Growing up, I was red-headed and vertically challenged, both easy targets for bullies. I wouldn’t call the problem chronic, but even one round of name-calling is too much. So, after a less than ideal day at school, I decided to take action. I needed some superpowers. I’m not sure how the decision was made, but I settled on Superman.
The only problem? I lacked a cape. No worries, though. My grandmother was sick with a sewing needle. And I was unquestionably the favorite grandchild (which is still true). So, I made a phone call, and several weeks later, it came. My very own Superman cape.
I threw the cape around my back, tied it around my neck and climbed on my Red Ryder wagon. My maiden voyage was about to commence. I gathered steam, and nearing the edge of the wagon, I leaped forward, arms and legs spread, snow angel style.
Before belly-flopping on the front lawn, every bone in my young body believed I could fly. Don’t judge me, I was only five, six at the oldest.
That moment was a game-changer. I had no access to superpowers, dang it. So, I better learn how to make life work in this skin.
I would spend the next twenty-plus years learning to live in a world where every check-out girl asked me where I got my red hair, most middle and high school girls thought I was cute (translation: I’m not dating you) and often overlooked in sports for not passing the eye test (I was short, in other words). I had to work for stuff, in other words. I learned to embrace the underdog role, almost hoping someone would doubt me so I could prove them wrong.
I developed my personality, in other words, my way of thriving in the world. Every human ever does this. The word “personality” comes from the Latin word persona. Now, catch this. Originally, this word described the masks or roles an actor assumed on stage.
Your personality, in other words, is a mask painted by your internal and external behaviors, how you tackle to conflict, respond to fear, etc. Your personality isn’t bad or evil. But it’s not you. It’s who you think you are. And, at some point, I’m afraid to say, you encounter some life event your personality can’t overcome. I call this “The One.” You will probably call it something much worse.
“The One” is the life event your persona has no answer for. For the first time, you face something your personality can’t overcome.
You will ask the usual questions. “Why can’t I move past this? What’s wrong with me? Is this really happening again?”
What has always “worked” for you now does the opposite.
I found “The One” in 2016.
It started early, when my wife’s grandfather, the patriarch of her family, killed himself. This man was a Christ follower. I might not know Jesus without him. His death was a primer, of sorts. In the midst of the grief, I was forced to ask big questions about God and life after death. A few months later came the big blow, for my persona at least. After three years of blogging, learning to write, researching the intricacies of reaching a digital world, my big break came. A Christian media company hired me to manage and create content for a few of its web properties. This was a dream job, but not a surprising one. I worked hard for it.
Four weeks in, barely enough time for my toes to touch the water, I was let go. Fired. Given a pink slip.
To put the metaphorical cherry on this crap cake, a month after being fired, jobless and damn near faithless, we received a phone call from our adoption agency. Our adopted daughter suddenly, tragically died.
In this dark space, I found the Enneagram. More specifically, I found my true self, my divine identity, the man God created me to be. The Enneagram was merely a signpost.
Know this, the Enneagram is very different, to the average American Christian, almost threatening. You will initially want to discredit its contents for any number of reasons: the symbols look like something in eastern religions, the Bible never speaks of it, and (depending on the source) its origins are debatable.
The most important question you can ask is, “Is it true?” The answer, I believe, is “Absolutely!” The Enneagram is only threatening to your ego, your persona, your self-image because uncovering who you are means letting go of you think you are.
The Enneagram is the most effective tool I’ve found for moving past your persona and discovering your true self. I’ve tried similar tests, Myers-Briggs, DiSC and others. Those tests do a good enough job of helping you identify your personality and strengths. But the Enneagram isn’t concerned with strengths or spiritual gifts, per se.
The Enneagram is about transformation.
You need to re-read that sentence. Done? Great, re-read it again.
