I have always loved personality tests. I love the questions, the analysis, poring over every word that determines exactly who I am – all of it. Yes. I am one of those! I studied psychology in college after all, a major that may not do much for my career prospects sans graduate degree but has greatly deepened my obsession with all things related to personality.
As of late, there has been one specific tests that has been popping up in Christian circles called the Enneagram. Now before I lose you, this post is not actually about the Enneagram, the typing, the pros and cons of every type, etc. Nor is it about the deep questions or theology of such a typing system – this is simply a stream of consciousness reflection on something that has been gnawing at me in every conversation about this thing. So here we go. I love the Enneagram! I am not ashamed to say that. When I first read my type, I was shocked at how succinctly some words on a page could describe the essence of my being. I dove headlong into an obsessive need to learn more so that I could communicate it clearly to those around me. It truly is one of the clearest and most telling of the personality typing systems I’ve experienced (Jung Myers Briggs Typology, SDI, Strengths Finder, DISC, etc.). However, after I learned more about my type, I became deeply discouraged, feeling that some accomplishments and relationships were no longer accessible to me because they were atypical for my type. In this, I began to whither, to pigeon-hole myself, and to dig deeper into this thing looking for meaning.
Of course, not all people who get into the Enneagram follow my same pattern, but my aforementioned obsessive nature combined with an eagerness to learn and thirst for self knowledge meant that I found myself in somewhat of a mess. In the midst of this confusion, I would still converse with friends and family regarding all of this typing, our strengths, weaknesses, and motivations, and we would even attempt to define others’ types relative to their apparent strengths and weaknesses.
One morning, I was sitting on my balcony, and I had something of an epiphany. You see, I was finding myself once again in a spiral of discouragement recognizing my flaws and faults as made clear to me by the Enneagram, and I remembered a warning in a book I had read on the topic. The authors of the book The Road Back to You warn readers against doing all the things I had done! They warn against using the Enneagram as dinner party prattle and instead encourage readers to look within, find some degree of self-knowledge, and to work through what one has learned with God. In that moment, I simply prayed that God would help me to not seek understanding of the Enneagram or my friends and family but to understand who He is and what He asks of me. These flaws that I see may be areas where I need His grace and forgiveness, or they may simply be weaknesses that He may ask me to work through with Him.
As an example, my type often represses emotion and is highly “productive” in the most American sense of the word. However, I know that when a friend is hurting, what is most helpful is not to repress emotion but to find the space to simply sit in silence together. While my type may not be predisposed to such an action, my desire to love others well can drive me to ask God to give me the ability to sit and to love even when my natural predisposition is to run to the next task. While I may have in the past said “I’m not a very emotional person,” I now have the understanding that I in fact repress emotion. That understanding is the crucial first step toward further working through this issue, and I now realize I am not intended to conquer my problems outside of God, all on my own. Like all experiences we approach in life, God’s desire is that finding flaws or trials propels us into a closer walk with Him.
All this to say, I want to challenge myself and our church to a higher calling in terms of these typing systems. By no means am I condemning them or insinuating that they are negative as I have found great value in them, but specifically in my understanding of the Enneagram, I find that the best use for them is in spiritual formation, and to bring us closer to God and to one another. I want to challenge us beyond casual dinner party conversation and self congratulation (which I am apt to relish!) and into a deeper understanding of how God wants to transform us further into the likeness of His Son. After all, God has created us to each be unique individuals all on a path of looking more like Jesus in whatever way He calls us to be. We lay down who we naturally are in order to take up more of who He is so that we may glorify Him in our community and in the world.
If you’d like to read more about the Enneagram, The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile is a great place to start.