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And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die.
Revelation 12:11 NLT
Have you ever taken an enneagram test? I resisted for the longest time. Not for any real reason—it’s not like I had anything against it. The truth is, I just didn’t understand it. (Truth is, I’m still not sure I do.) Myers-Briggs I could get behind. That makes sense to me. Introverted or Extroverted? That’s a letter. Thinker or Feeler? That’s another letter. Simple. To the point. Logical.
But this enneagram thing…
It’s a number. How in the world can any assessment take everything about my personality and get it all simplified down to a number? I am a complex being. We are all complex beings. And while God knew us before we were in the womb, and has numbered the hairs on our heads, I really didn’t believe some quiz on the internet could begin to know the first thing about me. (Unless that quiz was Buzzfeed’s “Which Downton Abbey character are you?” That one somehow saw right into my soul.)
Last week I finally took the test, along with a few of my co-workers. Now, before I go any further, you should know that my co-workers are pastors and ministry leaders. I work in full-time ministry on the staff of a church, and while we do occasionally take personality assessments in order to get to know ourselves and each other better, we strive to always approach it all through the filter of God’s creative and individual design of each of us. So, yeah…I gave in and took an enneagram test.
I was a skeptic, but the truth is I’m not sure any personality assessment has ever been more accurately eye-opening. Or eye-openingly accurate.
I’m a 3. (Again…it’s a number. Just. A. Number.) According to this particular test we took, that means that my “starring roles” are as Superstar, Producer, Performer, Motivator, Role Model, Ideal Exemplar, and Best in Show. None of those roles surprise me very much, and I don’t take offense at any of them. Except, perhaps, Best in Show. That makes me feel a bit like a champion Labradoodle.
As my co-workers and I were reading through our assessments and comparing notes, I began to cry. And not because I suddenly felt the need to report back to the Kennel Club. No…as I read aloud through some of my results, I felt as if I were being given words and handles to describe, for the very first time, the silent battle that is almost continuously taking place inside my heart and mind.
I like getting stuff done and I like succeeding. This is not a new realization. I’ve always known I am competitive, and that I will never be one to be satisfied hanging out on a single rung of a ladder when there are so many more rungs left to climb. Throughout the course of the thirteen years I spent in commercial banking, working my way up from a part-time teller to the VP of Operations, those qualities were among my greatest assets. But for five years I’ve been on staff of a church, where there is no ladder to climb—only souls to reach and lives to impact. Sure, there is organizational structure in place, and people report to other people with authority over them, and only certain positions will be at certain tables for certain conversations. Going from the cold, corporate boardroom of banking to a career in which my boss is my pastor, and we all acknowledge God as our ultimate authority, has been difficult—no matter how much I love it. (And I do love it.)
For five years, I’ve attempted every day to prove myself. For five years, I’ve gotten to the office first and left last (not every day, but the majority of them). Every single day, I have felt an overwhelming need to be the most valuable player—despite the fact that I know and truly believe it’s not about me and that I’m part of a team, of which I am just one member doing my part. I believe that with every fiber of my being, and I believe the first shall be last and the last shall be first. And yet every single day, I find myself still needing to be first.
Trust me, I fight against it. More often than not, the sensible side of me wins out and I allow myself to drift to the background—even if that means I don’t receive any of the praise for the work I did or the ideas I had. But there always seems to come a time—every few months or so; sometimes more often, sometimes less—when I begin to once again become unsettled.
I work hard. I have great ideas. No one’s listening to me! If you had just listened to what I said in the beginning, we wouldn’t be having these issues now. Why am I even here? If you’re not going to let me do my job, what’s the point? Maybe I’m not the right person for this position anymore.
Inevitably, whenever I have my emotional crisis every few months, one of my bosses/pastors/friends ends up saying to me, “I wish I knew how to get you to stop being so hard on yourself.” Usually accompanying that statement is something along the lines of, “You’re so much more than just what you do.”
Again…I don’t have any trouble knowing that’s true. But actually taking it from the knowledge category and turning it into a deeply held accepted belief proves to be more difficult. And I don’t know how to explain that. More often than not, I’ve worried that I’m actually, well…a mess. And not just in the way we’re all messes. No, I mean like a real, bona fide mess. No one could understand what’s going on in my head.
“You mistakenly believe that worth and value come from doing rather than being.”
Okay…so no one could understand what’s going on in my head except for that doggone enneagram test, apparently. Yeah…that quote was from the assessment, along with this one: “You may become disconnected from your true desires by trying to fulfill the roles of the ideal person, perhaps thinking your true self is unimportant—really believing ‘I am what I do.’”
Look, I know this isn’t really a traditional testimony and, to be honest, it wasn’t what I originally intended to contribute. I had actually written about two pages of something completely different before I realized that this was what God wanted me to write about. I don’t have a nice and tidy ending, and I don’t have any inspirational encouragement to send you away with. Knowing what you now know about me—my perfectionist tendencies, my concern with appearances and perception, my 3-ness—can you imagine how bothered I am by this? I’m serious. It makes me very uncomfortable. But as I’ve prayed for God to show me what to write, I’ve also prayed that He’ll allow me to be the best version of myself I can be—for Him. Because my value and worth are found in Him—not in what I do, but in who He has made me to be. As David acknowledges in Psalm 139:14, we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” And as I work to turn that from something I know to be true, into something I deeply believe and accept, I’ll just have to be okay with the loose ends.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.