God Made You Special
“God made you special, and he loves you very much” –at least that’s what Bob and Larry would tell me at the end of every Veggie Tales® episode. Their words echoed something I heard all my life, that God makes every person unique, on purpose, and for his glory. At the time I didn’t know what a personality test was, the dozens of assessments that people use to talk about their strengths, weaknesses, communication styles and leadership dynamics. By now I’ve been through what feels like all of them: I have discovered my strengths, my spirit animal, my mood color, and ranked my “I” in relationship to my “D.” Personality tests aren’t new, there are more than a few, and pretty much all of them can be completely useless without sufficient understanding and proper application.
About ten years ago, I was introduced to something called the enneagram, and I remember asking myself what kind of mystical nonsense I was being sold by someone who would soon be a former friend. As I dug a little deeper, what I discovered was a system for understanding personality that, for some reason, resonated with me more deeply than the others. I love the enneagram because it is simple, spiritual, and very dynamic. I don’t feel like I need a graduate degree to understand it, and it doesn’t box me into a version of me that feels half-true.
What is it anyway?
The enneagram is a tool for understanding personality that was developed for contemporary use by a man named Oscar Ichazo in the 1960s. “Enneagram” simply means “figure of nine,” combining the root words ennea meaning “nine” and gram meaning “figure” or “drawing.” Ichazo and his contemporaries studied and developed hundreds of enneagrams (“figures of nine”), drawing from multiple ancient mathematical, religious and philosophical principles and combining them with their understanding of human psychology. They combined several of these into the enneagram of personality that has since exploded into popular culture through the myriad of books, podcasts, posters and memes.
The enneagram describes nine different “types,” or ways of existing in the world, numbered from one to nine. Most people can find themselves in one of the nine types with a little honesty and self-reflection, and the insights gained usually provide some “light bulb” moments in thinking about relationship and motivation. We all have a little bit of each type in who we are, but we will generally favor one type over the others and live out of that space. It can be incredibly helpful in personal development, marriage, and in business or leadership relationships.
Where do I start?
If you’re new to the enneagram, there are multiple assessments that can be taken online for free. Most of them are complete trash, and I’d recommend either reading a book or talking to someone who knows the enneagram to get you started. Understanding the enneagram is often described as a journey because it can take a while to dig down into your authentic self and find who you really are. It can be overwhelming at times, but I can assure you it is well worth the work.
Identifying your type starts by finding your “center.” The nine enneagram types are split into three subgroups called “centers,” each signifying persons who engage with the world through either their gut/doing, their heart/feeling, or their mind/thinking. You might know immediately whether you’re a doer, a feeler or a thinker.
The doing or gut center is made up of types eight, nine and one, and these folks generally experience life through instinct and action. Each of the centers has a dominant emotion and for this center it is anger. Angst or frustration is the water they swim in, often causing them to unintentionally come across as mad or intense. Their anger will either come out with gusto (eights), will be subtly avoided (nines), or gets directed inward at the self (ones).
The feeling or heart center is made up of types two, three and four, who experience life primarily through their emotion. The dominant emotion of the heart center is shame, but think of it more as a feeling of inadequacy or not measuring up rather than being ashamed of something you’ve done. This fear of not measuring up will cause people in this center to try to fill the void through relational attachment (twos), achieving success (threes), or by standing out from the crowd in expressive uniqueness (fours).
The thinking or head center is made up of types five, six and seven who experience life through the mind. The primary emotional experience (although emotions aren’t very accessible to these types) is fear which often comes out as an underlying anxiety about the world around them. The mindset is that the world is a scary and dangerous place and I must do my best to protect myself from all the risks around me and the people and things I love. Fives find this protection by being prepared and independent and extremely frugal with their time, energy and resources. Sixes seek security in the safety of the group or a leader, although at times can react negatively against authority that they feel threatened by. Sevens deal with their inner fear by avoiding it, seeking rather to be entertained or distracted by the next new experience that keeps them from the pain of standing still.
Lines and Wings
In addition to the main type that you identify with, there are three other numbers to pay attention to. If you look at the enneagram symbol you will see that there are lines (often marked with arrows) that connect types to one another in an irregular pattern. These lines indicate the connections or “pathways” that each type has to other types. Your type will have lines that connect you to two others, usually in a different center of experience. According to some enneagram teachers, the connecting numbers can help you know whether or not you are existing in a healthy or an unhealthy space. Perhaps a simpler way to understand them is that they indicate your access to the strengths (and weaknesses) of your connected types.
In addition to your connecting lines, most people will have what is called a wing type. The wing type is one of the numbers adjacent to yours that you readily draw from, and is one of the things that can make two people of the same primary type so different from each other.
So What Now?
So now that you know your center, your type, and your wing type it’s time to go tell all your friends what they are, right? Not exactly. It’s important to remember that no one can do this work for you, and thus you can’t do it for someone else. The enneagram tells us most about what is motivating us, what we are feeling, and what we most fear. These are deep things that are tough to discern from the outside. Try not to use the enneagram to label people. It’s meant to be a gateway for understanding rather than a tool for shutting people down. And please don’t use your type as an excuse for immaturity or bad behavior. There’s no type for “I get to be a jerk.”
As I said earlier, I encourage anyone new to the enneagram to be patient and remember that it takes a while to discover some of these things about yourself. Don’t get discouraged if you started off thinking you were one type but discover later that you’re another. It’s all part of the process. God is faithful, and will complete the work that he began in you (Phil. 1:6). Isn’t it amazing that he sees you as you really are and loves you? Even more amazingly, he sees you as you will be, with your potential fully realized and no false self or sin to slow you down. When we understand his acceptance of us, we will more readily accept ourselves, knowing that God makes every person unique, on purpose and for his glory. He made you special, and yes, he loves you very much.
Special Guest Writer Pastor Jonathan Vinke
Jonathan Vinke is one of the pastors on staff at the Church of Eleven22 in Jacksonville, FL. He is married to Aubrey and has two amazing kids. If you’d like to connect with Jonathan and learn more about his enneagram teaching and coaching, go to www.v9coaching.com.