by Christopher L. Heuertz, adapted from his new book The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path To Spiritual Growth
Have you ever asked this fundamental human question, Who am I? And when you’ve asked, what have you heard?
For many us, our quest to uncover an answer actually takes us further away from getting to the truth of the matter.
More and more I’m convinced that the paramount question plaguing humanity has to do with identity.
Every time I meet someone, I try to listen to the subtext, the meaning behind the words they use to introduce themselves.
Often our first interaction with a new acquaintance exposes our fears or insecurities, demonstrated in how we describe ourselves. Usually, we allow carefully curated fragments of our identities to lay claim to the whole.
I’m frequently guilty of beginning my own introductions with references to what I’ve done or do for a living, as if that tells someone who I am. These little bits of my story that I lead with only bolster my overidentification with the lies I’ve come to believe about who I think I am. I constantly have to remind myself that I am more than the good (or the bad) I’ve done in my life, that in fact, I’m much more than what I’ve done, what I have, and what others think about me. These fragments of the whole are only small parts of my identity, not the entirety of who I truly am.
But what do we mean by identity? The missiologist-theologians Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden, who have studied identity and dignity, nuance the differences between the two as those of substance and value, suggesting, “Identity answers the question ‘Who am I?’, while dignity answers the question, ‘What am I worth?’”
We affirm that all humanity bears the imprint of the Divine, that we are made in the image of God. This is the starting point for drawing forward our sense of dignity, the intrinsic value that is ascribed not earned, based on our essence in reflecting a good and loving God.
If we can start with the grace of resting in our dignity, then the truth of our identity flows forward. Samuel and Vinay suggest, “While identity must not be confused with dignity, dignity in a Christian view assumes identity.” Tragically, most of us start with our sense of identity, believing that if we build out the mythology of who we think we are, then the more attractive our identity and the more valuable we become. But when we equate our dignity with the sum value of the fortification of stories we tell about our identity, we create a no-win scenario that will always lead to disillusionment and pain. Overidentifying with our success or failure, allowing the fragments of our identity to lay claim to the whole, and falling into the addictive loop of our mental and emotional preoccupations keep us stuck. This is what entrenches the illusions of our ego’s mythologies.
This is how we get ourselves lost. The challenge is to find our way home. My own consistent struggle is to recognize my addictive tendency to validate my worth (dignity) by curating an unrealistic and unattainable projection of who I think I need to be (identity). By pandering to thin or worn-out versions of my False Self, I’ve fallen into the trap that Franciscan priest and author Father Richard Rohr often warns about: “Every unrealistic expectation is a resentment waiting to happen.” And as I constantly fail to meet my own standards, the resentment keeps me trapped. But we know this truth, that each and every one of us is beautiful. Each and every one of us is beloved by God.
From this starting point, we can begin an honest interrogation of the depths of our identity, of who we really are. When we accept our inherent beauty, we find the courage to examine what makes us beautiful—to honestly encounter both the good and the bad, the shadow and the light.
More than anything I’ve encountered, the Enneagram helps us do just that. It exposes the lies we tell ourselves about our identities. It helps us realize there’s much to learn about who we can become. It illuminates what’s good and true and beautiful about each of us.
Simply put, the Enneagram illustrates the nine archetypal human character structures, the nine beautifully flawed ways of being us.
The Enneagram shows us our ego’s set of coping addictions that we’ve wrapped up around a childhood wound so that we don’t have to be truthful about the pain it’s caused—so that we can continue to fortify our own ego mythology, lying to ourselves and others about who we really are. It shows us our defense mechanisms and all the ways we attempt to fortify the scaffolding around the ego-mythology we’ve created for ourselves. A compassionate sketch of possibilities, the Enneagram is fundamentally less about nine types of people and more about nine paths back to our True Self, nine paths to God.
Ultimately the Enneagram is about excavating essence. Rather than it being a tool for self-absorption, the Enneagram is a tool for self-liberation. We know this, if we can’t self-observe, then we can’t self-correct. The Sacred Enneagram helps us self-observe. It helps us tell the truth about who we really are and come clean from our delusions and illusions so that we can locate the authentic source of our identity.
— Christopher L. Heuertz, The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path To Spiritual Growth
About the Author
Christopher L. Heuertz has spent his life bearing witness to the possibility of hope among a world that has legitimate reasons to question God’s goodness.
Chris is an author, speaker, Enneagram coach, non-profit consultant and anti-human trafficking activist. After graduating from college, Heuertz moved to India, where Mother Teresa mentored him for three years. There he helped launch South Asia’s first pediatric AIDS care home. For 20 years, Heuertz served with working for women and children trafficked into the commercial sex industry.
Heuertz serves on the board of several nonprofits, and in 2012, he and his wife, Phileena, started Gravity: A Center for Contemplative Activism. He is the author of several books, Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community and The Sacred Enneagram: Finding Your Unique Path to Spiritual Growth.
Join @ChrisHeuertz on Twitter in his adventures to love on the margins.