How Bad Advice Led to Life-Changing Invitations for This Enneagram Eight

How Bad Advice Led to Life-Changing Invitations for This Enneagram Eight

Pastor and activist Sandra Maria Van Opstal shares about power and vulnerability as an Enneagram Eight and how she turned bad advice into opportunities for deeper freedom.

In college I led a Bible study with some friends in our apartment for a pretty large group of people. I was studying Scripture for the first time, learning to lead, and doing it in community. I was so thrilled—until the conflicts started. There was so much tension and I didn’t know why, and to make things worse the parties involved were not willing to confront the issue. As an Enneagram Eight and an intuitive feeler I could sense something, but I didn’t know what I had done. One of our mutual friends confronted me and expressed that I had a very powerful personality and could change the atmosphere of a room. I would later hear this from supervisors who were “intimidated” by me or encouraged a “gravitas” that I carried. People in my life seemed to be speaking to some kind of power that I had of which I was not aware. I was told that I needed to “manage my power.”

When I was in my twenties, I was being mentored by someone at my church who had my best intentions in mind. Here I was, twenty-nine years old and still single. My mentor seemed to be so impacted by my singleness that they brought it up every time we met. I was not concerned. I did want a partner, and of course I wanted to be in a relationship with romance, sexual intimacy, and connectedness, but I had a revolution to instigate. In one particular conversation we had they expressed that if I slowed down maybe someone would see that I was available and have interest in getting to know me. I’m not sure why that would make me more attractive since I felt that a Christian would be inspired by my passion for God and my work in coming alongside and working with those who were disenfranchised. I responded as only an Enneagram Eight could: “I’m not slowing down, they are going to have to catch up!”  

In my thirties, I was having a conversation with another friend and I expressed how frustrating it was that I had not yet found a partner for this adventure I was on. I was traveling the world, learning from Christians in other cultures, interrogating faith, designing models of ministry, serving in my local church, and continuing to lean into my worship of God. Yet, it seemed most Christian men were afraid of me or felt they needed to compete with me. After venting about these men and then shedding a few tears, I waited for my friend’s wisdom. He offered this, “Well, maybe if you showed your softer side it would help.”  I will not recount what I was thinking because it would not be allowed in this forum. Fellow Eights will know it went something like this: “!?@$^$%&$^&^%!”

These are clearly memorable moments to me because not only do I remember the advice that was given to me, I also remember all the details of the moment, like what I was wearing and where these conversations took place. The bottom line was that I did not trust these advice-givers.

First of all, these were men in faith settings in which power, drive, and strength are perfectly acceptable for men, but not for women. I was not going to let patriarchy have the last word. Secondly, these were White men in White Christian settings who had little to no experience working alongside Black Indigenous people and women of color. I was not here for White-centered ways of relationships and life. They couldn’t champion the passion that their Latina sister had in her gut, they could only silence me and diffuse the power that they felt overstepped the expectation. I knew that their overall assessment was wrong, but there seemed to be a word of invitation to me about power, slowness, and vulnerability.

I began to ask Jesus to give me the grace to lean into the invitations by asking:

How do I manage my power and still be fully myself without being afraid to offend? 

What does it mean to have passion and urgency for your good news of peace and care for myself?

In what ways am I protecting myself and hiding vulnerability? 

Is it ok to be strong when I feel strong?

Over the decades, with the wisdom of the Enneagram, I have come to understand myself better. As Eights, we are strong—stronger than most. We are able to withstand injury and insult that others cannot. But we are human and therefore also weak and vulnerable. Eights have more energy than most (especially those of us with a Seven wing). We are able to work longer, run harder, and produce so much that it amazes our friends. But we are human beings, and we must learn to be in our Creator’s presence and not always on a mission. As Eights we are leaders, and people count on us, but vulnerability is necessary for human connection.

These are all things I am learning by God’s grace and with a little sense of humor. I am thankful for the bad advice I was given because that bad advice provoked life-changing invitations that has led to collective liberation, healing, and flourishing for myself and those I love.

Are there moments of bad advice that might invite you to deeper freedom?

About the Author

Sandra Maria Van Opstal

Sandra Maria Van Opstal is a second-generation Latina and the executive director of Chasing Justice. She is an author, pastor, and activist who has given leadership in global movements such as Lausanne, The Justice Conference, and Urbana Missions Conference. She has also served as an executive pastor at Grace and Peace Church and as an activist on the west-side of Chicago. She is the author of Forty Days on Being an Eight and The Next Worship.

Emboldened to Do Courageous Things as an Enneagram Six

Emboldened to Do Courageous Things as an Enneagram Six

Tara Beth Leach, pastor and Enneagram Six, shares how the Holy Spirit propels her into courage when skepticism and fear hold her back.

Throughout my life, there have been several different tools—or what my tradition calls a means of grace—that have helped me dive into the depths of God’s redemptive and transformative love. Some of these tools have included therapy, support from friends, spiritual practices such as prayer and reflection, and the Enneagram.

