Enneagram and Faith: How Exercise Could be the Key to Your Spiritual Growth

the enneagram and faith

In this post, I’m going to attempt to connect ancient Hebrew, the enneagram, and the importance of running as one of my spiritual practices. What?!? Hang on for the ride; here it comes…

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How would you define the word soul?

In many people’s minds, the words soul and spirit have become synonyms. We think of our souls as a sort of ethereal “otherness” that resides within our bodies, to be released upon the day of our death.

Though our souls are different from our bodies, they are also different from our spirits, at least in the Hebrew understanding. Both words are used in 1 Samuel 1:15, "But Hannah answered, “No, my lord, I am a woman troubled in spirit. I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have been pouring out my soul before the Lord.”

The word translated soul in 1 Samuel 1:15 is nephesh. Nephesh is the word used in Genesis 2:7, "then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature (nephesh).”

Our souls are the whole of who we are. Our souls are what knit our minds, bodies, emotions, and spirits into unique creatures. 

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We tend to think the only important “spiritual” practices are the ones done in quietness and solitude. Though I fully affirm the importance of practices like prayer and study, I am also realizing anew the importance of exercise. Not only for our physical health, but for our soul health.

Exercise holds an interesting tension: it is a physical stress that reduces mental stress. I wonder if enneagram can provide one perspective about why that is the case.

In the concept of the enneagram, all personality types are connected by lines to two other types. Those are the types we move to in stressful states and secure states. Though our first response is to think stress = bad, my enneagram instructor pointed out that sometimes stress can bring out good things in us. In stress, we have access to another way of being in and viewing the world. 

Could exercise be a healthy way to access another type, and therefore, another piece of ourselves?

the enneagram symbol

I am a type 2 (the loving person), which means in stress, I connect to the 8 (the powerful person). The 8 can be a bossy and controlling type, and I apologize to those who have experienced this side of me come out in periods of unhealthy stress. However, the 8 also carries a confidence and strength I don’t often have access to when I am stuck in my normal way of thinking. 

Both type 2 and type 8 are connected within my soul. Learning to access 8 in a healthy way puts me in touch with a part of myself that too often lies dormant. Accessing the 8 within me puts me on a path towards better integration and wholeness of the nephesh God made me to be.

I have recently realized how running affects me differently than other exercise. There is something about the independence of heading out by myself, pushing through tiredness, and forging my own path that awakens something important in me. I connect to my power and my body in a different way, and suddenly find great clarity of thought and peace of mind. It’s amazing how often I have epiphanies when I am out on a run. 

As I learn to trust the strength of my body, I learn to trust the strength of myself, and in an interesting tension of truth, I then learn to trust even more in the strength of the God who made me.

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What kind of exercise might provide you with healthy stress and awaken you to a different part of yourself? 

For a type 6 (the loyal person), who connects to type 3 (the effective person), it might be taking the risk and challenge of joining a competition, like a road race or a triathalon. For a type 5 (the wise person), who connects to type 7 (the joyful person), it might be finding a fun adventure sport like rock-climbing or waterskiing… The potential and the possibilities are great.

Whatever your type and whatever your activity, exercise can be an opportunity to integrate your body, spirit, emotion, and mind on a deeper level. As those pieces of you integrate, you step into a fuller picture of the beautiful soul God created you to be. 

I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. - Psalm 139:14

Enneagram and Faith: Embracing the Flip Side

How do you want other people to describe you?

Most of us have several answers to that question. We hope to be loving or successful or funny or mysterious or exciting or mellow or any number of other characteristics. Whether they are attributes we already see in ourselves, or qualities we envy in others, they are traits we want to have. 

The enneagram helps us notice how what we would put on that list is part of what makes us unique. We are different people with distinct priorities about who we are and who we want to become.

The enneagram also helps us to see the shadow side of our list.

On the flip side of our attribute aspirations are our attribute aversions. If we want to be seen as loving, we don’t want to be seen as selfish. If we want to be seen as mellow, we don’t want to be seen as intense. If we want to be seen as successful, we don’t want to be seen as a failures. 

So, we develop defense mechanisms. Some of us deny those parts of ourselves; others of us project those traits on others. Some of us numb out so we don’t have to experience the feelings on the flip side; others of us over identify with the traits we want, as if the other side didn't even exist.

Too often, Christians encourage these defense mechanisms by laying all sorts of “shoulds” on ourselves and others- we should be generous, we should be kind, we should be peaceful, we should be faithful… And so we repress, deny, and project the flip side, all in the name of “spiritual growth.”

The truth is, we move towards health only when we embrace the whole of who we are. We don’t need to push away the flip side, we need to reframe it.

