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How The Enneagram Can Help Us Follow Jesus

Josiah Shirek
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April 19, 2022

Following Jesus requires healthy self-awareness. We can’t expect to experience God’s transformation without giving the Holy Spirit access to our lives. When we fail to understand what lies beneath the surface of our lives, our core motivations get corrupted and wreak havoc in our lives and relationships. In this article we explore how the Enneagram can help us attend to our growth as followers of Jesus.

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The other day I was preparing dinner and needed to cut up a couple of onions. I pulled the last two I had out of the cabinet, peeled the skin back and started cutting into them. When I got to the second onion, I realized that the inside was completely rotten. The outside seemed fine, even three or four layers in looked like a regular onion. But underneath the surface, it had gone bad.

Then, I had the realization: I’m a lot like this onion. I started to think of all the times the hidden parts of myself have been exposed. Everything seemed just fine until God brought attention to something (through a circumstance or an interaction) that needed to be attended to.

All of us deal with this. Hidden parts of us are motivating the way we think and feel, how we act and show up in relationships. Untransformed, these motivations affect us more than we know and wreak havoc on our walk with God, the way we view ourselves, and our relationships with others. Guilt, fear, and shame infect us from the inside out like a disease—a disease Jesus wants to bring healing to through the Holy Spirit.

As humans, we are made in the image of God yet born into a fallen world. Much like the onion, all of us walk around with the parts of us people see. Most of us get really good at making sure those parts look pretty because people only see the appearance. However, Jesus is much more interested in what’s under the surface (1 Sam. 16:7, Matt. 23:27).

Why doesn’t self-awareness come naturally?

The problem is, all of us seem to have inherited this unhealthy tendency to run from pain and avoid the parts of ourselves that scare us. We like to convince ourselves that things are fine or write off our hurtful traits by saying, “Nobody’s perfect."

Yes, having grace for others and ourselves is important. But if we are to be followers of Jesus, it will require an awareness of what’s below the surface and courage to attend to what we find.

If we are to be followers of Jesus, it will require an awareness of what’s below the surface and courage to attend to what we find.

Examining ourselves is a theme that runs throughout scripture.

1 John 1:8 says we only deceive ourselves if we think we have no sin. Paul, in 1 Cor. 11, tells us we shouldn’t take communion without first examining ourselves. In Psalm 139, the psalmist prays, “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

The bottom line is, self-awareness is essential if we want to follow Jesus and become more like Him. Since the Spirit is at work within all of us to transform us from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18), it’s our job to open ourselves up to that work. When we do, we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal what’s on the inside so we can be led in “the way everlasting.”

If God is at work, bringing healing and wholeness to the broken parts of us, we need tools to help us examine ourselves and cut beneath the surface. When we do, we may uncover things in our lives that can look ugly, messy, and rotten. The good news is God already knows what’s there and our Heavenly Father is patient and kind to draw us in and bring healing and change.

Much like the onion, we often don’t realize what’s really there until we cut into it. We need a knife.

For most of us, the knife comes in the form of hard circumstances. It could be coming face to face with an addictive habit, losing a close relationship because of the way you treated the other person, or maybe losing a job because you couldn’t show up the way you needed to. 

We are all called to continually submit ourselves before God by examining ourselves in His presence and when we fail to do that, life often forces us to. We need tools and practices to help us consider our ways and as far as tools go, I don’t think I’ve found anything more helpful than the Enneagram.

What is the Enneagram?

The Enneagram (Ennea, meaning 9 and gram, meaning diagram) is a personality-type indicator. There are a ton of different personality indicators/self-assessment tools out there. Meyers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, DISC, ABCD, and others all have the capacity to promote self-awareness and help in our relationships with other people.

What makes the Enneagram different is that it doesn’t seek to classify based on behaviors as much as the motives behind them. Each of the 9 types has a different core fear and core desire that becomes our default mode of operating in the world. Although we are each created with a unique expression of the image of God, we are also born into a sinful world in which that image gets twisted and broken. Each of us is tempted to believe lies about ourselves that drive us to fulfill our needs outside of Jesus.

The Enneagram doesn’t seek to classify based on behaviors as much as the motives behind them.

Like most personality tools, the Enneagram’s origins are a bit complicated and not innately Christian. However, it has become an invaluable resource within the church and I can speak from experience about how God has used it to help me grow. For the sake of time, you can find a link in the Action Steps below to a great resource on the Enneagram that also includes a free, gospel-centered test to help you identify your type if you’re interested.

The value of a personality test

Personality tests are fun but what value do they hold for my walk with Jesus?

