Confessions of an Enneagram 3
Mentioning the Enneagram (pronounced any-a-gram) is controversial in Christian circles. Some love it while others loath it. The lovers say it can improve self-knowledge and lead to personal transformation. The loathers call it the “Enneascam,” and say it’s meaningless and leads to self-fulfilling prophecies. I’m not here to convince you either way. I can only say it made me ponder the shape of my life.
Here’s what I mean:
I’m an Enneagram 3, which means I’m an achiever. As you might expect, achievers pursue significance through accomplishments. And as obsessive strivers hungry for affirmation, few things are more unbearable to us than a life of anonymity.
If the narcissism in those words induced an eye-roll or two, I get it. I’m not proud of it. I simply cannot deny it.
Looking back, I now see that this drive to succeed started at an early age—especially in my athletic pursuits. I found success in baseball and basketball, and it made me feel like I mattered. And the dopamine hits that came in the wake of a standing ovation were addicting. This feeling of near invincibility made me think I could triumph in any sport—and I tried.
But in high school I met my match in wrestling (pun intended). It was the first sport that didn’t come with immediate success. And contrary to my expectations, my best efforts made no observable difference in competition. My low point came when everyone on the wrestling squad won their matches, but I lost mine. It was humiliating and embarrassing. After nearly sixteen years the loss still bothers me. Why?
Because I worship the idol of success.
The Dead End of Other “Lovers”
In the Bible, God frequently refers to idols as “lovers” (Hos. 2:5; Lam. 1:2) because he is our jealous husband (Exod. 20:5; 34:14; Isa. 54:5) who is worthy of our highest devotion and who promises to satisfy us with his love (Ps. 81:10; 90:14). Thankfully, when other lovers lure our hearts away, he graciously places roadblocks in our path to lead us back to him: “Therefore I will hedge up her [Israel’s] way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths” (Hos. 2:6).
God loves us too much to allow our spiritual whoredom to continue. He will show us that disordered desires lead to dead ends. That’s what he did for me.
I now believe that God graciously wove failure into the tapestry of my life so I would feel the inner emptiness that only he could fill. And it worked.
Though I still have much to learn, the school of Christ has taught me two important lessons.
First, love is better than admiration. I recently heard Rich Villodas say that when we don’t feel loved, we’ll settle for being admired. Settling for admiration, however, is a cheap imitation of what we need. What we need is intimacy—with God and others. Consequently, all of our energy and zeal must move in the direction of loving, worshiping, and enjoying God, as well as pursuing meaningful relationships where we open ourselves up to trusted friends who refuse to leave when they discover what we’d prefer to hide.
Second, idols enslave but Christ liberates. Satan is a harsh taskmaster who makes bruising demands and issues harsh penalties. All the while, lasting peace eludes us because idols only raise the bar or crush us under the weight of their unceasing demands. The truth is that you cannot achieve your way into significance. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It’s a goose chase without a goose. Jesus, on the other hand, is generous beyond calculation, and he provides rest: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). The Bible calls us to view life for what it is—a gift from God where we cultivate and employ the gifts he’s bestowed on us in order serve those under our care.
God’s providence never misses its target. The Grand Storyteller orchestrated that a fourteen-year-old high school freshman suffer the lone loss on his team to teach me an enduring lesson: I am not self-sufficient. I cannot self-fulfill. This is the beneficence of failure.
And this is why I want someone to read George Herbert’s poem “The Pulley” at my funeral:
When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by,
“Let us,” said he, “pour on him all we can.
Let the world’s riches, which dispersèd lie,
Contract into a span.”
So strength first made a way;
Then beauty flowed, then wisdom, honor, pleasure.
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all his treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
“For if I should,” said he,
“Bestow this jewel also on my creature,
He would adore my gifts instead of me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature;
So both should losers be.
“Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to my breast.”