Ashes and The Enneagram

I did not grow up with Ash Wednesday or Lent. It was not a thing in the Baptist Church of the ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s. At least not at my Baptist Church. I married a Lutheran in 1999 and became a Lutheran in the process. And because I do everything 110% or not at all, I joined the staff of my Lutheran Church in 2001. Nowadays, Lent is a thing that lots of denominations recognize. Catholics and Lutherans and Episcopalians, of course, but Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians alike. Everyone is welcome.

Of all the pieces of the Lutheran faith and practice I love, I latched onto Ash Wednesday and Lent like it was my job. I mean, it was; but really. There was something about the somberness, the reflection, and the sadness that drew me in immediately. I felt like I had waited my entire life for a ritual such as this. It didn’t always make sense to me but I was here for all of it.

And then I found the Enneagram.

I have a friend who is a pastor and we text each other hilarity and irreverence on a regular basis. After I found the Enneagram I would text him my newfound revelations and he would immediately send me memes about witchcraft. And now you have a small window into our friendship. But a few weeks ago, he sent me a text about something altogether unrelated to anything I’m telling you except that it was prefaced with, “I’m reading a lot about the Enneagram right now…so let me retreat on my previous sarcasm…”

If you don’t know anything about the Enneagram, this post is probably a lot of nonsense to you thus far. Let me see if I can catch you up a bit.

According to The Enneagram Institute, “the Enneagram can be seen as a set of nine distinct personality types, with each number on the Enneagram denoting one type. It is common to find a little of yourself in all nine of the types, although one of them should stand out as being closest to yourself. This is your basic personality type.

Everyone emerges from childhood with one of the nine types dominating their personality, with inborn temperament and other pre-natal factors being the main determinants of our type. This is one area where most all of the major Enneagram authors agree—we are born with a dominant type. Subsequently, this inborn orientation largely determines the ways in which we learn to adapt to our early childhood environment. It also seems to lead to certain unconscious orientations toward our parental figures, but why this is so, we still do not know. In any case, by the time children are four or five years old, their consciousness has developed sufficiently to have a separate sense of self. Although their identity is still very fluid, at this age children begin to establish themselves and find ways of fitting into the world on their own. Thus, the overall orientation of our personality reflects the totality of all childhood factors (including genetics) that influenced its development.”

I took the test The Enneagram Institute offers. It’s not free but I took it for a class and wanted something of an “official” answer. There are lots of free tests online. I don’t know how good they all are – I haven’t taken them all because the internet is surprisingly large. I have taken several, however, to see how they match up and there is one thing that always rings true…

I am a 4.

What does that mean and what does it have to do with Lent? Well, according to my RHETI Test Results ( Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator), a typical Type 4 “exemplifies the desire to be ourselves, to be known for who we are, and to know the depths of our hearts. Of all the types, Fours are the most aware of their own
emotional states. They notice when they feel upset, anxious, attracted to another person, or some other, more subtle combination of feelings. They pay attention to their different changing emotions and try to determine what their feelings are telling them about themselves, others, and their world. When Fours are more in balance, their exquisite attunement to their inner states enables them to discover deep truths about human nature, to bear compassionate witness to the suffering of others, or to be profoundly honest with themselves about their own motives. When they are less balanced, they can become lost in their feelings, preoccupied with emotional reactions, memories, and fantasies, both negative and positive.

At their worst, Fours become self-inhibiting and angry at self, depressed and alienated from self and others, blocked and emotionally paralyzed. Ashamed of self,
fatigued and unable to function. Tormented by delusional self-contempt, self-reproaches, self-hatred, and morbid thoughts: everything is a source of torment. Blaming others, they drive away anyone who tries to help them. They can be despairing, feel hopeless and become self-destructive, possibly abusing alcohol or drugs to escape. In the extreme: emotional breakdown or suicide is likely. Generally
corresponds to the Avoidant, Depressive, and Narcissistic personality disorders.”

And if you know me, you are now picking your chin up off of your chest because you’ve looked for words to make sense of me and now you have them. Or maybe that’s just me, as a 4, imagining that you may have lost sleep trying to make sense of me.

Lent is a time to reflect on my sin – my continued, habitual, continuous sin. It’s a time to remember the suffering of Christ and the sacrifice of life He made for me. And you. But honestly, had it been only me, He still would have done it. The gap sin caused between God and man was so incredibly great that there had to be a bridge built. There was no way we could work hard enough, live well enough, or say enough prayers to bring the gap to a place of connection. There had to be a plan and so God made one.

God sent His one and only son to us. He was born a baby, grew into a teen and then a man. He lived. He was arrested under false pretenses, beaten, spit upon, made fun of, and nailed to a cross. He hung there for hours while people made jokes and called him names. He looked down on his mother, who sat at the foot of the cross sobbing, as any mother would do for her son, and then he died.

And then he kicked death in the teeth and rose from the grave.

You and I can have a complete and total relationship with God now because Jesus is a rock star who loves us so much that he gave His life for us. God couldn’t stand to see us isolated and separated from Him.

We all have the opportunity to reflect on this truth during Lent. As a 4, my “exquisite attunement” to my inner thoughts enables me to “bear compassionate witness to the suffering of others, or to be profoundly honest with themselves about their own motives.” I am highly aware of my sin, my shortcomings, and all the parts of my life that nailed Jesus to the cross. Sometimes I am too aware. Most of the time, even though I am highly aware of my sin, I am still in denial of the cost. Lent is a time to connect the ashes of my sin to the heart of Jesus. It’s both devastating and beautiful.

But, as a 4, part of my growth will come in realizing that wallowing in the sins of my past will not be helpful. Lent can serve as a reminder of how Jesus sees me – clean and without sin. My feelings will lie to me and tell me I will never rise above the sins of my past. Jesus reaches into that space and reminds me that He sees me washed clean, beautiful, and whole. Maybe I can reframe my Lent experience to focus less on the sin and more on the Savior who reached into that sin to pull me out. I can think about the weakness of my self and turn my eyes toward Jesus, who esteems me and moves me with His gentle strength. My heart is clean because of His ashes.