At some point, all of us who follow Jesus make an initial decision to trust in Him. It can be tempting to think in this moment of conversion that we can give our lives to Jesus all at once. But the more I live and learn, the more I’m convinced that this is a process that happens over time and on a much more granular level. If Jesus tells us that following Him is a daily act of cross-bearing submission, why do we think that our transformative process can be truncated into a one-time prayer?

All of us have aspects of our lives that we haven’t fully surrendered to Jesus.

All of us have aspects of our lives that we haven’t fully surrendered to Jesus. These are hidden parts of us that God knows full well, but we have become blind to. The Enneagram is a helpful tool to identify those areas so that we can live our lives more fully given over to Jesus, giving us the freedom to live life full of grace and truth out of our heavenly nature and not imprisoned by our defaults.

What does this look like in real life?

I am an Enneagram type 4, otherwise known as “The Individualist”. As an Enneagram 4, I desire, at my core, to have a unique identity and I often tend to focus on what makes me different from others. I’m an emotionally wired person and live to express my authentic self to the world. I love to find beauty in mundane things. Creativity comes pretty naturally to me. When I’m living out of my identity in Jesus, I can rest secure in who God created me to be and live life full of significance and contentment.

The problem is, my search for uniqueness often expresses itself in longing or discontentment. Outside of Jesus, my need to feel special and different can take over. I find myself over-identifying with my flaws and shortcomings out of fear that I’m not unique enough. This leads me to struggle with strong feelings of loneliness and shame. I can easily convince myself that I will never have what I truly need to feel happy and content.

As you may have guessed, this can wreak havoc on my relationships, my job, and my walk with Jesus. The first few years in my marriage with Rebecca, I spent a fair amount of time crabby and depressed. I was often sad about our current state of life and frequently ranted about how things could be so much better, “if only…”.

I was checked out and felt incapable of being present to my family at home.

I found it really difficult to be happy with my life. At work, I was always dreaming and longing for something to change. Maybe if I made more money or if I had a more prominent and significant role I would finally be satisfied. It was nearly impossible for me to be fully present because I was constantly fantasizing about what could be.

At this point in my life I wasn’t good at practicing self-awareness. I had this nasty habit of blaming others for my current emotional state and, unfortunately, my wife took the brunt of that. I was incapable of focusing on anything else other than my current problem or my deep emotion. I was extremely self absorbed and, I’m sure, terrible to live with.

There was a specific moment where God got my attention. Rebecca and I were driving home one night with the kids asleep in the back of our van. I remember being in the middle of one of my complaining rants about how miserable I was when she looked at me and said “Why isn’t this enough for you? Aren’t we enough for you to be happy?

At that moment, I realized that I had issues. There was something rotten inside me that was eating away at me and hurting the people I cared about most. That statement cut through the outer layers and exposed some core beliefs that were nasty and pervasive. Even though I didn’t have all the tools I needed to attend to it at the time, God began to do a work in my life.

At some point, I remember picking up a book on the Enneagram. As soon as I read the description of type 4, I knew I was in for a ride. It was as if someone had been following me around my whole life and was reading my thoughts. As I dove in, God began to expose some of those core motivations that have been driving me and, in turn, hurting myself and others. 

He showed me that my longing for something more in life was the outcome of a lie I had believed; a lie that says, “I’m missing what I need and I will only be happy somewhere else.”

Over time and through lots of little moments, God began to reveal that I don’t need to look anywhere else to find wholeness and significance. I can rest in who I am in Him instead of dwelling on what I’m not.

This by no means meant I was done. The Holy Spirit has continued to bring awareness to the parts of me that are broken so that I can experience freedom and wholeness. Slowly but surely, more and more of my life is being surrendered to Jesus. Understanding how I’m wired within the context of the Enneagram has given me a toolkit for attending to the work that God wants to do in my life.

An invitation

Don’t wait for the cutting circumstances of life to start this work. Be courageous! Start now by asking God to search your heart. Open yourself up to the transformative work of the Holy Spirit and see what happens. Humble yourself and let God expose your core motivations. If you’re worried about what you may find, remember that it is our Father’s kindness that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4). God won’t bring something up without providing a way to heal it. I believe that for me and I believe that for you.

Action Steps

1. Pray Psalm 139:23-24 every day for a week

A great place to start is just simply opening up yourself to the work God might want to do in your life. Make this Psalm your prayer each morning and meditate on it throughout the day. See what the Holy Spirit brings up.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”

2. Dive into the Enneagram

Beth McCord has some great, gospel-centered resources for free at yourenneagramcoach.com as well as a free test to identify your type. Start to read about your type and ask the Holy Spirit to lead the process and bring awareness to the things that need healing.

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