Some of my greatest role models throughout my life have always stood out to me because of their courage. These were people who took risks—they risked their futures, sometimes their lives, and sometimes their careers. I have always been enamored by courageous stories. So when I discovered I was an Enneagram Six and I learned that we most known for “fear,” I was defensive. I wanted to be known for courage, bravery, fortitude, and tenacity. So when I began using the Enneagram as a tool to experience the redemptive depths of God’s transforming grace, I was at first a little skeptical.

Skeptical. Ah, of course I’d be skeptical. . . turns out we Sixes are known for that one, too.

But then, I discovered that I could, after all, be courageous. While my thoughts are consumed with worst-case-scenario-situations more than the average person, and while I’m almost always skeptical and defensive of authority until I am loyal, and while doubt is woven in and out of my life, by the grace of God, I’ve had a greater vision of what a redeemed Six can be.

Almost daily, the emboldening power of the Spirit meets me at the bottom of my fears and propels me to do courageous things that I never would have otherwise done. Almost daily, the comforting power of the Spirit propels me to step outside of my safe caves and experience a life of unwavering freedom. Almost daily, the wise power of the Spirit gives me the gift of discernment to read the room and people around me. Almost daily, the empowering presence of the Spirit impels me to do difficult things—things that would have seemed impossible years ago.

I’m a Six, and I’m not marked by fear. Instead, I am beloved and I am redeemed.

About the Author

Tara Beth Leach

Tara Beth Leach is a pastor at Christ Church of Oak Brook in the western suburbs of Chicago. She previously served as senior pastor of First Church of the Nazarene of Pasadena (“PazNaz”) in Southern California and has pastored in Illinois and New York. She is a graduate of Olivet Nazarene University and Northern Theological Seminary. She is the author of Emboldened, Radiant Church, and Forty Days on Being a Six.

Embracing My Fiveness Allowed Me to Take a Loving Look in the Mirror

Embracing My Fiveness Allowed Me to Take a Loving Look in the Mirror

Author and artist Morgan Harper Nichols shares how understanding her identity as an Enneagram Five has helped her embrace herself and connect with others.

When I first discovered the Enneagram, I wanted to be any type but a Five. After reading a few descriptions of the Five, it felt like everything I was reading applied to my life. . . . and that was the problem. I could feel Fiveness reaching up from the page to embrace me, but I wasn’t ready to embrace it in return. I wasn’t ready to be seen in this way.

The main reason why I was reluctant to embrace Fiveness was because people in my community were beginning to discover and discuss their types and no one I knew was a Five. Throughout my life, I had often felt like an outsider, and for once, I just wanted to be like everyone else. I was incredibly intrigued by the Enneagram, but I didn’t like this idea of being the lone Five off in the corner somewhere.

Despite these frustrations, I still wanted to know more. I began purchasing books about the Enneagram and reading as much as I could. As I read more about the Five, it became pretty undeniable that Fiveness applied to me. There were many moments where I felt like throwing the book across the room because the words felt too accurate. Descriptions of needing to have a good understanding before acting made me think of all the times in my life I bought yet another book to understand something more. Passages about a Five being detached from practicality made me think of all the dreams and plans stuck in the confines of my journal for no one to see but me. However, the more I read, other descriptions of the Five hit close to home, too. While I struggled with the words like “detached” and “reclusive,” I also saw other words. Words like “observer” and “visionary.” “Observer” made me think about the times where someone confided me and I remained non-judgmental and also helpful, because I was able to observe the situation as an outsider. “Visionary” recalled childhood memories where I frequently had detailed and vivid dreams that I would turn into stories. Stories that I still hold on to and reference today.

Looking at both the unhealthy and healthy aspects of Fiveness together helped me realize something: the reason why it was hard to embrace Fiveness was because this was the description of a person I hadn’t been embracing. I had become an observer of everything in the world except for myself. As a kid, I loved to lift up rocks and take a peak at all of the curious little creatures hidden beneath. . . . and this is what the Enneagram did to me. It was showing me all of the parts I hadn’t been paying attention to about myself because I was so used to focusing on observing and learning about everything else.

One of the misconceptions about Fives is that we always want to be alone. But while we are prone to enjoy our time alone, it doesn’t mean that we don’t seek community and connection with others. At the time of life when I discovered the Enneagram, I was desperate for connection. I had just experienced a major career change, I was in a new (and very large) city, and I was struggling to find my place. In this time of my life, it was the Enneagram that allowed to take a loving look in the mirror and learn how to embrace who I saw for the first time, and by taking this time to connect with who I was, I would open the door to connect with others.

