I turn 44 this year, and, despite my best efforts, in many ways I’m still a mystery to myself. A younger version of me imagined that I’d hit some milestone of adulthood and be settled about all that. False.
The longer I live, the farther into my marriage I reach, the deeper into myself I’m taken by my role as father, the more intently I pursue a truer relationship with God—through all of this I keep discovering that I don’t know myself as well as I’d like. Frustrating.
Cue the Enneagram. Over the last several years it’s been immensely helpful to me as a tool for naming the persistent motivations and default reactions that I experience but struggle to quantify, much less do anything redemptive about. (If you feel lost in the Enneagram conversation, read Allie Brown’s brilliantly clear introduction here). For instance: why do I wake at 4am worrying about a book manuscript that isn’t due for years – why the tight stomach now of all times? Why do I buy 10 books about any new thing I’d like to engage – why is intellectual understanding my default for the unknown? Why do I always migrate to the perimeter of social gatherings – not at all unhappy, but content and comfortable along the edge? And why do I retreat to my “mind castle” when things go wonky in relationships? On and on I could go. My mysterious self.
Before my introduction to the Enneagram, I never had a useful personality tool for processing these questions, much less move toward wholeness in Christ. I found other personality tools entirely unsatisfying. They closed me down rather than opened me up; making me feel like a smaller, shrunk, oversimplified version of me. The Enneagram, however, helped me see how my deep motivations and default reactions come together within a particular kind of complex person. Me.
But where do I go from here? Even after reading several books about it (yes, my approach) and using it in relationships with close friends, my nagging question concerned life with Christ. How do I apply Enneagram wisdom for life with God? How could knowing my number (5 with a 4 wing) help me partner with the Holy Spirit as I seek to live into my true, Christ-like self? More specifically still, what spiritual practices are best suited for my unique wiring as a 5? How can I live toward integration as a whole, complex, often mysterious self with the help of Enneagram wisdom? Where do I go from here?
So I was thrilled to discover IVP’s most recent book on the Enneagram, Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram: A Handbook for Harmony and Transformation, coauthored by Adele and Dough Calhoun and Clare and Scott Loughrige.
The book is structured around an approach to the Enneagram called the “Harmony Enneagram.” In this model, the authors link Enneagram numbers together in a novel, triangular way to show how a person draws upon their gut, head, and heart intelligences. They explain it this way:
…the Harmony Enneagram reimagines the connecting lines to create three balanced triangles: Eight, Two, and Five; Nine, Three, and Six; and One, Four and Seven. The Harmony Enneagram takes the music of your automatic intelligence – be it head intelligence (numbers Five, Six, Seven), heart intelligence (numbers Two, Three, Four), or gut intelligence (numbers Eight, Nine, One) – and integrates the voice of the other two intelligences…Every number is connected to two other intelligences, even if you have dismissed or don’t trust one or both of them (6-7).
That makes sense to me experientially.
For some time I’ve been unsatisfied with the portrayal of myself in terms of head intelligence alone. Even if I can draw from my 4 wing when healthy, through the Enneagram I still saw myself as a head person. But that doesn‘t fit what I experience. There are moments when I clearly operate from my gut or my heart—what do I do with that? Do I need to rethink which number best describes me? Was I wrong all along about being a 5? Have I wasted my time with this tool?!
The best answer to my question that I’ve seen is the Harmony approach.
The Harmony approach doesn’t give me the sense of being “shrunk” into a number, but rather shown how my primary way of being in the world (head intelligence) still connects to the other two ways of being in the world (heart and gut intelligences). “You are more than your number,” is a frequent refrain of the authors. Yes, that’s exactly right! A person made in the image of God is more than just head or heart or gut. Formed after the pattern of Jesus, we are at our best and truest self when each of our God-given intelligences are integrated: head and heart and gut. Each of us still operates most strongly from one, but we can draw from the others as we grow in Christ.
I can illustrate with me. I’m a 5 w 4, and the Harmony approach shows how the 5 connects to the 8 and the 2. In other words, when I’m at my best, reflecting the image of Christ as my true self—me, really me—then I draw from the strengths of the 8 and the 2. And go figure: when I read about the 8 and the 2 (something I had only done in the interest of better understanding and loving my friends and family), I see hallmarks of my leadership style, responses to stress, tendency in classrooms to form groups and discussion circles, and so on. “Ah, yes,” I thought many times while reading this book. “I see how these facets come together.”
