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.