IS ourselves, not the self we project to others or the self we believe ourselves to be. And only then, will we be able to die to ourselves and see how fully loved by God we are. Paul says something similar, “For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ, and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Paul is saying, “By the light of the law, I saw that I was incapable of keeping the law. Keeping the law revealed that I was unable to keep the law and the only way was to live for God. So now I live in this body, as it is, loved and forgiven by God.”

In a sense the law is like a measuring stick showing us all the ways we fall short. And in a sense the Enneagram is like a mirror showing us all the ways we fall short. But, just like there’s truth and beauty in the law, there’s truth and beauty in the Enneagram. The Enneagram, like the law, though isn’t the gospel. It doesn’t save us. It doesn’t offer us anything except information. And apart from the gospel, it’s just more dead work. Coupled with the gospel, though, the Enneagram can be a helpful tool in our sanctification and I’ve found it to be so. For me.

Through the tool of the Enneagram I’ve faced the mirror and found myself coming up really short in a few specific areas. For the 9w8, those areas are things like an intrinsic sleepwalking nature. I numb feelings when they come up. I pretend things are fine when they’re not. I avoid conflict. I feel an almost constant buzzing in my mind and heart. I desire peace but often take the path of least resistance to get it. I am a calming presence to others but inside I’m churning almost constantly with ideas, thoughts, passion, desires, and ways to make the world a better place. I feel disordered inside my soul even if what’s on the outside looks ordered to others.

The helpful thing about the Enneagram, though, is unlike other personality tests, it doesn’t just leave you there. It doesn’t tell you what you are (and frame it in nice acronyms). The Enneagram tells you instead how you’re not living according to the Spirit, how you’re not walking in the gifts or fruits of the Spirit, or obeying God’s word.

For example, it wasn’t until I realized with the help of the tool, “I numb my way through life and try my best to feel nothing,” that I began to see all through Scripture how much God not only gave his people feelings and wants us to exercise them in submission to Him, but also delights in the ways our feelings express his glory and goodness. However, for a 4 on the Enneagram or a 2 or a 7, one whose feelings are often their master, who feel driven and tossed around by them constantly, the Enneagram will highlight a different path to freedom and wholeness in the Spirit.

We are complex and distinct people, with different histories, different genetics, and different minds and hearts and bodies, yet we often treat Spiritual growth like it’s a one size fits all. The Enneagram, as a tool, like the law, shows me that we’re all falling short but Jesus has made a way through. And even though He is the way through, He, through the common grace of the minds of men, has also given us tools to see ourselves more clearly and therefore see Him more clearly. The Enneagram has been a tool like that for me.

. . .

I have a few quick notes to make and then I want to give you some resources to read and do your own research.

First, if all you know about the Enneagram is your number, that is both too much information and not enough. Knowing your number will ultimately lead to unhealth if you don’t do the work you need to do to fight the unhealthy patterns that have been revealed to you—this is true whether you’re using the Enneagram or not. If God reveals sin or sin patterns to us (through whatever means) and we continue to ignore them, that’s sin.

Second, often on social media people will share memes about their numbers with their followers. On one hand, I get it. We all have a desire to be known. But on the other hand, this is a lazy way of saying, “This is what I am. I feel so understood. Now, understand me!” It's a passive way of demanding others to understand you without being in real relationship with them.

Third, again, no serious student of both the Gospel and the Enneagram thinks it’s the gospel. We know the Enneagram is not the way, the truth, and the life. God’s word is a lamp for our feet, our food on this journey is to do the will of God, and I think of the Enneagram as our fitbit. It just gives us some clear markers and information for the journey.

Fourth, if you’re uncomfortable with the Enneagram or think it’s sin, I feel like that’s okay. I’m not the Spirit living inside of you and God has given us all different measures of faith. I have the faith that God uses all kinds of things to reveal His nature to us and my nature to me. You might not and that’s okay. You have faith for other things I don’t. We’re all complex and different people and that’s okay. God is building His kingdom in a myriad of ways.

Fifth, it’s been asked of me, “Couldn’t the same work be accomplished in us without the confusion of numbers and wings and categorizing?” Of course! But I believe God uses all kinds of things to reveal our sin to us. And also His love for us. He uses people. He uses failure. He uses dreams. He uses trouble, kindness, death, celebration, sunsets, clean water, seasons, and so much more. Why can’t He also use the Enneagram?

Sixth, I am not saying these resources are the best or come without caveat. Be a discerning reader, ask the Spirit to give you eyes to see what’s true and what’s false, and to help you grow.