Each chapter opens with an artfully written, one paragraph description of the Enneagram number, and then it unfolds with seven parts. First, the authors provide two lists: one of descriptive words that this number will identify with (“I am”) and words that create dissonance (“I am not”). Second, they contrast the true self of this number with its false self flip side, along the way identifying the vice most likely to beset this number. Third, the authors present a vision of Harmony for this number in which head, heart, and gut intelligences are integrated (for instance, how a Five like me operates in Harmony with their 8 and 2 dimensions). Childhood hurts are the focus of the fourth part, considering how the number may have dismissed facets of their true self because of early hurts or betrayals. The fifth part is called “Discernment: Desolations and Consolations” in which the authors make a strong turn toward growing into Christ. In part six they outline spiritual practices most suited for the number, such as custom breath prayers and disciplines. Each chapter ends with a seventh part that shows how others can empathize for the number.
To explain what I appreciate most about Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram, I’ll tell you what happened when I took it on family vacation. Every year, sixteen of us gather someplace beautiful to reconnect and share life. This year we spent ten days in Cabo San Lucas, swimming in the pool, walking the beach, playing in the waves, reading books, and talking a lot. It’s how our family works, and it works well. I started the book early in the week as I floated around the pool. After marking my page I left it on the counter, where it was picked up by my brother. He dove right in, and then he turned our next conversation toward the book. I shared about my fear of scarcity that haunts most 5s, and how it wakes me up in the night, worrying over this or that. Turning to the chapter on 5s, I read him a few lines that resonated with me. He nodded his head, like he was understanding me in a way he never had. Then he flipped to the chapter on his number, and he read me a few lines. I nodded too, understanding him in a way I hadn’t before.
The next day the book found its way to the poolside, and before long he and I were reading out loud the descriptive paragraphs from the start of each chapter while our teenage nieces and nephews eagerly waited to hear themselves described. “Oh, that sounds like me! What number is that?” Or, “What does the book say about empathy for that number? How can others know me?” Or, “Wait, what?! Read that again. Hm, that sounds right.” Eventually my father in law snatched it during the noon-day heat, dog-eared and water-stained by this point (the book, not my dad), and settled into a cabana by the sea. As he walked away, I called after him, “Read number 5, Dad. Tell me what you think.” Later, as we prepared dinner, he said, “Yeah, you know, that description says a lot about me I can identify with.” And we had a lovely conversation about our tendency, as fellow Fives, to disengage from relationships when they drain us.
All these interactions centered around the book, and that illustrates its greatest strength. You can readily access its riches, coming back to it time and again for new insights or conversations with those you love. The various parts of each chapter offer such different angles on each Enneagram number, that in one instance you may delve into the words that do and do not describe you, but in another moment it may be the empathy section you ponder, or in another the breath prayers that might preserve your life. Maybe the book is really a set of Enneagram-shaped doors through which you can go in order to understand yourself more fully, and understand those you love. Cudos to the design team at IVP for their formatting design, because the chapters are user friendly; they made it easy to step in and out.
I also highly value how the authors (I struggle for the right word here) conformed Enneagram wisdom to a robustly trinitarian Christian vision of life with God. I never had the impression that the Enneagram set the terms. Rather, the Enneagram is simply presented as a tool for understanding yourself as a complex person being restored and made whole by the God of the gospel—Father, Son, and Spirit. The authors write,
God is the original harmony of three in one. This divine chorus of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exists in an eternal concert of giving and receiving, honoring and loving. And you are designed for harmony in this concert too! The breathtaking good news is that your vulnerabilities, brokenness, mistakes, and addiction-to-self are real-time opportunities to practice harmony (8).
After ten days at the pool, my copy of Spiritual Rhythms for the Enneagram looks pretty rumpled. And it will become more so. I’m not done with it. It’s a resource I’ll pick up time and again, going in and out of the doors offered to me by each chapter. I’ll return to it as my wife and I continue learning to love the complicated, mysterious people we are becoming, even as we celebrate our 20th anniversary. I will return to it walking alongside my daughters as they grow into their true selves in Christ. I’ll return to it as I pour into the spiritual friendships I share with trusted, beloved companions in Christ. And, of course, there remains the mysterious me. I will no doubt return to this book as I continue discerning the Holy Spirit as He graciously invites me to follow Christ out of my false self and ever more into my true self in union with Him.
(Thank you IVP for the generous provision of a review copy, and thank you Calhouns and Loughriges for this resource. May “all grace abound” to you (2 Cor. 9.8)).