As I saw other people in my life embrace their type, I begin to realize that even though it would take great courage, I had to learn to do the same. One way I began challenging myself was by sharing more of my poetry and art online. I had been holding back because I often considered my creative peers to be more well-prepared at sharing their craft with the world. With live broadcasts and dynamic videos, their work was well made and well received, and I often felt that my work wasn’t quite ready yet to be shared with others. However, slowly but surely, I began to share, anyway. What kept me going in that time was that others were beginning to tell me they connected with my work. . . . including people who I knew were not Fives.

It was through this experience I believe God revealed to me that two things can happen at once: I can learn to embrace who I was made to be while simultaneously connecting with others, whether they are alike or different from me. To this day, I still know far fewer Fives than any other type. I still have moments where I feel alone in my Fiveness and find myself researching new ways to connect with others. However, learning to take a closer look at Fiveness taught me that of all the things I love to learn about, I am allowed to learn more about myself, too. And I am not restricted to only learn from the comfortable confines of my home office or perusing the shelves of my local bookstore. I will also learn by courageously choosing to show up with what I have and who I am, even before I feel like I’m ready.

I will continue to learn that by choosing to be present despite my questions, I am learning to embrace myself—and also embrace connection with others and whatever else God leads me to discover in this life.

About the Author

Morgan Harper Nichols

Morgan Harper Nichols is a writer, a poet, and an artist with a popular Instagram feed (@morganharpernichols) and podcast, The Morgan Harper Nichols Show. She is also the author of Forty Days on Being a Five and All Along You Were Blooming. Morgan has performed as a vocalist on several Grammy Award–nominated projects. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

What Does True Belonging Look Like for an Enneagram Four?

what does belonging look like as an enneagram four

Christine Yi Suh shares how true belonging as both an Enneagram Four and a Korean American woman starts with spiritual practices of radical self-love and acceptance.

One of the main longings I’ve carried throughout my life as an Enneagram Four has been a desire to belong. 

And for the majority of my life, I tried to find belonging by shrinking myself to fit within the expectations set for me by societal, religious, and cultural structures. I strove to be a meek and submissive woman within Korean patriarchal church contexts and an invisibilized, tokenized Asian within dominant white spaces. As I sought belonging in these communities, I rejected the embodied parts of who I was—my womanhood, my Koreanness, my personality, story, and voice. At the time, I didn’t realize that the longer I stayed in these communities, I would lose the very person God made me to be.

Has your need for acceptance or belonging ever motivated a betrayal of your true, embodied self? Did you ever feel the need to disguise or suppress parts of yourself in order to better fit the expectations of others? 

Brene Brown in her book, Braving the Wilderness says “True belonging is the spiritual practice of believing in and belonging to yourself so deeply that you can share your most authentic self with the world. . . . True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.”

These past years, I have been on a journey of believing in and belonging to myself. I have been reframing and transforming my Four longing to belong into spiritual practices of radical self-love. In doing so, I am shedding decades of internalized oppression and self-rejection. I am following the courageous, liberative path of Korean women before me who resisted narratives of erasure and self-hatred, and sought their own flourishing, healing, and belonging. I see clearly now that true belonging first begins within me. 

My fellow Four siblings, I believe our journey for acceptance must become an inward reality rather than an outward search for belonging. The struggle to find outward affirmation will always be there, but we can also cultivate practices and narratives that remind us of our inherent worth. We are always being invited to come home to the abundant, singing voice of God who says to each of us, “You are my beloved child. . . . I am so pleased with you.” Can you hear this Voice deep within you? Your existence is a gift. You are beloved, you are enough, and you belong—just as you are.

About the Author

Christine Yi Suh is a writer, spiritual director, pastor, and the author of Forty Days on Being a Four. She has previously served as a pastor of spiritual formation and as the assistant director of spiritual formation and care at Pepperdine University.  She and her spouse, David, live with their two children outside of Los Angeles.

Seeing Beyond the Darkness as an Enneagram One

Seeing Through the Darkness as an Enneagram One

Pastor and spiritual director Juanita Campbell Rasmus shares about her dark night of the soul and how the Enneagram has helped her go beyond the One’s black-and-white, perfectionistic mindset.

From my earliest memories as a child, I have been striving and pushing for all that is right and good. My personal narrative has driven me into the depth of depression, exhaustion, adrenal fatigue, and into a dark night of the soul as St. John of the Cross wrote way back in the 16th century. Some time ago I came to a critical point in my life where all the good things that I had worked for, longed for—you know, happy marriage, great kids, vibrant career, comfortable lifestyle—had sucked the life out of me. I had begun to wonder: can your narrative kill you?

Now I know it can, or at least it could leave you for half dead. My life had imploded. No extramarital affair for this pastor, no inappropriate public behavior, no reckless use of funds personal or otherwise, just an emptiness that made sleeping my life away seem far too appealing. I went to bed one day and woke up in a dark pit, lethargic, empty, and desolate. Medication, therapy, and long days of silence, solitude, and reflection began to offer me hope for recovery.

