How Self-discovery and the Enneagram Can Only Lead You So Far

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Who are you?

I’m a fan of the Enneagram and all things self-discovery. But quipping, “I’m a Seven or an ENFP” (both of which I am) can only lead one so far in spiritual formation. God has more!

Searching for Myself

Years ago I attended a pastor’s conference in the Georgia Dome with forty-thousand other pastors! (I know. I’m not proud of it. It was a wild time in life.) Anyway, during a break in the partying, I had a conversation with a salt-and-pepper pastor from South Carolina. He sported sharp, clean-edged clothes and spoke with an educated, honey-dipped southern drawl. We both liked fishing and books. But that’s as far as our similarities went. Yet, as a young pastor I wondered if he was the kind of pastor I should be. We then prayed together, shook hands, and went back to our seats.

Much later I attended another smaller pastor’s conference in Dallas. (I know. I know. It’s an addiction. I swear I’m going to get help!) Tired of listening to the parade of pastors extolling their latest programs and successes I could not measure up to, I spied a sign pointing to a prayer meeting. I slid into the back and assumed the mandatory position (eyes scrunched, head bowed). Then I heard this educated, honey-dipped southern drawl. My eyes popped open and there he was. My long-lost salt-and-pepper pastor friend. I didn’t recognize him by sound only; it was also how he spoke to God. In that moment an awareness began to rise in me that speaking to God in my own voice and listening for God’s response was how I would come to be who I was intended to be. 

To Thine Own Self Be True

God artistically designed you. Decided the world needed someone with your sense of humor, your outlook, your way of relating. God gave your soul his finger print. Some of us are logical, poetic, experiential, technical, musical, communal, ascetic, liturgical, modern. But too often we imitate others and either lose ourselves or never discover who God made us in the first place. This was my mistake in my journey to become a pastor. I stopped at the surface, the easy answers.

Yet not knowing our own voice stifles our ability to know God. In not knowing God, we tarnish God’s image in us and become less ourselves.

Know God; Know Yourself

John Calvin wrote: “Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Calvin wisely affirmed that the better we know ourselves the more radically we would know our need for God. If you don’t think you need God, you don’t actually know yourself. But the deeper we draw into God the better able we are to see the wonder of our true selves.  

As a young Christian I didn’t know myself or God well. I dug in with the popular daily devotional guide Seven Minutes with God. But it depressed me. The more I used it, the farther I felt from God. I thought something was wrong with me. Then a pastor friend shared how he had longer devotional times only two or three days a week.

“You mean you don’t have to spend seven minutes with God every morning?” 

“I don’t,” he said. “And neither did Jesus.” 

That changed my life. Now I understand I need my meetings with God and people to be open-ended, conversational, and sans agenda. Once I owned that about myself, I began to truly form spiritually. 

More painful yet, as I’ve said, I’ve tried to become what everyone said a pastor should be. I’ve never been able to reach that vaunted pastoral brass ring. Slowly, through many failures and wounds that forced me to turn to God, and dig deeper, I began to see what kind of pastor God made me. Conversational, relational. I’m closer to that now and am at peace like never before.     

Gary Thomas theorizes that we were created to relate to God and his world through Sacred Pathways. He writes, “A sacred pathway . . . describes the way we relate to God, how we draw near to him.” He names nine pathways. God wants you to set your feet on the path he has for you.

The Down Side to Self-discovery

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote: “How can man know himself? It is a dark, mysterious business: if a hare has seven skins, a man may skin himself seventy times seven times without being able to say, ‘Now that is truly you; that is no longer your outside.’ It is also an agonizing, hazardous undertaking thus to dig into oneself, to climb down toughly and directly into the tunnels of one’s being.” 

Self-awareness without starting from the purpose and character of our Creator is indeed “dark and mysterious.” This is the main down-side to the popular use of the Enneagram and spiritual gifts tests. We can’t actually know ourselves without God speaking to us in every step. It’s like an alien from another planet discovering an oblong, air inflated object we know as a football with no instructions or hint as to what it’s for. Is it an emergency air bladder? Really bad food? But if Walter Camp, the “Father of American Football,” is there to explain it, then it makes sense. 

What if you could reel off truth about the character of God and how it’s expressed in you the way some can their Enneagram number? Or even tie your personality to God’s design?

Before you take one more personality inventory, explore how you reflect God’s image. This can be a prayer project, talking to God about who God is and who you are. Lectio Divina is a wonderful way to combine Bible reading, prayer, and self-awareness. For example, I learned my Myers & Briggs Extrovert score also covers a fear abandonment.

Eugene Peterson and Bono

God used another pastor, one from Montana with a scratchy voice, to show me a way to be the person and pastor I was formed to be. The late Eugene H. Peterson pastor, author of more than thirty books, and translator of The Message spent his life pursuing God with self-awareness. In the end, with Christian celebrity barking at his heels, he remained true to God’s design in him. But not without challenges. After reading Peterson’s translation of the Psalms and later the The Message, Bono of U2 wrote and asked Peterson to hang out. Peterson said no. Watch this story here. 

