by Erin Strybis
Just one more basket of laundry, then I’ll go work out. Sun spills through the blinds of my son’s room as I sit cross-legged folding toddler-size pants and shirts. Head pounding, I gaze at the dog, sprawled out on the colorful carpet. But what I could really use is a nap.
Instead, I hit “play” and reach for a pair of navy dinosaur socks. Music floods the room and the lyrics snap me to attention.
My hands begin to shake. Without warning, my cheeks are wet. The words of the song wash over me, the crescendo builds, and suddenly it feels impossible to continue listening. I punch “pause” on the song — “Two” by Sleeping At Last. And there, among my neat little stacks of clothes, I release my tired body to the floor and sob.
There’s a reason why that song had a profound effect on me. Its writer, Ryan O’Neal of Sleeping At Last, designed it that way. He wrote nine different songs, one tailored to each Enneagram type.
The Enneagram is a personality-type framework that centers on motivations, spiritual gifts and shortcomings. What sets this framework apart from others is that it offers a pathway to spiritual and personal growth.
There are nine personality types represented in the Enneagram, each corresponding to a number. My number is two, otherwise known as The Helper. No type is better than the other; all are interconnected.
As described in The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, those types are:
1. The Perfectionist: Ones are ethical, critical and determined to reform the world. Core motivation: perfection.
2. The Helper: Kind and friendly Twos find purpose in caring for others but often fail to acknowledge their own needs. Core motivation: love.
3. The Performer: Image-conscious Threes pursue success, which can rob them of contentment. Core motivation: admiration.
4. The Romantic: Creative and emotional Fours long to be understood and to stand out. Core motivation: uniqueness.
5. The Investigator: Analytical thinkers who enjoy amassing knowledge, Fives prefer to work alone. Core motivation: learning.
6. The Loyalist: Sixes are deeply committed to others, and their suspicion of the unknown makes them good problem-solvers. Core motivation: security.
7. The Enthusiast: Free-spirited and fun-loving Sevens are easily distracted. Core motivation: happiness.
8. The Challenger: Innovative and aggressive Eights love power and control, creating change and seeking conflict. Core motivation: strength.
9. The Peacemaker: Easygoing Nines aim to cultivate harmony and avoid conflict. Core motivation: peace.
There are several tests you can take to pinpoint your number; however, simply reading in-depth descriptions of the personality types can bring about recognition. To determine your type, Cron and Stabile advise asking yourself why you do the things you do.
When I first read The Enneagram Institute’s description of “Two”, my face grew hot. “[Twos] believe they must always put others first and be loving and unselfish if they want to get love,” it says. “The problem is that ‘putting others first’ makes Twos secretly angry and resentful, feelings they work hard to repress or deny.” I wondered, Could my desire to serve others be self-serving?
I thought of my past — how, as a new member of my congregation, I’d thrown my heart into planning socials, Bible studies and celebrations. Later I joined Council and the Call Committee, doubling the time I spent at church. At low moments, I grew to resent those leadership opportunities.
I thought of my current reality as the working mother of a toddler. In the midst of juggling work deadlines and pediatrician visits, I’d failed to make a doctor’s appointment for myself. Weekday mornings, I’d often set out breakfast for my son but skip my own to save time. I repeatedly deny myself care, then end up burned out.
What I could see more clearly is that I often adopted the role of Martha, helpful to a fault, never stopping to rest, because I was desperate to earn love. Face to face with my sinfulness, I wallowed in self-loathing. I didn’t want to be a Two. In prayer, I pleaded with God, “Help me be different.”
Months later I was riding in the car with my cousin Lia and the subject of the Enneagram came up.
“I have a love/hate relationship with the Enneagram,” I confessed to her, clutching the steering wheel tightly. “It’s hard to be reminded of my shadow side.”
“What number are you?” she asked.
“Two,” I groaned.
“Me too!” she replied, nodding her head knowingly.
“The struggle is real,” I laughed, going on to air my frustrations with myself.
After I’d finished, Lia thought for a moment and added, “Erin, you have to listen to Sleeping At Last’s song ‘Two.’ I’ll send you a link.”
I nodded, but I doubted I’d follow through. I couldn’t understand why she wanted me to listen to something that would make me confront my brokenness.
Back on the floor of my son’s room, I lie next to my dog stroking his soft fur. I’m home on a weekday morning because I finally had the wherewithal to recognize I needed a personal day. My son is at daycare and my work’s covered, but true to type, I’d spent the morning doing housework instead of engaging in self-care.
Wiping away tears, I now know why Lia wanted me to listen to this song. Up until that moment, I hadn’t allowed myself to celebrate my strengths as a Two. Each Enneagram personality, in its most healthy expression, reflects an aspect of God’s expansive love for us. In the case of Twos, we offer boundless generosity and unconditional love.
The truth is, I’ve always ached to love and be loved, but I wrestle with loving myself. Hearing my own melody helped me see my innate holiness—made in God’s image, blessed and broken, sinner and saint.
Thomas Merton wrote, “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.” And my faith teaches that God loves me just as I am; there is nothing I can do to earn God’s grace.
Could I begin to love and forgive myself the way God does? I unfold myself from the floor, pick up my phone and hit “play” again. I abandon the laundry basket and walk to the kitchen in search of nourishment.
The answer is, undoubtedly, yes.
1. How well do you know yourself? Are you familiar with your Enneagram number or any other personality type framework? Do you find such tools helpful or a hindrance?
2. What are your spiritual gifts? What about your shortcomings?
3. Where have you seen God’s grace present in your life?
Holy and omniscient God,
You know us in our shortcomings and our strengths. You know the burdens we carry and you know our blessings. Restore us with the deep peace that comes from knowing there’s nothing we can do to earn your love—we already have it. In your name we pray, Amen.