In the process I found the Enneagram. What an incredible answer to my prayers and my sighs. In the Enneagram I came to see I had been living my life all in the dark, as though I had been born blind. The Enneagram turned on the light for me even in the pit. As an Enneagram One, my drivenness toward perfection, people pleasing, and needing the acceptance and approval of others had come from a very deep place within me rooted in fear. I had never considered myself to be a particularly fearful person until, along with the depression, I began to have panic attacks that were managed only by medication. Later, I would learn new coping mechanisms.

The Enneagram gave me insight and helped me see that my fear was rooted in punishment, in my case, for not being good enough. As a One I was fearful of being labeled, condemned, or judged for not having “what it takes.” So early on I became a “striver.” I was striving, pushing, and ultimately exhausting myself to death. My motto was work harder, do more, stay in the game at all cost.

I had literally spent my life up until then avoiding mistakes or failure, creating rules I believed would keep me disciplined and structured, free from chaos, confusion, and disaster. None of that really worked, but in my mind it appeared to. I had hoped all my rule-following would keep me safe from the wounds of being human. Needless to say, my way did not work. It is the way of the One to want to avoid failure, mistakes, and judgment. Along the way, I suppressed both anger and resentment which slowly brewed on the back burner of my subconsciousness.

My therapist once told me that depression is anger turned inward, and I was blown away by her comment. She said in the long run I would need to learn to live with my anger and it would prove healthier than depression as a coping mechanism. One of the gifts the Enneagram gave me was being able to see I could release my unrealistic expectations of myself as well as the silent unrealistic expectations I had of others. They were, after all, just thoughts I had created as a part of my narrative. Since I authored this saga, I had the power to rewrite the narrative. I had to let go of believing the standards, values, and principles I had set were fact! Shocker—they were simply the reality I had created in my black-and-white world and it was exacting a huge toll on my life and my relationships.

While it was unnerving to begin to see that all I had believed was not absolute truth, it was also quite freeing. You see, I had always been very dualistic in my thinking about life and relationships. All of that is just a nice way of saying that at the core, we Ones can be judgmental and condemning to all that does not line up to our rules of engagement. The growth for me has come as I am learning to be more respectful of the beliefs and values of other people.

I used to live in such a black-and-white world that I often prayed, “God, show me in black and white so I don’t mess this up.” God has graciously used the Enneagram to show me a myriad of truths in colors as intensely beautiful as the rainbow, and I am learning to be open to new ways of seeing and being freed from the restrictions of perfectionism. I am actually learning to live with the tension and the reality of mystery and it has been a great and joy-filled way of coming into the light of life.

About the Author

Juanita Campbell Rasmus

Juanita Campbell Rasmus is a speaker, writer, spiritual director, and contemplative. She copastors the St. John’s United Methodist Church in downtown Houston with her husband, Rudy. Pastor Juanita has served as a member of the board of directors of Renovaré and she cofounded Bread of Life, Inc., a nonprofit corporation, with Rudy in 1992. Juanita most recently teamed up with Tina Knowles Lawson and Beyoncé to help forty thousand flood victims recover in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in Houston. She is the author of Learning to Be and 40 Days on Being a One.

3 Ways of Navigating Life with the Enneagram: Thinking, Feeling, and Doing

Three Ways of Navigating Life with the Enneagram- Thinking, Feeling, and Doing

Pastor Todd Wilson explores how each Enneagram type draws on one of three Centers of Intelligence in this excerpt from his book The Enneagram Goes to Church.

Early on in life, before first grade, each of us learns to prefer one dimension of personality over the other two. We learn to lead with thinking or feeling or doing. We find it works for us and helps us get our needs met. We look to one of the other two dimensions for support, and we then let the third dimension, whichever that is for each of us, sit idly by or fall out of use. In a word, we neglect it.

In a nutshell, this is the Enneagram theory of personality. The nine personality types at the heart of the Enneagram are the result of these three dimensions of personality coming together in nine different combinations. Some lead with thinking, others with feeling, still others with doing. Some support with thinking, others with feeling, still others with doing. And some let thinking fall into disuse, others feeling, and still others doing.

These three aspects of experience—thinking, feeling, and doing— make up nine different combinations of personality types. This is the deep logic of the Enneagram.

But the Enneagram also claims that the way each personality comes together is through the overuse of one of the centers (known as the Preferred Center), the misuse of a second (known as the Support Center), and the underuse of a third (known as the Repressed Center). Let’s take a look at each of these in turn.

Your Preferred Center (or Triad)

The Enneagram arranges the nine personality types into three sets of three, according to which dimension of personality plays the lead role in our life. These three clusters of three are known as Triads. Your Triad identifies which is your Preferred Center.

Each of us takes in information from the world around us with either thinking, feeling, or doing. We draw on one of the three Centers of Intelligence to help us make our way in the world. This is the how we process the information coming at us.

