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.

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.

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.

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.

How Each Enneagram Type Is Struggling (and Thriving) During the Pandemic

How Each Enneagram Type Is Struggling (and Thriving) During the Pandemic

Jill E. McCormick at Relevant shares how each Enneagram type may be struggling, developing unhealthy habits, or even growing spiritually during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How is your Enneagram type struggling and thriving during this crazy season? How can you continue to grow in grace? What does it look like to become more fully yourself in a season of shelter-in-place and quarantine? Have you formed any unhealthy habits? How can you be kinder yourself during this pandemic?

The Eights: The Challengers

There is nothing Eights like less than being told what to do and that’s exactly what’s happening in this pandemic. Your movement of where to go is restricted and your options of what to buy at Target are limited.

To cope, you may feel like you can make up your own rules because you don’t agree with the rules in place or deny the news you don’t like. If the experts say to limit your movement, you’re going to the grocery store once a day.

You also are focused on controlling what you can, like your schedule and routines.

This is also a tremendous time for growth as God slowly and gently teaches you about His sovereignty and matchless power. This is the perfect time to really learn, way down deep into your bones, that He holds the whole world together and you don’t have to.

You’re struggling in three areas.

You’re struggling with the reality that you have limited freedom right now and feeling out of control.

Your MO in life is to live big, but you’re not able to live that way. There are no good restaurants to enjoy, challenging conversations to start, travel to exotic locations. You feel stuck and suffocated.

You struggle with the fact that life feels so boring and that you’re stuck in the minutiae of daily life. Dishes. Cleaning toilets. Folding laundry. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. You feel the full force of a lack of an outlet.

And as a likely extrovert, you miss people. It’s no fun to verbally spar with yourself. You need your people to enjoy a good drink over chips and salsa.

You may have formed these three unhealthy habits.

Brainstorming projects to stay busy because you can’t stand doing nothing. Being in control of a project at least keeps the boredom at bay and keeps your hands busy.

You’re focused on tasks more than people. People are unpredictable and messy while tasks are controllable and don’t hold you back.

And finally, staying up too late, believing that you have no limits and that your body doesn’t need the rest doctors tell you it does.

But you’re also thriving.

You are a generous protector and ally. When you see a need, you have the energy, ability and charisma to get people what they need by using the resources at your disposal.

You care about others. You will help and serve as best you can for as long as you can.

So how can you offer yourself grace right now? What are some practical things you can do?

Spend time alone to critically think about how you can help and who you can help. Instead of rushing into a situation, analyze it and think through the best way to marshal your resources.

Acknowledge that you are a tremendous advocate for others and you have a gift. Harness your gift for good.

Memorize Philippians 4:19: “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

Enneaneighboring: Forming Community in My Neighborhood Out of Different Types of Normal

Enneaneighboring article

Twyla Franz at Relevant dreams about what our communities and friendships could look like if we saw our neighbors through the grace-filled lens of the Enneagram.

Ann Voskamp said it in her book The Way of Abundance, and the words sink deep: “We will never reflect the image of Christ to the world unless we first see the image of God in everyone.” I look out across my street remembering with a tang of sadness the years I lived near neighbors without really knowing them—without seeing the image of God in them.

Open. I seek now to live open: Open heart, open front door, open to being vulnerable, to letting my neighbors in close like family, to letting the work God is doing in me seep into the cracks and crevasses of doing everyday life alongside my neighbors.

Aren’t we all just nine diverse kinds of normal, if we look at our neighborhood through the lens of the Enneagram, and as such an array of nine unique aspects of God’s image? Instead of letting our differences disconnect us like scattered pieces of a puzzle, might we see beauty in the puzzle we form when we are together? Enneagram lovers and those curious but largely unfamiliar with this personality typing tool alike—let’s dream of what could be together.

A neighborhood that becomes our village—connected community caring for each other, a recipe for empathy that fosters understanding and grace for our neighbors; an ancient tool that sheds light on the humanity and intrinsic value of those different than us who we live next to.

The Enneagram itself is not a new tool—in fact, it is quite old, and its contributors have presumably come from an expanse of historical periods and religions. How fitting that what we can unpack about the Enneagram today has been a truly collaborative effort when we consider that a byproduct of studying the Enneagram is an enhanced ability to see from other perspectives. Seeking to better understand the other eight Enneagram numbers—the other types of normal—makes it just that much easier to cultivate community right in our own neighborhoods.

Look up and down your street for a moment. What jumps out at you? Can you pick out the garage door with the peeling paint? The walls through which the loud music often pounds or the direction from which a car alarm intermittently rakes across the silence of the night? The dog that makes a break for the door on the regular or leaves behind a gift by your mailbox? The voices that are loud, the behaviors that seem odd, the people who remain hidden behind closed doors and curtained windows?

It’s easy to draw conclusions of our neighbors based on the little slivers of their lives that are visible to us and then let those perceived differences drive us apart. However, when we assess our neighbors but only possess a minuscule sliver of the whole of who they are, we fall into assumption-drawing and effectively reduce valued, multi-faceted people to one-dimensional, cursory depictions. Operating out of the surface understanding available to us, these slivers of our neighbor’s lives can quickly become frustrations that chisel at the interest we may have once had in getting to know our neighbors.

Yet if we begin instead with a deeply rooted belief that each and every neighbor reflects a piece of God, our judgment softens, our guarded stance relaxes, and we seek to understand instead of assume, honor instead of avoid.