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.

Whispers of Hope – A Prayer for Lent

I did not grow up with a knowledge or understanding of Lent. Our particular church did not acknowledge it. I had a few Catholic friends and I had a vague awareness of them not eating meat on Friday but I really didn’t have any sort of grasp on the practice, culture, or custom.

In the last 18 years, as Lutheranism has slowly seeped into my DNA, I have, each year, been striving to wrap my brain around the season and what it means for me. I started with a popular decision of giving up sweets. One year I gave up soap operas (and actually never picked them up again). I’ve given up wine, dessert, cakes and cookies specifically, only pie for one season, and emotional eating. I’ve also had years where I picked up a habit. For instance, one year I read a chapter of my bible every day.

I will be the first to admit that for most years, I made it about me.

“Look at what I’m giving up.”

“Look how disciplined I am.”

“See how good I am when I sacrifice for Jesus.”

The reality is, I believe, that my decision to give up cupcakes did not really draw me closer to Jesus. (It totally may be what you need. There is no judgement here. I’m only speaking for self.) In fact, the things I gave up mostly made me sad and feel self pity. When I started equating my giving up pie to Jesus climbing up on the cross, it occurred to me that I might not have a grasp on what sacrifice is.

I’ve been thinking for a few weeks about where my life is right now. I’ve been processing the incredible rate of speed my kids are growing, how this changes my marriage and our family. I’ve been staring down the barrel of 40 and what that means. What have I accomplished? How have I grown? Shouldn’t I be have my life together by now?

The whisper in my soul that has been growing increasingly louder and more persistent is saying, “Pray.”

My prayer life is what I like to call “on the go.” I wake up praying; thanking God for breath and asking him to give me strength for the day. I pray in the shower for specifics that come to mind. I pray as I’m walking up the stairs to wake my kids, “God, give them health today” and as I drop them at school, “God, protect them.”

As the day rolls on I’m in constant prayer.

“Thank you for the beauty in the blooming azaleas.”

“Please take away this cough.”

“Help me to be wise.”

“Help me to be kind.”

They come as easily as breath and I breathe them in and out all day. But I’ve craving a slow down. I’m desiring a friendship with Jesus that looks like morning coffee instead of a quick text message.

So I bought this book by Beth Moore (Whispers of Hope) and I’ve decided it will be my spring board for Lent this year. If Lent is supposed to be a time of purification and drawing closer to Christ, I want to spend time, every morning, in bible devotion and guided prayer. I want to make a focused effort to be less of me and more of Jesus.

Right now I know some of you are saying, “You aren’t supposed to tell people what you’re doing for Lent because that makes you look prideful.” Folks, there is zero pride in me saying I’ve made my life too busy to sit down with Jesus. I want no accolades for that. I share because I think it’s possible there are a few moms (or dads) that might be like me and know that the days they spend with Jesus make them better parents. I share because I have a hunch there are some women who, like me, feel a bit of pressure to carry heavy loads and could use some strength from God.

This book is simply a tool with three features. Every day offers a devotional with a scripture passage and a few thoughts. There is a prayer guide that uses the PRAISE approach (I’ll share what that means in a minute.) And there is also an answer log so I can record answered prayers.

So PRAISE is an easy format to help me organize my prayer thoughts and it works like this:

Praise – I will start each prayer by opening my heart and telling God how awesome I think he is. I might write a line from the Psalms or even a chorus from a song. The point is God already knows who he is. This is me, letting him know that I know, too.

Repentance – This is where I admit the things. All the things. Jealousy? Write it down. Anger? Yes. Gluttony? Yep. Lust? Even good girls do it. No matter what it is, I’ll record it and ask God to help me turn away from it. There is no shame…in fact, it frees me of shame. Holding on to sin is pointless because God already sees it. He knows I’ve done it. This is me, stating the obvious, so I can stop.

Acknowledge – This is where I admit that I trust him (or don’t) and that I want him to be the ruler of my life.

Intercession – I can list all the needs on my heart that belong to other people. The friend’s premature baby I’ve been praying for. The friend who is suffering anxiety. My sick family member. The friend who doesn’t know Jesus. I can list any and all and God hears them. He sees them.

Self – What do I need? What are my hurts? Where are my weaknesses? I can pour my heart out to God because he is my refuge and strength. He opens his arms and pulls me in safely. This is the time to share my whole heart with him.

Equipping – I want to serve God, not just go to him with needs. When I ask to be filled with his Spirit he empowers me to be a blessing to others.

They say it takes 21 days to make a habit and I’m hoping that this becomes a habit that sticks. I want my relationship with Jesus to grow stronger. I desire to know him more. I know there is power in his Word and I know he hears my prayers.

What are some tools you have used during Lent (or any other time) to focus your mind and heart on Jesus?




*I make zero dollars on the sale of Beth’s book and I have no affiliation with Amazon. I placed a link in case you, like me, think this book might be helpful to your prayer life.