I like to think of it as the way we read the world. What are you quick to notice? What immediately catches your eye? Where does your attention tend to go? What do you see that others may not see? Is it the action or actors in any given situation? Or the emotional dynamics of the people involved? Or the ideas, perspectives, or possibilities at play?

If you read the world with feeling, you are in the Heart Triad. If you read the world with thinking, you are in the Head Triad. And if you read the world with doing, you are in the Body Triad. One of them will be your preferred strategy for living in the world and making sense of it.

Each Triad has its own unique traits. Let’s take a closer look at what they are.

The Heart Triad

Those in the Heart Triad know what they know about the world and relationships through their hearts, through their intuitive emotional grasp of a situation. People in this Triad lead with their hearts, which means they read the world with emotions or feelings. Heart Triad people are often highly emotionally intelligent. They’re generally very good with people and have little trouble showing empathy, compassion, or understanding.

All the social geniuses of the world are in the Heart Triad. They’re the kind of people who gravitate toward other people and find relationships come very easily and naturally. You won’t find many socially awkward people who are in the Heart Triad. Interpersonally, they’re smooth. Because they’re so relationally attuned, they tend to be overly dependent on people’s opinion of them, especially when they’re working in an unhealthy space. Heart Triad people can be good listeners and warm conversationalists. But they can be beholden to the approval of others, emotionally reacting to rather than thoughtfully engaging with people in their lives.

In a word, Heart Triad people crave validation from others, which can make them needy. And while presenting themselves as others-focused, it can ironically be all about them—their own validation, affirmation, or accomplishment. This is a shadow-side of the Heart Triad. Deep down, they struggle with shame and worthlessness, which is why they cultivate an image of themselves that wins approval and affection from others. When this is brought into balance, they are exemplary individuals who love to love and be loved. But when it is overdone, it can lead to cloying, self-serving dependence on others.

The Head Triad

If those in the Heart Triad are interpersonal and geared to relationships, then those in the Head Triad are impersonal and oriented to ideas, thoughts, and insights. This of course doesn’t mean that those in the Head Triad are socially inept, uncaring, or bad with people. It does mean, however, that they’re always looking for an objective perspective on life.

Bill Nye the Science Guy is a member of the Head Triad. Members of the Head Triad are often intelligent, insightful, and curious. The majority of the world’s sages and wisdom-people come from this Triad. They have great powers of perception, and interestingly enough, they tend to be highly emotionally invested in their way of perceiving the world. When Head Triad people move toward the excess of their personality, they can be as stubborn as a mule and as unyielding as a brick wall. Occasionally, this expresses itself as intolerance toward the opinions of others.

Those in the Head Triad are planners, analyzers, visionaries, and scholars. They like studying things, spotting patterns, seeing the world as predictable. The shadow-side of this, of course, is fear—fear of not knowing, fear of not having options or opportunities, fear of not having their environments be safe and secure. Head Triad folks are on a lifelong quest for security, which produces in them either fierce loyalty or recurring bouts of worry.

The Body Triad

People in the Body Triad lead not with feeling or thinking but with doing. They’re deeply connected to their bodies and read the world very instinctively and from their gut. They will have an intuitive sense that something isn’t right but may not be able to explain to you why. They just know it in their bones, so to speak. Because their preferred strategy in the world is to lead with doing, they tend to “think fast,” as social psychologists would put it—that is, with their bodies.

Body Triad people naturally value physical comforts and pleasures, whether that’s a five-course meal with fine wine, a restful bedroom escape, or an immaculately kept kitchen. Because they’re in touch with their bodies, which is our source of power and presence in the world, they often come across as commanding personalities, at times even demanding. They’re abuzz with instinctual energy, which can at times be overwhelming to themselves and others. As a rule, they don’t like being vulnerable and prefer to maintain control over any situation they find themselves in. Lurking beneath the surface of their lives is anger, and when it is directed toward individuals, we call it rage. This explains their vitality and intensity.

I’m an Eight, which means I’m in the Doing or Body Triad. In every situation, I’m asking, What should be done? or What am I going to do? I don’t consciously try to think this way; it just happens. This is the way I am in the world. I walk into a room, and I have an instinctive sense for what I want to do. I talk to a friend on the phone, and I’m processing the conversation in terms of action. I go for a walk with my wife, and I tend to talk about what we’re going to do or how we should strategize to make something happen. It’s my default way of working in the world.

I should mention the downside of this. Because our personalities take shape around our preferred strategy for approaching the world— whether thinking, feeling, or doing—we tend to overuse that dimension of our personality. This, in turn, puts us off balance. Rather than living more integrated lives, in which thinking, feeling, and doing are mutually supportive and closely interconnected, most of us tend to overuse one, misuse the other, and underuse the third. The Enneagram has a way of talking about our use—or misuse and underuse—of the other two dimensions of personality.