Peterson knew who he was. He didn’t need fame or accolades to be complete. He had God’s word. For sixty years of ministry one of Peterson’s greatest successes was resisting what Joni Mitchell called the “star-maker machinery.” Instead he found his true calling and worth in who God designed and defined him to be. 

Others showing the way, instruments such as the Enneagram, books, mistakes, and life all help us become who we were created to be. God uses all these things to affirm who he made each of us. But God calls us to dig deeper. Like Jacob, to wrestle all night with him. It’s dangerous. But it’s worth it.

8 thoughts on “How Self-discovery and the Enneagram Can Only Lead You So Far”

  1. Georgie Ann KETTIG

    interesting topic,… I am among those who have delved into these things gradually from the time of early adulthood (in the ’60s and ’70s ~ and now I am old!),… little by little such things came to my attention, and “in the beginning”, they didn’t really seem to “make much sense” to me,… but over time, I learned to “see” some of the patterns, and how they helped to describe the variations that we encounter among us ~ introverts and extraverts, and whatnot,… I think that it helped me to become “comfortable” with my introverted “comfort zone” vs those who would find that “weird”, while they spent their lives building incredible “rock gardens” and landscaping everything in sight (as did my own mother!),… so ~ “different strokes for different folks”,… ok,… some of us needed that “permission” to “be who we were”, and also to be free to NOT have to try to be someone else… ok,… but,…

    what I found, even so, was that there were still very elusive “issues and conditions” that pervaded even these general(ized) tendencies, that caused frustrating variations of “human resistance” to life and one another, that seemed to “obey” a different voice, a hidden voice, a negative voice,… perhaps this really “got my attention”, because of it being an unavoidable factor in a basically disastrous marriage,… (thank God for His ability to rescue us from these unsuspected disasters, and set our feet on “higher ground”!),… (“preach it” ~ yes!),…

    so, I definitely accept these categories of “differences”, but too often (as I read “Quora” comments, etc), I detect a fundamental “problem” which seems to describe those who have become “mired”/stuck in some of the repeating, “quick sand” downward effects, of their “type”, assuming that they are “stuck there forever”, vs those who are able to enjoy their “type”, and are able to feel lifted/empowered to grow and develop into the “better aspects” of what seems to be their “best fitting type”, as well as with others, life and God, etc,…

    so, my conclusion is that the underlying truths of our “human condition”, (no matter what the various and exciting “type possibilities” might predict and offer us), is going to be very dependent on and affected by our “relationship with God”,… it really is our “bottomline”,… God does “have our best interests at heart”, whereas His (and our) spiritual nemesis/enemy (satan) does not,… everything comes down to this,… as it says in: Deuteronomy 30:19 “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live”,… a very compelling and important truth,…

    1. GA: Yes! I think these sorts of tools (and article!) can best make us look at underlying issues. Then God can take us into them. I too am leery and weary of the pop response to some using their type as a box or excuse. If God points a finger at a gift or weakness any of us have it is for a reason. For us to use them or to seek healing. I know God never lets me off easy!

      1. Georgie Ann KETTIG

        I think some people are afraid to look too deeply into things, possibly preferring to “feel comfortable” with whatever they are “used to”,… yielding a “status quo” kind of situation,… life presented me with too many deeply disturbing events and situations, that could not be ignored or passed off as being “normal” or “ok”,… the only “way out” was to “go on through”, and be realistic about the situation,… from this, I did learn NOT to fear “the truth”, as the truth does “set us free” and points to the real enemy,… I also learned how dearly God does love us, and wishes to “rescue” us (“save us”) from all our griefs and trials,… we are limited, but God is unlimited,… (-:

        1. Yes, deep looks into our lives are too revealing for many of us. But we can do it because God’s grace is unlimited.

  2. Scott Wurtz

    This encourages me to press in deeper with God in an authentic way. Thank you for writing this and sharing your thoughts and heart

  3. Thank you, Eugene. You’re a gifted thinker and writer.
    I love personality assessments and tools, but that’s all they are. They’re not Scripture, just tools. What i like about them is they give people language to share with us how they think, feel, act, and relate. If someone identifies as a 7 with an 8 wing, for example, it tells me how they see themself. i can then ask for examples and get to know them better. That’s it. I shouldn’t label them or limit them, but i can get a window into how they roll. In the case of someone who says they’re an introvert, i may be sensitive to their need for solo time and space. All to better know and love people vs label and limit them. that’s my two cents.
    hope to bump into you at a prayer meeting sometime.

    1. Steve: Thanks for the affirmation and for reading. I hope others read your comment because it really fills out my push to go deeper. You are right that personality assessments are great tools. I was serious about the many I’ve taken and used with much profit in my own life. I too use them in my work with people. I like the sound of how you listen and open up for the people you are working with. A pastor’s heart! Yes, let’s connect.

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