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…


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. 


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.


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

When I Don't Know How to Pray

Sometimes I struggle to pray for other people. Not because I don't want to, but becasue I don't know how. 

Why would I presume to know what someone else really needs? People ask for prayers for tensions to be resolved or pains to be healed, but what if God is working in their lives in the midst of the difficulties? Should I really pray for that to be cut short? 

Not only that, there's the risk. What if I pray for something for someone, and it doesn't happen? Does knowing I prayed for them simply add to their disappointment in the God they thought would provide? 

How do we even begin to pray for the complicated relationships of the world system? What do we know about how to solve intertwined oppressions of war, poverty, slavery, oppression, and terrorism that God wouldn't already know or long for? What could my prayers add?

As if staring at a blinking cursor with an approaching deadline, I freeze, wondering what should come after a name or a situation in my prayers. 

Subconsciously, I think this is why I forget to pray for other somtimes. I want to avoid the awkward fumbling for words that will surely follow. 

I may have found a word that can unlock this for me. A word that can authentically and deeply pray for another person, and for the world, without presuming to know what is actually best. It is a word that simply asks God to do what God does- to heal, restore, and make whole. 


Shalom is the Hebrew word often translated as peace, but it is so much more than the way we view the word peace. Shalom means wholeness, friendship, and healing. Shalom is not simply the absence of strife, it is the presence of God and His restoring love. 

Shalom is something we need a lot more of, individually and globally. Shalom is the word I am chosing to pray. 

Loving God, bring Your shalom to us.  


Bringing our Whole Selves to Prayer

Psalm 86

Hear me, LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy. – Psalm 86:1

I am poor and needy. I don’t know if I’ve ever spoken that phrase, to God or to others.

Sometimes I may have mentioned it as a past state: I was poor and needy, but then I found Christ and He filled me up. Or I may have talked about it as an abstract characteristic: I, like all people, am a sinner, so I have poor and needy tendencies.

But an outright and direct admission of my brokenness, my current state of sin and uncertainty and powerlessness? That raises all sorts of fears.

The fear of being rejected. The fear of unfulfilled dreams. The fear of being misunderstood. The fear of being passed over. The fear of being defined by my failures. The fear of not being good enough.

Guard my life, for I am faithful to you; save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord, for I call to you all day long. Bring joy to your servant, Lord, for I put my trust in you. – Psalm 86:2-4

Yet, David doesn’t seem to have fear when he admits his brokenness. In fact, his next words are surprisingly self-assured. He is poor and needy, but he is also faithful to God. David confidently requests mercy and joy, while boldly asserting his trust in his God.

We don’t often put prayers like these in the same camp.

Yet, somehow it is possible to declare our need at the same time as our desires. We can admit our poverty at the same time as acknowledging the good things we bring to the table.

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. Hear my prayer, LORD; listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me. – Psalm 86:5-7

All this is possible not because David is some sort of superhero of the faith, but because he deeply understands his God.

God is forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call on Him.

That can and should change everything about how we pray, giving us confidence to admit our weaknesses, declare our desires, and express gratitude for our gifts all in the same messy upheaval of communication.

I don’t get the impression David tries to admit his brokenness, or works to conjure up those words about his faithfulness. He just brings himself, his whole self, his true self, before a God he knows will love him.

Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvelous deeds; you alone are God. –Psalm 86:8-10

Perhaps the deepest tributes spoken between lovers are the ones that occur in the middle of a conversation. The momentary breaks of unplanned utterances. When conversation pauses for compliments, “Wow, your eyes are so beautiful” or declarations of affection “I just love you so much.”

When David brings his true self before his true God, the love seems to compel him to break from his own agenda and declare the beauty of the One to whom he is speaking. He is wholly present, entirely engaged, and begins to authentically worship.

Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name. I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead. –Psalm 86:11-13

An undivided heart seems to be what David has in this moment, and he asks for it to continue.

I want that too. Oh how deeply I want an undivided heart. One sewn together by unconditional love. One not caught in trying or performing, but simply in being whole.

Arrogant foes are attacking me, O God; ruthless people are trying to kill me— they have no regard for you. But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. Turn to me and have mercy on me; show your strength in behalf of your servant; save me, because I serve you just as my mother did. Give me a sign of your goodness, that my enemies may see it and be put to shame, for you, LORD, have helped me and comforted me. – Psalm 86:14-17

Yet even if God does grant me that whole heart, that confidence to declare myself needy and faithful at the same time, that desire to worship spontaneously out of my understanding of love, even then my life will not be easy.

David still has enemies. They are what drove him to this prayer in the first place.

Yet he reaffirms his faith in God’s compassion, grace, love, and faithfulness. And he boldly asks for Him to show up, here and now.

For when people truly understand their security as a beloved, they know their lover will never look down upon them for bringing forth what their heart has to say.

Our belovedness is not confirmed in the answers to our prayers, but in the room it gives us to pray in the first place. As beloveds of God, we show up to prayer wholly ourselves, entirely seen, and never rejected.

This was my reflection on Psalm 86. Please link up with your own post below. Then, come back next week to digest Psalm 87 together.