Taken from The Enneagram Goes to Church by Todd Wilson. Copyright (c) 2021 by Todd Wilson. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, USA. www.ivpress.com

How Venmo Saved Christmas for this Enneagram Seven

How Venmo Saved Christmas for This Enneagram Seven

Artist and writer Gideon Tsang shares how his idealism as an Enneagram Seven came up against the frustrating reality of Christmas shopping during COVID-19.

As an Enneagram Seven, I love and hate the holidays. I love them because, well, Sevens—like Prince preparing for an entire year before Y2K—like to party. The lights, the smells, the sounds, the gifts, the food, the drink, the gatherings. I’ve been going since before 1999. 

On the other hand, as a frustrated idealist (Sevens and Fours!), holidays are the worst. Being stuck in holiday traffic headed towards a mall to wait in line for a gift for someone that you don’t want to buy a gift for is a living hell. Even Dante’s Satan, in his literal flaming hell, was like, “Uh, the mall in December? I’m good. I’ll stay in this eternal flaming inferno.”

This past COVID Christmas of 2020, I made the mistake of going to the grocery store on Christmas Eve (you know, to allow my idealism to blossom into frustration). I put on my coat and hat to brave the Texas forty-five-degree winter and drove two miles down the road to my local grocer, Central Market. As I turned on my left turn signal and waited for a mass of cars to pass, I could sense trouble. Cars were waiting in every aisle with signals claiming their parking spot like a dog peeing on a hydrant. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a line of masked shoppers wrapped around the plaza disappearing around the corner. “Ugh. . . why, God, why?” I muttered under my breath.

I saw a spot open up in the far corner of the lot and parked. With my mask on, I lined up at the back of the line outside of a card store. Forty-five minutes later, with a cart in hand, I was in. 

The reason for my outing was that my partner, Christie, was planning to cook two lasagnas for my boys the next evening—Christmas night. She put together a shopping list in the order of where I would find the items in the store. With the crowded aisles, it felt like a game of Mario Kart. I threw a few banana peels behind me just in case. 

Once inside the store, my quest began with veggies, then onto the meat section, then the wine, the spices, the sauces, the cheeses, and finally the fresh pasta. With my cart full, I traced the checkout line from the front of the store past the gelato, past the deli, all the way to the bakery at the very back of the store. I got in line. People were cordial and in a festive mood. Is this the end of the line? “Welcome, join our holiday misery!” smirked a bearded white Austinite with a baseball cap (Austin’s equivalent to a New York pigeon). 

Thirty minutes later, I was next in line. The conveyor belt moved to start the emptying of my precious goods. I started with the colorful array of vegetables and then the sauces and spices. All the colors coming out of my cart tickled my inner Seven’s need for variety and beauty. The woman in front of me paid for her bounty, rolled her cart towards the automatic doors and waved at me as she said “happy holidays.” 

Finally, my quest was near completion. I was at the checkout! Halfway through, I took a deep breath. The nightmare was almost over. I reached into my pocket for my wallet and to my horror, it was empty. I checked all my back pockets. Jacket pockets. I ran through all my pockets one more time. A stress sweat bead tricked down my back. I couldn’t have. I must have. I forgot my wallet. 

I quickly texted Christie. “You won’t believe what I forgot.”

Christie: “Shut up”

Me: “I might start weeping”

Christie: “I can come now!”

Me: “I took your car”

Christie: “What do we do?!”

Me: “Uber?”

I scanned my cart to see what I might be able to throw across the store. Maybe I’ll just walk away into the sunset and call it a life.

My Enneagram Seven quick thinking kicked in and I turn to the couple in line behind me. They were both wearing hooded sweatshirts. 

Me: “Hey, there. So I have a straaange question.”

Random Couple: “Uh, ok”

Me: “Sooo (I could hear my last bottle of wine beeping through the checkout) I forgot my wallet. What if. . .”

I could see them shift uncomfortably

Me: “It’s going to be a lot. But do you think I could Venmo you for my groceries if you put them on your card?”

I got a blank stare back. After a few seconds of processing the man shrugged, “Yeah, I guess I could do that.”

Me: “Sir, I want to kiss you right now but that might scare you and it’s COVID. But thank you, thank you, thank you. You just saved my Christmas. I kind of love and hate Christmas.”

Man: “I get it man. Congrats on making it out of here. Happy holidays.”

As an Enneagram Seven, that’s a sneak peek into my experience of most holidays. This is how an idealist coming against the frustrations of reality uses a bit of charm and quick thinking to come away with a positive story. Anything for a good story, eh?

About the Author

Gideon Yee Shun Tsang

Gideon Yee Shun Tsang is an artist, writer, photographer, and spiritual leader. He was the founding pastor at Vox Veniae in Austin, Texas, where he’s been living for the past twenty years. He originally hails from Canada. He can be found meandering the country in his van, bike camping in national forests, or cliff jumping into cenotes. He is the author of 40 Days on Being a Seven.

