Enneagram, Lent

A fraction as righteous

I’m not great at saying things directly. I tend to sugarcoat, to look for a way to make nice, to nudge the other party in a particular direction rather than issuing a command or even a request. When I feel hurt, I have a hard time saying so; instead I show it in ways that I will grant are less than mature and generally not effective. This happens because I want people to like me, and I want them to think of me as nice. I’ll step up and be straightforward if I need to do it to protect someone, or something, other than myself, but I find it harder to do when I feel my reputation or my work is at stake.

I think of this as a sort of righteous niceness.

I know I need to work on this, that it is a flawed way of moving in the world, but I still find it very hard since it goes against not only my personality type but also my childhood training. This doesn’t mean I let go of the hurtful things people say or do; in fact it’s the opposite. I will spend a long time anticipating the next blow, to the point where I sometimes see the insult or the injury in something that was never meant that way, or I work off the feelings by telling someone else what happened instead of dealing directly with the problem.

“How terrible for you Pharisees! You give a tenth of your mint, rue, and garden herbs of all kinds, while neglecting justice and love for God. These you ought to have done without neglecting the others.

“How terrible for you Pharisees! You love the most prominent seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

“How terrible for you! You are like unmarked graves, and people walk on them without recognizing it.”

One of the legal experts responded, “Teacher, when you say these things, you are insulting us too.”

Jesus said, “How terrible for you legal experts too! You load people down with impossible burdens and you refuse to lift a single finger to help them. (Luke 11:42-46, CEB)

There’s more, on both sides of this, as Jesus speaks frankly with those who see themselves and their code of behavior as righteous. I don’t write this off as being only about Jews or even first century religious leaders. We’re all prone to this, with whatever code is ours.

I have a fair number of rules about human interactions that are reasonable, and ethical standards worthy of upholding, but I also have a few at least that protect my way of moving in the world without allowing *me* the opportunity to tell the truth I find hard to speak. That truth gets stuck because I am afraid of rejection, afraid that others will team up against me, afraid that everyone else is right and I am bad at my job, or worse, my life. This may be in part because I lead with feelings – “when you do this, I feel” – and so many people in my life have put that back on me saying they can’t make me feel anything, that my feelings are my problem.

In a book about the Enneagram, I read recently that people like me (2s) can’t get past this without really examining how they operate; we need to develop “insight into our own brokenness and sinning…”* instead of looking for someone else to blame for whatever has gone wrong.

As much as I want to line up with Jesus in this passage, I can see myself on the side of the Pharisees and legal experts, with a highly developed code of behavior that doesn’t allow for much grace or mercy. It keeps me “safe” from others by dint of my righteousness but leaves me fearful, always, of losing everything.

What would it be like to say to someone, “The way you handled that hurt me,” or even, “I wonder why you chose to do that in the way you did?” Could it lead to a real conversation, instead of the interior maelstrom I allow by not being frank?

Holy One, it’s possible I am not as nice as I want to be and only a fraction as righteous. To protect myself, I close off deeper mutual understanding. What would it be like to be more straightforward? I wonder. Amen.


I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.

*From “The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective,” by Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert

Books, Enneagram

The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Understanding – a review

Get the book at Amazon!
Get the book at Amazon!

This is the book I’ve been wanting and waiting for since January, 2014, when I spent five days on a cruise ship with co-author Suzanne Stabile and 39 of my best friends, learning about the Enneagram. Today is the launch for The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery (InterVarsity Press, 2016). Suzanne and Ian Morgan Cron have created an elegant and informative primer perfect for the beginner, but also helpful for those who have studied this ancient system, the aim of which is the care of our souls.

Dubious about systems that compartmentalize humankind? Wondering how anything could be better than good old Myers-Briggs?

The Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box. It shows you the box you’re already in and how to get out of it.

The book begins with an overview of the system and the nine numbers, or types,  and the “sins” (the Seven Deadly Plus Two) that illustrate the challenge for each type. The truth is that most people recognize their type when they hear or read a description that makes them cringe. I know I did.

(There is one exception, and while I will let you figure that out for yourselves, I will say I’m married to that number.)

Each chapter begins with twenty statements identifying what it’s like to be that number. For my own I found many of the twenty rang true, although some are characteristics I see in the rear view mirror. It’s good to recognize that many years of spiritual and psychological work can shift things that came naturally to us either via genetic predisposition or the effects of early nurture. Here are the first two “what it’s likes” for #2, the Helper, which is my number.

  1. When it comes to taking care of others, I don’t know how or when to say no.
  2. I am a great listener, and I remember the stories that make up people’s lives.

I identify strongly with the second, and, well, I’m always at work on the first. I do better with it in my professional life than my personal life. It’s accurate to say I’m a work-in-progress. And the Enneagram would say that about all of us. Each chapter describes the number at its best, as well as in average and unhealthy psychological and spiritual condition. (While each number has a pathological expression, that’s not a focus of this book.) Each chapter includes a story about a person of that type, often a little funny, unless you can see yourself in the tale, to your chagrin. You will also find sections about the numbers as seen in children, in relationships, and in the workplace.

cd_knowyournumber-2-300x300-1There is a brief explanation of wings (the number found on either side of yours; we all lean toward one or the other) and the way we move in times of stress or when we feel secure.

Finally, each chapter brings us back to the purpose of the Enneagram, which goes beyond defining personality to lead its students to a deeper spiritual understanding. The chapter on 2s offered an exegesis of Luke 10:38-42, the story of the sisters, Martha and Mary. Each chapter concludes with “Ten Paths to Transformation.” They are a helpful reminder that in addition to contemplative practices, there are practical actions (see? practical/practices) that help us go deeper, too. Here’s a great one for me.

When the urge to rescue or help overwhelms you, ask yourself, Is this mine to do? If you’re not sure, talk it over with a trusted friend.

Whether you are a spouse or parent or friend, in a struggle with a co-worker or trying to understand a relationship’s dynamics, a seeker or a longtime churchgoer, Stabile and Cron and the Enneagram have something for you. Their work is rooted in their Christian faith. Ian is an Episcopal priest; Suzanne is married to the great teacher of Centering Prayer, Rev. Joe Stabile, a United Methodist pastor.

Every number on the Enneagram teaches us something about the nature and character of the God who made us. Inside each number is a hidden gift that reveals something about God’s heart.

The only critique I can offer is that having heard Suzanne teach both in 2014 and again last month, I was sorry that her contributions might be assessed by readers who don’t know her as asides. Much more of the book comes from her teaching than the mentions of “Suzanne tells this story” you will see along the way might suggest.

Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile

I highly recommend this book, which launches today. It is a great introduction or refresher on the Enneagram. I received an advance digital copy for review with no obligation. (I pre-ordered a copy months ago and will be watching eagerly for the UPS driver!)

If you want to know more about the Enneagram, you can listen to the podcast Ian and Suzanne are hosting, in which they talk to some great representatives of the 9 numbers. It’s also called The Road Back to You.