I have worked in several organizations where personality tests were a common language, sometimes they became a default for conversation or the butt of many jokes. It was not uncommon to be able to identify strengths, introversion or extroversion or a myriad of other descriptors of one’s work, communication or social style.
While this was fun (and trust me, I do LOVE talking about these things), I often found the conversation lacking. I wanted more. As an introvert, I prefer a good, quality conversation over chit chat. Often I felt these conversations were superficial ways of getting to know each other… they only scratched the surface. I also noticed another tension point when it came to how we discussed these numbers, letters or shapes. Not only were these objects used to signify ourselves, they were also used to excuse.
“Oh, I’m just an 7 and that means this” or
“Introverts are selective” or
“I don’t have that strength.”
Our knowledge of self became justification for our behavior or preferences. In faith-based circles, how often does our talk of preferences and temperament mask what we really need to talk about—sin, confession and repentance?
Personality tests tell us how great we are . . . why we’re likeable, how we’re strong. It’s dangerous to let these tools shape our social lives. They tell us about making friends and who we get along with. They can easily be used to draw boundaries around those like us and those who aren’t. Rarely do these tests talk about our weakness, limitations or faults.
Relearning the Language of Sin
This is actually what drew me to the Enneagram . . . it gives room to talk about darkness, shadows and sin. In Richard Rohr’s book on the Enneagram, he combines this powerful ancient tool with the language of sanctification. He speaks of a journey of integrating ourselves with God. What is still in the dark or shadowed are the spaces where we live out of our false selves.
We must force our ego into light to have it reconciled so we may live out of our True Self that is hidden in Christ. My pastor jokes that if you read a number and want to throw up because it exposed your soul, that’s probably the number you are.
Unlike other tests, many cannot guess your number. The Enneagram is designed to show us our motives—something that comes deeply from our inner life. The Enneagram then explains what this motive looks like in a false (sinful) state and its power when it’s redeemed.
I’m a 9 (with an 8 wing) on the Enneagram. My core sin is apathy. I lose myself to try and maintain this balance. I can tell when I’m exhausted because I pull inward. It’s easy for me to disengage or just “go with the flow” to a point of detriment. I need work to be present.
The Enneagram is a powerful tool because it helped me recognize when I was operating out of my shadow-side . . . that is the part of that desires sin, and is still growing. This part of me that is still deeply in need of hope, healing and a better understanding of God’s love so I can live abundantly.
I like this language because it gives us a fuller understanding of sin. Rather than a list of do-nots or shaming behavior and attitudes, we come to understand sin in relationship to experiencing more of who God is. Sin is still there, but it inhibits the fullness of God’s presence in our lives. Sin (and redemption) is not about a legalistic God who is holding our actions against us, but someone who wants to love us into wholeness.
Sometimes it’s easier to define sin as blatant acts of hurt, disrespect or pain. We want sin to be actions that are easily categorized as wrong or right. We seek less to understand sins we have become comfortable with. Instead, we have learned to excuse these behaviors, actions and attitudes. “Oh, I’m just a ___”, as if a description alters our intentions and motives. We so easily mistake information for transformation.
From Information to Transformation in Community
I believe that knowing oneself is important, but in an age of individuality we need to look at how that knowledge affects community. In order for knowledge to be transformative, it must be more than stroking our own egos. Our knowledge must push us past pretense and toward truth.
Jewish theologian and scholar, Martin Buber, talks about the levels of interpersonal relationship.These levels of interaction are scaled: I-It, I-You, You-You and so on. The lowest (I-It) occurs when we are removed from someone, valuing them as an object or a means to an end.
The highest way of relating is called I-Thou. This space of knowing is deeply spiritual and personal, it means I honor the other and see them as sacred. To to be at a level of I-Thou means I have to know myself, know my flaws and how they impact others.
We can only relate as I-Thou through a deep humility and mutual dependence. I have to trust that confession and repentance—embracing and naming my False Self—moves me to a greater embodiment with the other. Living with an attitude of I-Thou, Buber states, is only made possible because of how we know and understand God.
This is where the Enneagram is powerful—it brings to light our ego, revealing our False Self. The Enneagram also helps us understand how our False Self, our actions, attitudes and sins impact others.
We like to think reconciliation means understanding the problem (and ourselves). We seem to skip the part about confession and repentance. But it’s in the working through our false selves—naming our sins and shadows that we find transformation. It’s in the messiness of relationship that we are formed and transformed.
Learning that I was an 9 on the Enneagram helped me identify ways that I operate from my False Self. I’m able to discern when things I may have labeled as shyness or insecurity are actually rooted in a desire to escape or not engage.
More importantly, I’m also given a picture of what it means to operate from my True Self. When I’m willing to name my sin, and live in community, I see that I actually have great capacity to love. Nines, in their True Selves, are empathetic, intuitive and balanced. It means I actually have a deep capacity to love and be present, to take in all kinds of feeling and merge with another. I can only do that healthily when I’m living in my True Self.