How Enneagram Nines Fight for Their Peace (and Yours) Every Day

How Enneagram Nines Fight for Their Peace (and Yours) Every Day

Writer Marlena Graves shares about her experience as an Enneagram Nine and how she’s learned to maintain the peace without giving up her identity.

Throughout my entire life, I’ve been a bridge builder and a peacemaker. It is easy for me to find and affirm the common ground human beings share with one another. We have our differences for sure, but our commonalities and shared humanity stand out to me much more readily than our differences do. It also helps that I’ve been among all sorts of ethnic groups—among the rural, urban, and suburban, the rich and poor, those with more education and those with less. And where do I stand among them? Well, I am the bridge.

That’s all well and good, but it also leads to feeling unmoored and dislocated—as if I don’t have a home of my very own. Enneagram Nines find it quite easy to merge with others but have trouble figuring themselves out because their “self” is so merged with others and also because Nines are mystics and experts at reading people. When I learned that, I instantly knew, “That’s me! I am a Nine!” If I am constantly merging with others, who am I then? Where do I belong? Where is my place in this world?

I’ve had to disentangle myself from others in order to figure out what I like and what I stand for. I’ve even had to be willing to tick people off with my stances on anything from immigration to politics to which branch of the Church I prefer. I do have opinions about these things, and through trial and error (and maturity) I have learned not to cave on what I think or believe simply because I might encounter someone who disagrees with me. I don’t give up my values and hard-won wisdom to do what Nines find it so easy to do: go along to get along. Indeed, I can sometimes be bold and blunt about what I think—that’s my Eight-wing coming out for you!

Related to all this is that desire for peace. If I am not living out what I profess to believe and stand for, there is tension within—a lack of peace. So, I don’t want to make proclamations personally or in writing if I am not living them out. I think anyone who practices what they preach has immediate and lasting credibility. I want to be one of those people, but it can be exhausting. I fall back on Jesus’s words to us, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). And I also fall back on the Lord’s injunction to us to “cease striving, be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). Maybe this struggle and tension about feeling really unsettled if I am not practicing what I am preaching is a bit of a One-wing coming out in me—the perfectionist side.

The interesting thing about all of this is that you wouldn’t have a clue that this is going on inside of most Nines. We strive hard to maintain peace and part of that is not bothering you about our lack of peace. Our desire for peace is such that we don’t want to say or do things that might cause you to feel uncomfortable or lose peace. Nines are loathe to burden or bother others. That can come at a great cost and lead to distress in them and in relationships. Or sometimes, Nines hold things in for so long that eventually they explode at the drop of a hat and people around them wonder where that volcanic energy came from. The thing about Nines is that they don’t usually stay angry for long once it is out.

There’s so much more I could say about being a Nine and using the Enneagram as a tool for self-knowledge and self-awareness. No two Nines are exactly alike. We come from different environments, life circumstances, and perspectives. But hopefully you know a little more about my experience in being a Nine and about the Nines who are agreeable peacemakers in your life. Perhaps without Nines it’d be all war, all of the time. So, take a moment to see and affirm the Nines in your life and the role they play. They will appreciate your affirmation and the fact that you see them.

About the Author

Marlena Graves

Marlena Graves is a writer and adjunct professor. She holds an MDiv from Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York, and is a graduate of the Renovaré Institute. She is the author of Forty Days on Being a Nine, The Way Up Is Down, and A Beautiful Disaster, and her writing has also appeared at Christianity Today, (in)courage, and Our Daily Bread. She lives with her husband and three daughters in Toledo, Ohio.

Two-Ness in the Face of Chronic Illness

Two-Ness in the Face of Chronic Illness

Pastor and Enneagram teacher Hunter Mobley shares how being an Enneagram Two affects his life and relationships as he lives with chronic illness.

The warm blanket and heated pillow are enticing me toward a nap, but the beeping of machines and busy bustle of nurses ensure that I—a perennially light sleeper—won’t fall asleep. Today is infusion day. I come every twenty-eight days to Vanderbilt’s Multiple Sclerosis Clinic for my monthly cocktail. My journey with MS is newish, and this is only my sixth monthly trip to the infusion clinic. I still have a lot to learn from the MS veterans who sit in the chairs beside me and smile compassionately as I take my seat.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Enneagram and chronic illness. As someone who spends a couple of weekends each month traveling to different cities teaching about the transformative potential of the Enneagram, I speak often about the different layers that form our exteriorized selves, beyond our personalities. Trauma, birth order, gender identity, and the street that we grew up on form layers to our onion that have to be attended to and named as we navigate our Enneagram type with the goal of uncovering our true self—or as I like to think, the Christ in me and the Christ in you.

I’ve added a new layer to my onion in the last year—chronic illness—and am just beginning to learn how this new companion will join with my Enneagram type to influence my life and growth. I am an Enneagram Two. In my best moments, my Two-ness allows me to connect in empathetic and helpful ways to the people that I love. In my less proud moments, I give to loved ones and strangers alike in undisciplined ways and then become exhausted and resentful when all my giving isn’t recognized and reciprocated. Nice, huh?!

