It’s messy being human beings. Perhaps the reason Jesus prays for our unity is because he knows just how difficult—how seemingly impossible—unity between people can be. We offend one another. We hurt one another’s feelings. We reject one another. Sometimes intentionally, but more often not. One tool we have to help us repair the damage and work for reconciliation and forgiveness towards one another is the Enneagram.
David Fitch writes, “Reconciliation is so central to the good news of what God has done in Christ that to see no reconciliation in our churches suggests there is no gospel in them. Reconciliation marks our presence in the world.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.” If this is so, you don’t get have warm fuzzies with God if there’s unresolved conflict between you and a Christian brother or sister. Reconciliation and forgiveness are fundamental practices in the Christian life.
Why do you seem to click with particular types of people? Why do you always seem to find yourself in a fight with other types? What is it that you truly get out of being part of a community? The Enneagram helps provide answers to questions like these.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Enneagram, I recommend reading this first. Some things to keep in mind about it: YOU ARE NOT YOUR TYPE. Your type describes you. It does not define you. Furthermore, it’s not a label to slap on someone else. Your type does not give you license to be a jerk. It describes tendencies. It has an uncanny way of giving words to gifts and weaknesses you knew you had but didn’t know how to articulate it.
So what is it that blocks you from experiencing community? What in you breeds conflict and the need for forgiveness and reconciliation? Riso and Hudson write, “One of the most important skills we must acquire as we embark on the inward journey is the ability to ‘observer and let go’ of the habits and mechanisms of our personality that have trapped us.” The Enneagram helps us to observe and let go. Here are some of the ways that each type can find themselves mired in conflict and how they can work towards reconciliation within a community.
Principled and idealistic, Ones are prone to perfectionism. Healthy Ones improve the world. They can engage in constructive criticism within the community.
The biggest block for a One in community is anger—anger at themselves that they don’t meet their own standards, anger at others that they don’t meet them, either. If you’re a One, value those in your community as they are and let go of your wish-dreams of them. If you’re learning to live with someone who could be a One, create space for their spontaneity and fun—the positive attributes of a Seven.
Twos live to serve, often at the expense of their own self-care. They want to help and have an intuitive sense of reading others’ emotions. They have the superpower of knowing how people feel and how to fix it.
The obstacle for a Two in community is pride. They want to be the one to fix everyone. A person in your community who could be a Two may feel slighted when all their efforts to serve go unnoticed. If you are a Two, you may be hiding from your community your own needs. Express them. You need others, too. If you’re learning to live with someone who could be a Two, genuinely thank them for all they do. Help them look in the mirror to help themselves as enthusiastically as they help others.
Fluent in efficiency and productivity, Threes eat to-do lists for breakfast. They are high achievers. They like to win. If there’s a shortcut or a hidden advantage, a Three will find it.
The obstacle for a Three in community is deceit. They can be obsessed about their appearance, and so they may project a false identity to the community, or even lie to themselves about who they truly are. If you are a Three, lean into the authenticity and messiness of life. Substance means more than appearance. If you’re learning to live with someone who might be a Three, remind them that they’re valued for who they are, not what they do or what they bring to the group.
Fours live in the world of beauty and creativity. They can sense what’s missing in the community and then bring that to the table. They can make every gathering unique and different.
The obstacle for a Four in community is envy. When their sense of noticing what’s missing gets turned on themselves, they may fall into a vicious loop of comparison, fearing they may never be complete. If you’re a Four, pay close attention to how your moodiness or melancholy affects your community. You’re not an island. If you’re learning to live with someone who could be a Four, make space for them to see outside themselves. Clearly communicate to them how their actions affect you.
Analytical and cerebral, Fives observe everything in your community. They see it all, and they’re constantly making connections. They’re a wealth of wisdom and insight in a community.
For a Five, avarice or greed tend to spark conflict in their relationships. They tend to live with a scarcity mentality. Fives tend to think their feelings, which may leave them unaware of how their actions affect your feelings. If you’re a Five, you may overestimate your need for boundaries. Participate. Don’t merely observe. You may find yourself in conflict simply because you’re not making yourself available. If you’re learning to live with someone who could be a Five, make space for them to express themselves. Ask. Show them the curiosity that comes so naturally to them.
Loyal and dependable, Sixes get the job done, whatever the job may be. Healthy Sixes work for the safety and security of the community. Maintaining the status quo can be their priority.
The biggest obstacle for Six experiencing community is fear. Sixes tend to anticipate the worst. Driven by anxiety, they can be “glass half empty” people. If you’re a Six, try expressing gratitude for the gifts and ideas that others bring. If you’re learning to live with someone who could be a Six, give appropriate space for their concerns. Sometimes simply saying those outlaid can diffuse them. Above all, cultivate trust with a Six.
Fearless and adventuresome, Sevens are the life of the party. They’re already geared up for the next get together. Spontaneity is their middle name, and they have a story for every occasion.
The obstacle for a Seven in community is gluttony. They want to gorge themselves on experiences and thrills, while minimizing pain and negative emotions. If you’re a Seven, work to be present in the moment with others, knowing its enough. Especially if your community is experiencing any kind of turmoil or grief, resist the urge minimize the hurt that others feel. If you’re learning to live with someone who might be a Seven, give space to their joy and enthusiasm. Make space for them to reflect rather than just consume.
Intensity and conflict are the lifeblood of an Eight. They live for a good debate, argument, or fight. It may be easy to misconstrue their aggressiveness as a personal attack when that’s not the case.
The obstacle for an Eight in community is lust, not so much in a sexual sense, but rather objectifying and using others. An Eight may be so caught up in fighting the cause they forget the people. If you happen to be an Eight, work to notice the humanity of others. See them as people rather than issues. Know when you’re a bull in a china shop. If you’re learning to live with someone who might be an Eight, lovingly remind them that there are more colors in the world than black and white. Match their intensity with intensity and see if it doesn’t diffuse the situation.
Easygoing and peaceful, Nines have an intuitive gift for seeing through the eyes of every other type. Healthy Nines listen deeply with empathy. They value the perspectives of everyone in the table, and are excellent at mediating conflict.
Sloth is the greatest obstacle for Nine in community. For the sake of avoiding conflict, they fade into the background. If you’re a Nine, make yourself known. Express your gifts, your thoughts, and opinions. You’ll likely find them embraced rather than rejected. If you’re learning to live with someone who might be a Nine, you may never know that a conflict exists. Go out of your way to tease out their wants and desires and dreams. Don’t let them get away with simply going with the flow.
The Enneagram is a helpful tool in our journey of spiritual formation. Don’t use it as a weapon in your community or in our relationships. A knife is a useful tool for carving wood, but it can also lop off your thumb. Don’t use the Enneagram to label, belittle, or manipulate others. It’s most useful in paying attention to your own soul and learning how to listen to others with a more discerning ear. It can be particularly helpful in the Christian practice of reconciliation, as it shines a spotlight on our own complicity in strained relationships. It reveals to us the long, slow work ahead of us in healing those relationships.
“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18–19).
If you’d like to learn more about the Enneagram, it’s best to start with Self to Lose – Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil or The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.
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