Something like this quote was on my mind yesterday when I was writing my post about discernment and living into my call. Hope it inspires you today!
For those of you who know me well, you know I’ve spent the last year reading almost everything I can get my hands on about the Enneagram and I’ve become somewhat of an evangelist for the personality tool among my friends and family.
Ironically my first foray into the Enneagram was not so entrancing–when I had to do a routine psych evaluation for ministry preparation, the instructor rather used my found type against me, arguing that perhaps it explained my aggression, hostility, and even atypical masculine characteristics! Among people who know the Enneagram well, it’s not a secret that female 8s get a bad rap and are often misunderstood. So that’s why it’s all the more profound that a few days ago, I think I finally realized what’s so powerful and meaningful about being an 8 in this world–a personality I haven’t always found so compelling or easy to live with.
Now if you’re new to the Enneagram, it may sound like I’m speaking another language. But simply put the Enneagram is a personality system that groups our personalities into 9 types, but unlike Myers-Briggs or other personality systems, you’re not easily diagnosed through a test, because it’s a dynamic, interactive, relational system. According to the Enneagram, the best parts of you are also the worst parts of you, so people don’t always find it “easy” or “happy” to find out their types, but thankfully, the system also allows for and encourages dynamic growth.
For my own part, and especially as an anthropologist, I think the Enneagram’s best, most basic reminder is that even if we’re from the same family, we don’t necessarily see the world the same way. But other ways of seeing aren’t bad; in fact, they’re what make the world a much more interesting and beautiful place! One of the best takeaways for me from learning the Enneagram is not just understanding myself better but also building more compassion inside myself for others in respecting and empathizing with the beautiful, perplexing ways they approach life that make the world a much more complicated, but fuller place. Essentially the Enneagram affirms one of the basic tenets of anthropology: our differences make us human!
Therefore, if you’re interested in learning more about the Enneagram and even figuring out your type, I’d recommend that you read about all the types, and perhaps in lieu of taking a test, read some of these great descriptions of each type, paying attention to the core values, the things that make you tick (you can scroll down for my suggestions for further resources below). Enneagram types are complex in that they don’t tell you what a person’s vocation will be or whether they will be successful, but rather tell you more about that person’s motivation in life and some of the challenges they face and gifts that they possess.
But as I mentioned, when a lot of people find out their Enneagram type, they recognize it primarily because of the flaws they can see so clearly in themselves, while they fail to acknowledge or hone the strengths that inhabit their way of seeing the world. As an 8 (with a 7 wing), “the challenger,” someone who is a natural born leader, makes decisions incredibly quickly, and is fearless, I had been really struggling with an experience of vocational discernment as of late. In fact, because of these impetuous and quick-witted qualities, I kept remarking to my “spiritual director” that I suck at discernment: the waiting game, the listening game, the methodical weighing of options is just not me. And as someone who is much more inclined to rely on my mind rather than my heart, I bemoaned my lack of intuition.
However, this type of thinking ignores some of the qualities which make 8s truly exceptional. Because of my gusto, I am truly and uniquely fearless. This certainly becomes a weakness in that I may struggle to emphasize and understand the insecurities others often face on a daily basis, but in my own life, when I see a challenge, I am invigorated, affirmed, and inspired. Sign me up, I think. I’m all about taking risks, I scoff. Bring it on!
Thus, in my life when I have been able to reframe uncertainty and discernment as a challenge, I’ve been able to very quickly embrace the adventure that God has in store for me, not worrying about the consequences or the trials of that risk but plowing full steam ahead. (As I told one of my friends recently, I may be a battering ram, but I can be a battering ram for Jesus!) What I’ve noticed in discernment and uncertainty, though, is that I have a tendency, as many of us do, to try to usurp control (how very 8 of me) from God. I spin into full-on planner mode, determined to think through the details of my future, when the very best that God has for me may not even be visible yet.