Because life exists in mystery and paradox, I am already noticing the (both-and) good and bad that MS inflicts.  I am learning to pay attention to my body in ways that I never paid attention before. Stress and lack of sleep are symptom triggers, and I am learning to be honest about the relationship between stress and my ability to walk and move. I have to be more honest about my needs and my feelings as medical staff and loved ones check in with me about my journey. I am learning to slow down—sometimes—and to give myself permission to do less—sometimes.

My Two-ness also rears its head in unhelpful ways in the face of chronic illness as I struggle to admit how I’m really feeling. As an Enneagram Two, I am well-practiced in putting on a smile, sending my own feelings and needs packing and letting everyone know that they shouldn’t worry because I’m doing great! I have so many years of needs-repression practice that I have lost touch with knowing whether I’m being “too much” or “too little” as I talk to people about my health. If I share too many details about my fears of this disease and my symptoms that still linger, I worry that I have made the other person worry about me and that I’ve played the martyr. But, if I share too little about my honest experience with MS, I leave the conversation feeling like I’ve betrayed myself in some way.

I think that one of my invitations as an Enneagram Two on a new journey with MS is to learn how to tell my truth in a right-sized way. To share it honestly. To tell people the truth about how I am doing and what I’m afraid of, without downplaying or overplaying. More than ever, I want to embrace the Benedictine mantra of seeing the spiritual life as a journey of falling down and getting back up again, all the way home.

About the Author

Hunter Mobley

Hunter Mobley is an Enneagram teacher with Life in the Trinity Ministries, leading  Enneagram workshops and retreats around the country. He is the author of 40 Days on Being a Two. Hunter is the former executive pastor of Christ Church Nashville, and when he’s not on the road teaching the Enneagram, you can find him tending his law practice in Nashville or teaching at Belmont University’s law school. 

How This Enneagram Three Learned to Win by Losing

How This Enneagram Three Learned to Win by Losing

Pastor, author, and Enneagram Three Sean Palmer talks about moments of health and unhealth and how his fun family competition rewards pushing back on the toxic aspects of our false selves.

Everyday my family offers me a chance to win. I’m an Enneagram Three, and heck yeah, I love to win. But the competition in front of me each day is something that pushes against the compulsive instincts of my Enneagram number. At my house, we give one another Enne-awards. 

What’s an Enne-award? An Enne-award is when any of us—me, my wife (Enneagram One), or daughters (Enneagram One and Seven) do something that pushes back against the predictable, and often toxic, aspects of our false selves and embraces health and wholeness. 

When people ask me about their Enneagram numbers they often have questions about health, unhealth, and toxicity. Usually, these questions are trying to gauge whether a person is in a season of health or not. I’m not sold that seasonal health and unhealth are the most appropriate ways to understand our motivations, actions, and thought patterns.

I can’t know for sure about other people, but I have healthy moments followed by unhealthy moments. I grew up in Georgia, where one of the beauties is having four distinct seasons throughout a year—Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall. Each season lasts four months. My healthy moments never endure for an entire season. I don’t have healthy and unhealthy seasons, even when thinking figuratively. I do, however, have healthy and unhealthy moments. 

That’s how you get an Enne-award!

The moment I, for example, choose rest when there’s work to be done, take a moment to be present with my daughters, or decide that down time and play aren’t just for the weak-willed, I can earn an Enne-award. I can win an Enne-award when I meet with a colleague and I resist the urge to mention everything on my resume or herald my most recent accolades. I can earn an Enne-award when I choose to exercise out of sense of caring for myself and not disappointment in myself or desire to “fix” something.

When anyone in our home demonstrates signs of deepening—if only for a moment and not a season—they get an Enne-award!

Writer and professor Henri Nouwen spoke of the Five Lies of Identity: 1) I am what I have, 2) I am what I do, 3) I am what other people say or think of me, 4) I am nothing more than my worst moment, 5) I am nothing less than my best moment. It seems to me that Nouwen named the mental calculus that, when resisted, calls me and maybe you, into our overburdened and buried essence.

You see, as an Enneagram Three, there are precious few voices in our world and culture luring me away from the false belief that my worth will be uncovered through achievement, that I’ll be loved when I have won enough. There is no siren’s song inviting me to chart a course toward deeper waters. I am daily rewarded for production. I am heralded when I am most shallow.

So, winning has to look different for me. Getting an Enne-award is winning, which I like. But it’s winning by losing the negative, grasping desires of my false self which urges me to focus on things like winning.

About the Author

Sean Palmer

 Sean Palmer is a sought-after writer, speaker, teacher, emcee, and speaking coach engaging audiences all over the world with Enneagram wisdom. The teaching pastor at Ecclesia Houston (one of America’s most innovative, missional communities), he is the author of 40 Days on Being a Three.