When I was a little girl, I was in awe of Mary, the mother of Jesus. She was the first Biblical woman I was introduced to in my childhood Catholic parish, and one of my favorite gifts from my childhood was a porcelain figurine of Mary that I received as a gift for my first communion. I adored that figurine because it looked exactly as I imagined the real Mary was: gentle, modest, and serene. She even held a rose delicately in her graceful hands.
In all honesty, that figurine was probably a tacky piece of porcelain, but my nine-year-old self only saw a reflection of the woman she wanted to become—the “gentle and quiet spirit” that represents unfading beauty in Peter’s first epistle (3:4). It had been taught to me as the epitome of biblical womanhood, and I accepted it: hook, line, and sinker.
Unfortunately for me, I did not hit the genetic jackpot when it came to receiving a “gentle and quiet” personality. I could not have been more different from the Mary of my youth and imagination.
In fact, I first heard about the personality assessment and spiritual growth tool called the Enneagram when a friend lent me Richard Rohr’s book about it and said, “I think you’re the Eight.” Imagine my dismay upon reading that the Enneagram identifies Eights with stereotypical masculine energy, like that of Ernest Hemingway, Fidel Castro, and, yes, horror of horrors, even Donald Trump. They are the ones that leave others with the impression that they are strong, mighty, and unyielding. The Enneagram Institute describes Eights as the “dominating, powerful type.”
I was deflated, to say the least, because, needless to say, none of those famous Eights were my aspirational role models. Theirs was not at all the soft and gentle temperament I had hoped to attain someday–and it certainly was not the one that was affirmed in the evangelical Christian culture where I matured in the faith. Every time I assertively debated the merits of an idea, naturally fell into a leadership role or disagreed with a man in authority, I felt a little more shame and self-hatred at my inability to fit that “Figurine Mary” ideal. Everyone around me promoted that ideal: my church leaders, the women I respected, the books I read, and the Bible studies I attended.
Even more demoralizing was the fact that it had been so easy for my friend to accurately identify me as an Eight. It was a cruel reminder that I was failing in all my attempts to be what I thought was the proper Christian woman.
Nonetheless, I spent years trying to force myself to become “Figurine Mary,” unaware that my picture of her was narrow and incomplete. I even entered a serious dating relationship where I had convinced myself and him that I would be happy in a relationship with traditional gender roles; that I would gladly change my name; and that I could be happy silencing my own voice.
Not surprisingly, all my attempts to be someone I am decidedly not resulted in one spectacular failure after another.
But something wonderful did happen in the middle of all those disappointments: I was introduced to a side of Mary I had never seen—what I call the “Badass Mary,” and she is no delicate figurine. That brown-skinned, Middle Eastern girl takes a great risk in saying yes to God’s creative work in her life, and she sings a song of resistance, advocating for the overthrow of the social order, where the poor will be filled, but the rich will be sent away empty-handed (Luke 1:46-55).
“Badass Mary” is courageous and resilient in the face of trials and suffering–she understands that being blessed and favored by God is nothing like winning the lottery, and everything like trusting that God is at work even amidst things we cannot see or understand. She would make any Enneagram Eight proud!
And it was “Badass Mary” who began to give me back to myself—to accepting and loving the self God created rather than the one that had been imposed on me and that I had imposed on myself.
Of course, we have no way of knowing Mary’s Enneagram type, and it is useless to speculate, but having a fuller and more balanced understanding of of her helped me to connect to the reality that our best selves are complex and multifaceted. I began to see that a redeemed Enneagram Eight woman might not look “gentle and quiet,” but she might look like…
Deborah, the prophetess, warrior, and judge—a woman who used her strength and leadership gifts to fight for her people. And win (Judges 4 and 5).
Queen Vashti, who stood up to her husband King Xerxes, refusing to let him and his cronies treat her like a sexual object. She was deposed and possibly executed for her courage (Esther 1).
Fearless and determined Jael, who drove a tent peg through Sisera’s head to deliver her people from their enemy (Judges 4).
In my case, I do not think committing a political assassination like Jael will be necessary, but I cannot deny that I feel fully alive whenever I engage my passion for truth, life, and justice. When I channel my anger at injustice in healthy ways, like protest and advocacy, the best of my Eight energy shines through. Quietly pondering things in my heart is all well and good, but marching, speaking out, and writing to advocate are life-giving to me and use my God-given intensity and extroversion for the good of others.
We often forget that Jesus’ command that we love our neighbor is predicated on our love of self. Far from selfish, the journey to self-love is vital to our generosity of heart. This is not the romantic love we normally extol on Valentine’s Day, but the uncomfortable love of accepting ourselves as we are. Jesus tells us that loving ourselves is essential by including it in the most important commands he gives us (Mark 12:30, 31).
But short of writing ourselves a valentine, it is difficult to imagine what it looks like to truly love ourselves, so for that we need the poets. In “Love After Love,” poet Derek Walcott imagines accepting your true self like receiving a delightful stranger arriving at your home:
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
Welcome, true Enneagram Eight self! You will be loved and accepted here.
Image credit: Ben Wildflower Magnificat, 2016