The Enneagram will make you feel squeamish at times. It will most likely frustrate and anger you. And it will, without a doubt, humiliate you. The Enneagram catches you with your pants down. That’s why you must be ready to receive it. Otherwise, you’ll decide pulling up your pants is far better than any search for a true self. But when life takes you to the end of yourself, shattering your hope, whether your pants are up or down matters very little.
So, here’s what I want to do. Before firehosing you with the Enneagram deets, I want to show you why it matters. It’s not the model for spiritual transformation, but the Enneagram is the most effective tool I’ve seen.
Here are 4 life-changing spiritual truths I learned through the Enneagram.
1. How you see yourself is how you see God and others.
In his first sermon, Jesus calls people to repent. I hated that word growing up. It was judgmental and conjured up pictures of eternal fire and burning sulfur lakes. So I mostly ignored any mention of repent. But the word literally means “change your mind.” It’s about transforming the way you think rather than removing bad stuff from your life. Don’t underestimate the magnitude of this.
Jesus says, in essence, “You’re the problem. You change.” No wonder his own people killed him.
This is also the central message of the Enneagram. That’s why most people write it off. We would much rather point fingers and spend our time fixing this broken world than fixing our broken hearts. The Enneagram demands you change your world, and any attempt to tinker with someone else’s is a smokescreen.
Self-awareness is the first step in transformation.
The first step in transformation is self-awareness. You are, as James Hollis says, “the only person who is consistently present in every scene of that long-running drama we call our life.”
2. God loves and adores you, even the sinful parts.
If you accept the Enneagram as true on any level, it’s not long before you reach a perplexing conclusion: God loves you despite your sin. Yeah, you already know that. But, honestly, do you really? I didn’t.
I thought God loved me if I did the right things, worked hard enough, etc. According to the Enneagram, your gift is wrapped inside your sin (more on this in the next post). “Our gift is our sin transformed by grace,” as Richard Rohr says.
For the first time, maybe ever, I believe God adores me just as I am. I don’t need to fix myself, read my Bible or evangelize my next neighbor to receive God’s love. God doesn’t love some future version of me. No, the Creator loves me right now.
This is LIBERATING, friends. Once you really get this, there is no space for fear or anxiety. None.
3. The Enneagram will expand your capacity for love and empathy.
Thomas Merton said this, “The beginning of love is the willingness to let those we love be themselves…If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
I remember finishing Richard Rohr’s book The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, slamming it to the ground in disgust and sobbing.
I was overcome with my narrow-mindedness, with how quickly and effortlessly I labeled, categorized, even judged people by their actions. People aren’t defined by their actions, not in God’s eyes. I’m convinced the Creator sees neither good nor bad people. He sees people, men and women created in his image.
This is no small statement, but nothing about my life is the same. Rather than parenting my two boys from my lens, I try to see things through theirs. I see my wife through her lens, not mine. The same is true for my faith community.
I can’t change how people see the world, but I can step into their world and “help them change what they do with what they see,” as Ian Cron says in The Road Back to You.
4. You can experience heaven right now.
The Enneagram shows you the walls and blockades that keep you from experiencing God. It reveals your true identity, who you really are in God. Identifying and letting go of your self-image and ego requires awareness. More than that, it requires awake-ness. To be awake is to give your energy to the present moment rather than reminiscing about the past or idealizing the future. To be awake means you observe each moment without passing judgment on it or attaching labels to it. When you’re awake, you realize joy and peace and hope are inside-out jobs, and suddenly you’re no longer enslaved to your circumstances.
Joy and peace are inside-out jobs, not the product of your circumstances.
When you wake up, stop judging the world and choose joy rather than go looking for it, something amazing happens, a less anxious mind and a more content heart. This has been my experience. I’m more inclusive, more accepting, more open to different and uncomfortable.
Rather than heaven being some future place, I believe it’s here and now. This realization is liberating. If heaven is now, then this life matters. And it matters right now.
Transformation is hard, messy work. But if we’re willing to address the man in the mirror, we will find the abundant life.
Grace and peace, friends.
Frank is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside church. He is also a husband, father and Jesus-follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee.