Julie asked me to write something for her website about the Enneagram as we are preparing for another Introduction to the Enneagram course in Edmonton in February. And I have decided to share a little about taking care of myself.
Luke writes in Chapter 10:38-42
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”
“Martha was distracted by her many tasks...Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things...” These words describe what I experience and feel much of the time. This fall I am involved in fewer activities than I have been in a long time, our children require less from us than they have in 27 years, I’m not doing any preaching, teaching, or leading at church and I still often feel as burdened as ever by the tasks I need to do. And, like Martha, I can easily resent others who don’t come to my aid, like Mary, or who don’t recognize and praise my hard work, like Jesus.
I suspect that this wasn’t just something Martha did when Jesus came over. Filling her life with tasks and getting things done was likely a strategy that had given her significant success in life. It is often said that 20% of the people get 80% of the work done, and she was certainly one of those 20%, and it probably paid off for her. That’s my experience. I’m a busy person, I like to help people, to get things done, to work hard, and to take on new and challenging tasks. And, to a large extent, people admire and appreciate it.
But, as Jesus makes clear, there are also some downsides to so much focus on tasks and doing -- helping so much, serving so much, or whatever particular form it takes in our lives. We can be so focused on getting our tasks done that we miss Jesus, or our spouse, or children, or the friend at work who needs someone to listen, or even ourselves and our own needs.
And we can read the story of Mary and Martha, we can hear sermons preached on it, we can make declarations to change, we can take classes and read books on it, we can even put slowing down on our task list, and try our best to do it. Certainly, these ideas have worked for some, but for many, like myself, they have never led to long term, permanent change. It’s as if there is more that is needed than simply changing what I know or what I do, and that’s where what I am learning from the Enneagram is helping me.
In the Enneagram Personality Styles I tend to favor type 2. Two’s are helpers, they like to meet needs, even rescue people. Two’s pay close attention to the people around them and are quick to spot when something needs to be done. Again, these can all be very good things, but they are not healthy when they are done in order to feel loved and needed. Which, the Enneagram teaches, is a direction two’s can easily go. We discover that being helpful gets us love and attention, and we come to believe that if we are not helpful we won’t be loved.
People have commented to me that they don’t like personality profiles because it tends to put people in boxes. I like the Enneagram because it helps us see the boxes we put ourselves in. They are boxes like Martha’s and my own distraction and anxiety about many tasks. They tend to help us survive or even excel in some parts of life, but, by living in them, we can miss some or much of God, others, and ourselves. And we can’t get out of them until we know they are there and recognize what they are and recognize why they have been important to us. The Enneagram helps us with all these things. It’s a wonderful tool for personal and spiritual transformation.
As an Enneagram two, one of the most important directions for growth for me is to learn to care for myself, as well as caring for others, and learn that it is not something to feel guilty about. As I mentioned, I’m trying to take time away from so many responsibilities, but I’m not just changing what I do, but, with the help of the Enneagram, learning to see myself, God, and the world in a healthier way.
Sam is a spiritual director and Christian teacher. He has taught and led numerous one day retreats and week-long courses on topics of spiritual formation, including "Writing Your Spiritual Autobiography", "The Theology of Spiritual Formation," and the "Institute of Spiritual Formation" through the Urban Sanctuary in Edmonton. He also preaches regularly as part of the Teaching Team at Calvary Baptist Church in Edmonton. Sam has a Master of Divinity and Certificate of Spiritual Direction from North Park Seminary in Chicago, as well as a Certificate of Spiritual Formation from the Urban Sanctuary.