By Laura Stephens-Reed
The Enneagram is an ancient tool that gives us a framework for understanding ourselves and others. It helps us identify the unhelpful stories we tell ourselves about who we are and about how we interact with those around us. Out of that understanding, we can name and lean into narratives that draw more fully on our gifts and strengthen our relationships. When we are able to stay in this healthier space, we honor the image of God within and follow Jesus’ greatest commandments more closely.
I am by no means an Enneagram expert; but I have learned a lot about it over the past few years because so many of my colleagues and “coaches” use Enneagram typology as conversational shorthand. (Examples: “I know I need to say no to this request, but I’m such a two.” Or, “I recognize that I’m way over-functioning. Stress is really bringing out my three.”) As we stand on the brink of Lent, I wonder what a Lenten discipline might look like for each Enneagram number rather than a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Below are brief descriptions of each type along with a suggestion for how to use this season to clear out what separates us from God, from our neighbors and from ourselves.
Enneagram Ones are reformers. They like to do things right, and they want to make the world a better place. They can be rigid and overly buttoned up, never wanting others to see their mistakes. A potential Lenten practice for Ones might be to let some things in their lives go. Leave that stack of clutter. Decide you’re done with your sermon on Friday, even if you’d normally be editing until you climb into the pulpit on Sunday. Then reflect on how people react to you when you don’t embody perfection. (You might be pleasantly surprised!)
Twos are helpers. They are warm and generous and like to do things for others. They can also become so self-sacrificing in trying to earn love that they become resentful toward the people they help. This Lent, Twos might practice voicing what they need to the people in their lives.
Type Threes are achievers. They are driven to do great things, inspiring others in the process. They can be so image-conscious that they overwork or lose connection to their authentic selves. Threes might spend Lent in a deepened prayer practice, taking time to stop and listen for the voice of God to speak to the image of God within.
Enneagram Fours are romantics. They put beauty out into the world, and they feel deeply. They can also be unpredictable out of the worry that they are deficient and ultimately unlovable. During Lent, Fours might cultivate a gratitude ritual that roots them in awareness of the good – in and around them – in the here and now.
Fives (these are my people!) are investigators. We like to learn about all things and are great problem-solvers. We can also overstudy situations in the vain hope of being able to manage them, and we tend to be the most emotionally detached of all the types. Those of us who are Fives could benefit from taking some relationship initiative in Lent. Attempt to establish a new friendship or strengthen an existing one by reaching out.
Type Sixes are loyalists. They are responsible and can troubleshoot most problems. They can also be very anxious about what they cannot plan for, which manifests as indecisiveness or reactivity. Sixes might try removing news apps from their phones or committing to a cause for which they are willing to take some risks.
Enneagram Sevens are enthusiasts. They have big ideas, and they are often really fun to be around. They can have trouble following through because of their fear of missing out on the next thing. During Lent, Sevens might select one group project to see through to the end, then celebrate that completion with those involved.
Eights are challengers. They are tenacious advocates. They are able to recruit others to their world-changing causes. They can also be controlling as a way of resisting being controlled. During Lent, Eights might experiment with being more vulnerable, making a conscious effort to acknowledge and share what they are feeling with others.
Type Nines are peacemakers. They are bridgebuilders. They are easy to get along with. They can also subsume their own opinions and needs in their intense desire to avoid conflict. Possible Lenten disciplines for Nines could be experimenting with implementing new or strengthened boundaries or finding more ways to stay fully present in uncomfortable situations.
Some of the disciplines suggested above are less traditional than our typical Lenten practices. All of them, though, have the goal of preparing us to acknowledge the truth of Good Friday: that our shadow side centers our own woundedness to the detriment of our relationships with God and others. These practices also prepare us to receive the fullness of Easter’s good news: that God delights in each of us just as we are made and goes to extremes to show that love, then challenges us to turn that holy care outward.
So, if you know your Enneagram type, experiment with how you might lean into your strengths and away from pitfalls through particular Lenten practices. If you don’t know your type, just search the web for “Enneagram” to find assessments and information. This work could be especially fruitful in the context of a small group or even in your whole congregation. You will learn about yourselves and about your fellow-churchgoers, creating deepened understanding among you that will be helpful as you navigate life and faith together.
Laura Stephens-Reed is a clergy and congregational coach based in Alabama.