The Wisdom of the Enneagram book

The Road Back To You book/Typology podcast

The Path Between Us book/podcast with Suzanne Stabile

The Sacred Enneagram book

Sleeping At Last Enneagram Series Podcast/Songs

I also mentioned David Benner’s excellent book above. The Gift of Being Yourself. This is a must read (without caveat), and in fact, if you haven’t done any Enneagram work yet, I recommend starting with his book which isn’t about the Enneagram at all. It’s short, convicting, and really beautiful.

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This Woman's Work

I really didn’t think anything could bludgeon my particular affection for this little space on the web but it turns out writing a book could. If I’m honest, I was afraid of that, and it’s one reason I hemmed and hawed on the outskirts of writing a book for so long. I love blogging. I hate the term but I love the practice. It has been such a singular act of faith, powerful tool of sanctification, and helpful habit to keep for nearly twenty years now. (Twenty years? Yes, Sayable’s first iteration is some livejournal page somewhere in the deepest recesses of the web. No, I will not tell you its name.)

In the aftermath of 60,000 words on a subject I feel even more woefully inadequate to talk about now than when I started writing, I find the words come in fits and starts and feeble falls. There are more unfinished drafts in my folder than there have been in a long time. The thing is, I know this way and I’ve been here before. Not exactly here, here, but here enough. I know the way through is the way through. Just write and keep writing and press publish even if it’s dreary and rambling and nearly embarrassing to have written. I say nearly because I am even less impressed by myself than I want you to be by me. Sayable has always been an exercise in shamelessness (And by that I mean an exercise in saying, “Here I am, such as I am, today, maybe tomorrow, but probably not.).

I’ve been having conversations with my peers lately and there’s a lot of talk about passing the baton to the next generation of writers. We the pioneers in the blogging and online writing world, making space for the settler’s offspring. I like that picture but I loathe the idea that I’m somehow ahead of others. I have always been an early adopter and late bloomer. I love the idea of making space for risk, experimentation, ingenuity, and try, try agains. But I also take a long, long time to see if this thing works.

I used to think there would come a point in writing at which I would have felt arrived. A pitch from a certain publication. My name on a cover. Paying work (!). But the truth is, arrival never happens, does it? I’m not asking you as much as, in the words of the great Kathleen Kelly, “Sending this cosmic question out into the void.” There never comes a time at which we feel totally accomplished. Did the pioneers always feel like pioneers? Does the blood of explorers always run fast and far to four corners of the earth? Does a proclivity toward risk always leave one wanting more? Or is this just the human condition? The endless pursuit of being like God and knowing all?

Like I said, this is a question for the void and not for an answer. I know the answer, after all, at least the Sunday School one (which doesn’t make it less true even if it’s more cliché). Here’s what I do know, the more I work at my work, the less adequate I feel at it. I think this must be true of everyone and most of us pretend it’s not. We pretend at being the masters or mistresses of the work of our hands, but I wonder if we all feel that irksome doubt just one glance over our shoulder.

My husband and I have been talking about the imaginary ladder we all mingle around. In the vernacular, “The Five Year Plan,” or, if you’re a really good pretender, “The Ten Year Plan.” I really mean it when I say I’m doing good if I can nail down a week or a day. A month feels insurmountable most of the time. A year almost impossible. Five years unthinkable. Ten years a lifetime. Ten years ago this summer I was laying on my snot soaked carpet denying the God I didn’t think existed, standing up a few hours later an agnostic (at best). Any “plan” I might have made at any point upon my life (pick a point, any point) would not have led me to where I am today.

That’s not to say I’m discontent with today. I have an enviable life. I envied the life I have now five, ten years back. I know the blessing of this day, the gift of it. But I would be lying if I said it comes easy, every day a joy, a total delight. I feel like a great pretender most of the time. And I think most of us do. At least most women, almost every woman I know. Imposter’s syndrome. Even the most successful of us still has that irksome friend Doubt forcing them to play the game as best they can as long as they can.

Today’s episode of The Good Enough Podcast has three of us on it, three women you might look at and say, “Well, they seem like they love their work, have plenty of opportunities, and never feel confused or like a failure about it.” I guess I just wanted to take a long, rambling path to telling you that simply isn’t true. We all doubt ourselves and our work and our adequacy again and again. It’s one reason I love the name of the podcast, “Good Enough: Finding the Good in a Never Enough World.” Because I think most of us struggle with that concept, being good enough or doing good enough or even being okay with things being good enough and not perfect. But I guess I just wanted to say sometimes Good Enough is just what I can do today. Good Enough is just sending this missive out into the void.

Newsflash: you don’t even have to read it, but I needed to write it, so thanks for receiving it.

this woman's work