As an example, let me use myself. I am a type 2, which means my highest attribute aspirations are to be loving and helpful. Which means I don’t want to be seen as selfish or needy. But if I deny those parts of myself, I am likely to either burn-out or get filled with pride about how it’s everyone else that needs help, not me. 

Instead of pushing away the words selfish and needy, I need to reframe them into the concept of self-care. I need to know that I am a human being with limits. I need to ask for help sometimes. And I need to know that when I do, I am not loved or valued any less. The irony is, it is only when I do that reframing, it is only when I embrace my limits and messiness, that I can be the genuinely loving person I aspire to be. Until then, my efforts to help will be tainted by my aspirations to be seen as loving in order to feel my worth.

May you embrace the whole of who you are.jpg

In Life of the Beloved, the great Henri Nouwen says,

“I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity or power, but self-rejection… Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.”

May you find the courage today to reframe the flip side. May you embrace the whole of who you are, knowing you are loved as-is. No matter what.

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It’s time to announce the winner of the giveaway! Last week, when I kicked off the enneagram and faith series, I announced a contest. Any who commented on the post, shared the post, or shared my coaching page, would be entered to win a free enneagram coaching session. Those who did all three were entered three times. I used Random Result to generate a winner.

And the winner is.... Beth Van Maanen. Congratulations! I'm looking forward to our coaching session. I'll email you to talk details.

Thank you to all who entered. As a consolation prize, I'd like to offer you a 40% discount on my coaching services. Check out my enneagram coaching page to learn more.

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more than going to church

I grew up going to church. There were times I really liked it. There were times I really didn’t. But in the good times and bad, I was always left longing for more. More than sitting in a pew and listening to someone else open the Bible. More than putting in my hour and moving on with my week. More than ritual, routine, and tradition.

I wanted relationship. I didn’t want to hear that God loved me, I wanted to feel that God loved me.  I didn’t want to just be taught about God, I wanted to learn about God. I didn’t want to just spend time at church, I wanted to spend time with God.

But what in the world does that look like?

There are lots of words for this in Christian circles. Participating in spiritual disciplines. Having quiet times. Going through a process of spiritual formation or growth. Taking steps on a spiritual journey. Practicing discipleship.

It all sounds overwhelming and intimidating.

Sometimes it’s boiled down to the answer: sit at your table for one hour a day, preferably in the morning, to “spend time with God.” Read your Bible, journal, and pray.

For those who are naturally disciplined, this may be a great way to connect with God. But I am not a naturally disciplined person. When I try doing something like read my Bible for an hour every day, it doesn’t last. I burn out.

I’m guessing I’m not alone.

So what then? How do we “spend time with God?”

In order to ask that question, we need to step back and ask, why do we want to do it in the first place? Is it to check a box that says “Bible reading” from our to-do lists? Or is it to deepen our relationship with our Creator? To grow in our love for the God who loves us beyond measure?

The goal is not to burn out and quit. The goal is to grow in our love for God. The goal is to find spiritual rhythms that are sustainable and life-giving to faith.

This is not about pretense or perfection. This is about relationship.

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you. – Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)

I am passionate about helping others with this journey. That is why this site exists. And so, I would like to introduce some new parts of Everyday Awe. Invitations to help you engage with God in your everyday life.

  • The Resources Page: This page contains free, simple printables that I have created. There are cards and pages with a variety of ideas for connecting with God. Some are short. Some are more time consuming. But hopefully all feel within reach. This page is not static. It will grow as more resources are created and suggested.
  • The Recommendations Page: This page contains links to some things that I have found encouraging on my journey of following Christ. I’m grateful for the various ways these resources have helped me. This page is also not static. I will add others as I learn about them, and I want to hear your recommendations too.
  • The Facebook Community:  Everyday Awe has a Facebook page that you can “like” by clicking on the icon in the sidebar. This page is a place where we can help each other. Use the wall to write questions or prayer requests. Read updates about this site. Spread the word to people in your life who you think may benefit. Meet others who are trying to engage with God, too.
  • Blog Posts: I hope that by getting a glimpse into how I find everyday awe, you will more easily find it too. There are two main categories of posts. “Reflections on the Journey” posts are about moments from everyday life that have caused me to think about who God is, how He is active in the world, or who He made me to be. “Light for my Path” posts are based on intentional study of God’s Word.

These pages are not exhaustive. They are simply spiritual practices I have found life-giving that I hope will be helpful to you as well. These pages are also not a promise. There is no formula for spiritual growth. Ultimately, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. These are simply ideas that can help us partner with Him. To open our eyes, ears, and lives to the way God wants to shape us.

And so, I invite you to explore. Engage. Be renewed. And hopefully, be transformed.

I would love to hear your feedback. What would help you engage with God in everyday life?