The Gospel According to an Enneagram Four

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” —John 10:10

As an Enneagram Four, I tend to want the world to be ideal. I’m caught in a constant internal struggle of how my actions can create a more authentic experience for myself and how I can feel more connected to the world around me. As a Four, I’m all about the ideals and feels. I seek emotional satisfaction in all my relationships, want the perfectly shaded table outside at dinner, and sometimes have the impractical belief that our problems would vanish if everyone would just be nice. In fact, as I thought about when to write this entry, I waited for a time that felt right, when there was at least an hour of connectedness and contentedness present in my mind and body. And I had to find just the perfect spot in the library, isolated from everyone and relatively quiet. Fortunately, I found one. So here we are, and the verse that I have chosen comes from a beloved passage in my favorite Gospel.

The Gospel of John is my favorite of the four different versions of the Jesus story. It’s the last of the accounts, and in it we see a Jesus who is divine—the very Word of God with skin and sandals, the preexistent become intimate. And in chapter 10 of John, Jesus is teaching on how he is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the protector, the guide, the helper, the voice that the sheep need. Jesus tells those listening that there are other voices, strangers who approach, but those who came before him were thieves and bandits.

And that’s exactly where I find my struggle as a Four. My feelings, while they empower me to experience the wonder of the world with emotional intensity, also tend to shift rapidly in the kaleidoscopic motions of the internal. Thus, I often feel isolated, unappreciated, and disregarded.

The Enneagram Institute tells the story of a working mother named Leigh, whose life has been marked by serial disappointment and constant longing. Leigh says, “I went years without joy in my life, just pretending to smile because real smiles would not come to me. I have had a constant longing for whatever I cannot have. My longings can never become fulfilled because I now realize that I am attached to ‘the longing’ and not to any specific end result.”

Like Leigh, I find that too often I am attached to the longing instead of whatever the goal is. When I reach the goal, it’s simply never good enough. And that’s because I prefer the journey to the destination. I prefer the work to the prize. And while that trait leads me to be self-motivated and unwaveringly committed, it also frequently leads to disappointment and self-loathing.

In short, my obsessive quest for the ideal, my longing for something better is the thief of which Jesus speaks. That thief comes time and time again, stealthily veiled in hopeful intentions, and I let him in only to find that my chests of joy have once more been raided.

But that isn’t how the verse ends, is it? Jesus warns of the thief, clearly stating that anything that comes before him is a thief (v. 8). Therein lies the solution to my obsessive cycle of longing and despair. Jesus surely meant “before” in reference to chronological events. Those so-called messiahs and leaders that came before him to overthrow or partner with Rome were neither good nor loving shepherds with the sheep in mind. But I’m interpreting it a little differently this time. Instead of a chronological sequence, how about a list of priorities? Anything prioritized on that list before or ahead of Jesus is a thief.

What I mean is this: when my view of the world is not so internal, isolated, and bound up in emotion, but grounded in giving and receiving the outward-focused compassion of Jesus, I find the abundant life Jesus promises. In my introverted processing, I always seem to find myself missing something. There’s always a part of me—even just a little space—that is empty. But I was raised in the Christian faith reading the KJV, and in that version Jesus says that he has come that we may have life “to the full.” No more empty spaces.

A couple of practices that allow me to experience this fullness, at least for a while, are these:

1. Recognize the thief. The same emotional awareness that leaves me disappointed is also a strength because it helps me identify when I don’t feel whole or content. I’m currently working to cultivate a greater awareness of when I become more focused on self, emotional satisfaction, and aspirational longing instead of abundant life. Once I’ve spotted the thief, I pray, I write, I sing, I talk to someone, or I find another constructive method to help me re-center and find my way back to the Shepherd and his fold.

2. Remember you aren’t alone, even when your feelings say you are. There are countless other sheep, none of them exactly like you, but many who are similar and many who care deeply. Reach out to your community and your network. More often than not, I find myself supported and held not only by the Shepherd, but also by others who follow him as well. And thanks be to God for a Shepherd and a flock who are willing to help me find a way to life more abundant.

Patrick Cardwell is an ordained minister in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and a graduate of Wake Forest University School of Divinity. You can often find him enjoying a strong cup of coffee, on a neighborhood stroll, or cheering for the Green Bay Packers.

Find other posts in this series here.

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