My spiritual director has invited me to ponder God’s faithfulness by asking me, “Think of the five greatest things in your life. Which ones were you responsible for? Now which ones did God provide?” Indeed, as a person of faith, in spite of any Enneagram personality knowledge, I am committed to living the life that God has for me. And I’ve realized that this involves abdicating my long-term planning role to God. Ironically, uncertainty and long-term planning are two things that in my penchant to control, send me spiraling out of control, leading away from my strengths and gifts as a passionate 8 who leads with vision and conviction.
I’m not alone in these insights, though. There are many, many people of faith who have begun to draw upon the Enneagram for wisdom not just about who we are, but who we are in God. For me, I’ve started to see how unique it is that I love a good challenge and that I’m not afraid, and I’ve become even more convicted to strive toward the unique vocation (somewhere between anthropology and ministry) that God has for me, even though the world may not always understand that call. 8s are often known for being resilient and strong, and I realize now that this takes “guts.” Even though I may lack for what I termed intuition, I am at my best when I’m relying on and hungering after God, throwing all of myself into that new challenge and adventure!
How has the Enneagram helped you live more fully into your purpose in God? What lessons have you learned about God and faith by getting to know yourself better?
If you’d like to learn more about the Enneagram, I’d recommend listening to the Liturgists extensive podcast on all nine types, reading a bit about each type and then taking the “Essential Enneagram” test by David Daniels and Virginia Price, which is really just a series of paragraphs that you read seeing which one best describes you. I think this is the best way to discern your type, but the most important things are to 1) gain an appreciation for all types and 2) to take your time in discerning your type.
I also really like the Podcast, The Road Back to You, based on the book by Suzanne Stabile and Ian Morgan Cron, because it gives you an opportunity to listen to other people talking about their journeys in understanding themselves, others, and God through their types.
If we were having coffee this week, I’d let you in on a few things…
I’d tell you that it’s already been a week packed with doctors visits and hospital tests like usual, but something has shifted. It shifted when I realized that despite checking “no” to all the tasks listed on Lucia’s 24-month questionnaire, I also got to check “no” to the question, “does anything about your child worry you?” In the midst of moments where I could have been discouraged, I counted myself so blessed, because of the much needed perspective our daughter with special needs brings to our lives and my faith.
(Here’s another great perspective on children with disabilities I saw this week!)
I’d also let you in on how incredibly thrilling it was to find an email in my inbox this morning entitled, “你好 from China” from a former student who with her broad interests in Native American culture, architecture, and history, I never thought would quite end up there! She wrote,
“Also Professor Raffety, China is wonderful. Granted there are many moments of ‘ahh, what am I doing’ but those are minimal in comparison to my many moments of ‘ahh, so much goodness.’ My co-workers, new friends, are brimming with patience, generosity and a eagerness to converse and teach me. I’m sure you have experienced many of these same moments. And of course, the food is new, but oh so flavorful.
I hope all is well with you and your family, your faith and teaching.”
I’m tickled not just because she’s having this encounter with China that I once had that was so powerful and earth-shattering and meaningful but because there’s this subtle affirmation of my call that I also read in her generous words–some mutual recognition of something more than just teacher and student, something more like our vocational and spiritual lives intermingling for something greater. She had me musing this morning, during a season when I’ve been lacking a bit of pedagogical inspiration, “See this is why I can’t not teach!”
And finally, I’d tell you that I really should be writing my sermon instead of this blog post, but that I think it can all pretty much be summed up in these words from Glennon Doyle Melton that speak to the curious balance of conviction and humility that it takes to live the Christian life:
What are you up to this week? Grab a cup of coffee and let me in on it!
“I think I just love ideas,” I said to my husband dreamily the other evening after a particularly rousing conversation with a colleague.
It didn’t seem like much a revelation, but I may have mentioned that defending my Ph.D. last year has seemed to open up all this conceptual space with which to dream about vocation both in and outside of academia. It’s been at once exhilarating and daunting. There’s so much freedom that I’m almost paralyzed by it.
