It's a sign of the devil, she told me. I nodded solemnly. We were standing outside an old building with graffiti on the side. I didn't really know why a star inside a circle was the sign of the devil, but my 10-year-old self accepted it as true.
It's so easy to hear something, especially from an authoritative-seeming source and trust it without asking whether it's really true. I think of all the Christians who boycotted Harry Potter when it first came out, and maybe there are still those who believe it is evil, though I found the story largely redemptive. That's not to say we shouldn't approach new ideas (especially things kids will consume) with a discerning heart and mind. It's important to be intentional and informed about what we choose to let influence our ideas. But the problem is, it can be easier to just let that 10-year-old self dictate what we believe.
All this preamble to introduce something that may be unfamiliar to many, though I think it may have been gaining popularity in recent years: the Enneagram. Enneagram is a personality typing system with spiritual roots. It's a model for understanding what drives people, and a way of orienting oneself toward growth.
I think this topic also opens up a valuable conversation, that is, what should our approach be to things whose roots are questionable? As an oral tradition, the beginnings of the Enneagram are unclear, but most sources point to origins in the teachings of the Desert Fathers (Christian), but also more mystical Buddhist and Muslim beliefs. Does that mean automatic grounds for dismissal? To what extent does this principle apply? As I said before, our inner 10-year-olds are quick to discount anything that seems unfamiliar. But what about, for example, the Easter bunny? Many are quick to point out that bunnies are pagan fertility symbols. We can choose to reject it outright, dismiss it for ourselves but allow others to use it, or look for the deeper redemptive themes (like seeing bunnies as a symbol of new life instead). Personally, I would choose to look at the results—or to use Biblical terms—the fruit.
Going back to the Enneagram, it's a tool that I personally have found to be transformative. If you talk to me for long enough, chances are I'll probably refer to it because it has produced significant fruit in my life through what I believe is the leading of the Holy Spirit. I've always been interested in temperament and personality tests, but if you're someone who dismisses such things due to lack of scientific evidence the Enneagram may not be for you. While it isn’t magic, its truths are more spiritual and intuitive rather than objective and scientific.
The Enneagram comprises nine different types, each with unique characteristics, challenges, and most importantly; growth paths. Rather than oversimplifying the human consciousness, the Enneagram seems to get more complex as you look at how different types interact and are influenced by each other. The way I best heard it described was by Ian Crohn, co-author of The Road Back to You, which introduces the Enneagram from a Christian perspective: he compares it to colors. For example, there's dark green, sea green, the color of grass, and the green in hazel eyes, but we could still call all of these green. Humans are even more complex, but, according to the Enneagram, there are certain basic motivations that drive us. When we can identify these motivations, we can understand not only why we do what we do, but also have a reason to offer grace to those who think differently from us.
As I mentioned above, one reason I like the Enneagram is that it encourages personal growth. It’s not just a description, or even a list of strengths and weaknesses, but it typifies what you might look like in an unhealthy (or stressed state) and what you can aspire to at your healthiest. It’s been inspiring to me, and given me a lot of insight into my own behavior patterns. It’s not a reason to make excuses, (well I’m a ___, so I’m naturally ______, I just can’t help it) but an invitation to take your weaknesses and turn them into strengths. A dear truth that I’m still in the midst of learning is that sometimes our greatest obstacle, weakness or fault can also become our greatest strength or advantage. I tend to think of myself as a people pleaser, for instance, and I can see how that manifests itself in very unhelpful ways in my life. However, the other side of that coin is an adaptability that has allowed me to survive and thrive while living in a cross-cultural context.
As I’ve listened to and learned about the Enneagram, another thing that has struck me is how it has transformed the lives and relationships of people who have told their stories. They’ve suddenly realized that there is a reason why their colleague, partner, or friend always avoids negative topics, needs things to be perfect, or seems ready for a fight. When you understand that others may have a different core motivation from you, or that they see the world through a different lens, and therefore might uniquely struggle with something that you could do in your sleep, it is so much easier to offer them grace and room to grow. We don’t need the Enneagram to begin this practice, but it certainly seems to help.
Once I started learning about the Enneagram, I started seeing it in Scripture. It is in the Beatitudes and the seven deadly sins, and also in the way that God chose such different people to accomplish his purposes throughout history with scribes and soldiers, Pharisees and prostitutes. I think about how the apostle Paul talks about becoming “all things to all people” (1 Cor 9:19-23) and how Jesus modeled this so well in each distinctive miracle, conversation, and encounter he had. Each of us was created to bring a unique contribution to the world. Just like with the spiritual gifts: not everyone is the teacher or prophet, and not everyone is the helper or healer. But we are all given these things to build up those around us.
If you’re open to taking a deep dive into who you are and could be, I invite you to prayerfully journey with me into this model of seeing the world that could change everything for you. Embrace the Enneagram. Or don’t. But before dismissing it, recognize that it has helped countless people on their journey with God.
Some places where you can learn more about the Enneagram:
And, to be fair, here’s a criticism of the Enneagram:
Beatitudes and the Enneagram:
Here's my reflection on the Enneagram and the Beatitudes (for those already familiar with the 9 types):
Charlotte is on the Editorial team at boldcupofcoffee.com and currently works with a non-profit organization in Taiwan where she teaches, leads English Bible studies, writes educational materials, trains teachers, poses for pictures, and a bunch of other stuff too. She is originally from Canada, spending significant amounts of time in all three westernmost provinces and the idea of home has become quite fluid. She has learned that life overseas is not as exotic as people may think, but life with God is a daily adventure.
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