March 23, 2023
I do not easily cry. But when I cry has always felt unpredictable. There are moments when I wish I could cry and then there are moments when I wish I could stop myself from tearing up. Which is why, a few years ago, I was taken aback by tears forming in my eyes while reading a book about personality types. It was a book called The Road Back to You and the subject was my own personality reflected in the Enneagram.
My wife, Jess, had been telling me about something called the Enneagram for a few years. It was a personality typing system that had mysterious roots in ancient monastic communities. The Enneagram is based around nine personality types that each have their own motives, traits, strengths, and weaknesses. I tend to roll my eyes at such things, assigning to them the same amount of credence as a Buzzfeed-quiz or a mood ring. And when I saw the diagram that accompanied the Enneagram system, I teased Jess that it looked like a Satanic pentagram.
Jess patiently endured my jokes and ribs. Finally, one day she loving handed me the book and said, “It would really mean a lot to me if you would read this with an open mind.” I could tell that her tone of sincerity was heartfelt so I started the book. The authors tell people NOT to take some random online assessment to find out what personality type you hold. Instead, they invited readers to learn about the nine personality types and wait to see if one of them resonated with you more than the others (cue the inner eyerolls from myself).
My cynicism was going strong until I got to a page entitled, “What It’s Like to Be a Three.” The page was full of statements from people who identified as a Three on the Enneagram. As I read through the list, I felt my face grower warmer and redder. I felt as if somebody had somehow stolen my journals and were now broadcasting for the world my inner thoughts. It made me feel vulnerable and ashamed. But it also made me feel seen and known. And that is when the tears began to form in my eyes.
Since reading that book, the Enneagram has become a tool that Jess and I use in our marriage to love each other more deeply. As we explore one another’s personality types, it has infused us with deeper empathy for one another (including for ourselves). Our personality types are not excuses for negative behavior, but they are contexts from which we are both seeking to grow and transform.
So much of Christian discipleship is devoted to immersing ourselves in scripture. And, believe me, I think we need MORE of that, not less. However, I also worry that many of us are filling ourselves with theological trivia in an effort to distract ourselves from the truly difficult work of the soul. St. Augustine said, “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.” It turns out that exploring who we are (our personalities, our gifts, our talents, our passions, etc.) is a way to worship the One who made us. And knowing ourselves more fully allows ourselves to be more open to the work of the Spirit to shape us and mold us. Knowing ourselves is not only a gift to ourselves, it is also a gift to those whom love us, including our Lord.
If you are looking for a place to start in exploring your God-given personality, I recommend The Road Back to You. Not everybody will connect with the Enneagram and that’s okay. But perhaps you will.
If you are at all interested in having more discussion about the Enneagram and how it intersects with following Jesus, Jess and I are interested in hosting and leading a group this summer at our home. If you would like to participate, send me an email (email@example.com) and we’ll keep you updated.