But to acknowledge and relish that I really get a kick out of talking about theories, ideas, and people is a small start. And then the other day as I chatted with a colleague on the seminary campus who turned to go into her office, I turned to head back to the university campus, to my syllabi, articles, and ideas. And I was so thrilled and so grateful to have that desk, that community, and those ideas. I realized as scary as it is to admit, I’m not ready to give up on the academic job search yet. I want to see it through a bit longer. I want to continue to pursue these possibilities, because I have so much passion for the work I did with foster families and children with disabilities in China, for China itself, for students, and for anthropological knowledge and those ways of thinking.
Things seem positively turned upside down in my life right now and I have no idea what God is doing. But I’m trying to learn (again) to be content with that– to embrace the thought that this not knowing about the future is not really so bad and that life is an adventure that is so much better when we let God lead.
The other morning I saw the sun for the first time in a long, long time, and some words from good ol’ Anne of Green Gables came to me as I happily thought, “Today is fresh, with no mistakes in it yet.”
Trying to live in that freshness, faithfulness, and fullness that God so generously provides.
Have a good weekend. What are you up to?
I shut my eyes a week ago now during a moment of mediation.
And I was so instantly and effortlessly transported to China with this bird’s eye view of the people, the places, the sights, and the smells to which I’d come to feel a part of and find so comforting and familiar. I was filled with such deep gratitude for how God sets us out upon journeys we hadn’t even begun to dream of.
But as I mediated on how the damp dark insides of humble homes aside foster moms had become places of warmth and connection, I wondered where it is that I truly belong. When I glimpse photos such as these they tug so deeply at my heart strings, because I remember each family as if it were yesterday– the words we spoke, the disabilities their children face, the worn wrinkles of their kind eyes and hands and faces.
Several months ago, freshly displaced from China, these thoughts would have also driven fear into my heart with their ability to force doubt into the pathways that seem so clear and foreordained. But I’m learning that faithfulness to God is rejoicing in these pangs of connection and communion, thanking God for the gifts of life in China, and thanking God for the journeys that only God’s yet begun to dream of.
I forget that China wasn’t always so comforting, that in the midst of connection and communion, I lived with great uncertainty in China, too. This is how I’m learning to rejoice in the midst of challenges, because I’m looking around and I can see God’s hand so clearly in those valleys in China, and I strive to believe it’s here, too. And so the other evening as a few colleagues permitted me to make the analogy, I began to realize that dissertation-writing is an act of faith, too: we may not know where we’re going but we’re trusting that the words, the sentences, the paragraphs, are all building toward something.
Once again I’m humbled by the thought that I don’t belong to just one place or one people or one vocation. I belong to God. And my faith isn’t just about serving God in China, but writing this dissertation bit by bit, teaching a class with service in mind, and lingering in the belonging that these moments yield. I guess as I’m getting older, I’m getting more comfortable with the fact that there isn’t one clear path, I’m getting more comfortable in journeying rather than fixing my eyes on destinations, but mostly God is teaching me that I can be confident in the little that I do know, because that’s enough.
It’s enough to be a follower and to follow God with great faith.
In fact, that may be the only thing that matters in life, and while it’s often terrifying, it’s also thrilling.
I feel like I’ve entered a phase where I’ve been forced to live here a bit more, to let others care for me, and receive the grace and abundance of this community.
And while sometimes I feel sad and confused that China and her people are feeling more distant to me day by day, at my wisest, with God’s presence near, I realize it’s not an either/or. God doesn’t want me to or ask me to choose between people in China and people here, but to believe that God’s omnipotence leads to impossible community and connection.
But it’s not just God, it’s God’s people who do that kind of work–the people in my life who generously let me babble about the foster mothers I’ve met until I’m breathless, the people who sat through my presentation last night and inspired and encouraged me with their enthusiasm for my study of families in China, and the people who value and understand that work is not just work to me, but the stuff of vocation, passion, and calling.
And so as we enter this season of giving thanks season, and China feels further and further away, I count the blessings so near and pray for God to come closer. Not just closer to me and mine, but to God’s people in China and people everywhere, because that’s God’s thing–doing the impossible globe-trotting ministry of presence.
And the rest–the believing and the boldness and the taking in big armfuls of grace just as we do extra helpings of mashed potatoes and turkey–well, that’s all up to us.