When God's Answers Surprise Us

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Yesterday, I spent pretty much the whole day thinking about the Enneagram — specifically, my place on its spectrum.

I’ve shared with you before that the Enneagram is a type of personality profile often used in spirituality and formation circles to help us understand things like our true self versus our false self, our light and shadow sides, and how we, based on our type, are invited to grow toward health and integration. 

I’ve taken the test several times and always test as a Type 5, which is the perceiver, the observer, the investigator. A Type 5 usually responds to the world by withdrawing and seeking to gather information. This type wants to understand how the world works and is often able to devise whole systems that help the rest of us make sense of things. 

They’re also often loners,very much drawn inside themselves and their own world. They sit on the outside of things, looking in and observing everything. 

I can so relate to all this. 

And yet there are ways it also didn’t seem to fit. 

Yes, I can be fiercely independent and withdrawn — but I also very much move toward people and can even get quite hooked into what they think of me and whether I am helping them enough. (This is characteristic of a Type 2.) 

And then there’s the pretty significant part of my formation journey that’s been all about unlearning my performance and perfection-based ways. This is the part of me that’s been a circumspect rule-follower — and a bit of a Pharisee — who needed to learn God’s grace. (This is a description of a Type 1.) 

Type 2s and 1s are decidedly different than Type 5s, and yet I knew we all embody one core type. How come I could see all three? 

So I spent yesterday opening myself up to this question. I let myself suspend belief in being a 5 and explored the possibility of mistyping — thinking myself one type but actually being another. I pulled out my Enneagram books and read through the long sections again, letting myself feel the truth and possibility of other ways. 

It just confused me more. 

Toward evening, I pulled out my yellow Moleskine journal and set up camp at the kitchen table. There, I started sketching out the first 20 years of my life — significant moments, turns in the journey, messages I received, ways of being in different contexts. 

And I saw there, on the page, all three types. 

The interesting thing for me to notice, though, was how the three types emerged in waves. For the first 10 years of my life or so, it was all about withdrawal. Then there were the years I turned toward caretaking. And then, somewhere along the lines between junior high and high school, I became a Pharisee. 

Growing more confused, I brought my journal into the bedroom and laid down on the bed and just stared at that page of my first 20 years. And I prayed: “God, would you help me understand the truth? What type am I, really?” 

What’s funny is that God actually answered my question. 

The next thing I knew, I was searching Google for information about mistyping, which led me to a website talking about something called TriTypes. This is the theory that we carry a dominant type from each of the three main triads of the Enneagram spectrum (one from the head, one from the heart, and one from the gut) and that while we have a core main type, the other two types show up as secondary ways of coping or responding to the world when our primary type doesn’t work. 

I could actually be a 5-2-1, I learned. And when I read the description of a 5-2-1, it completely fit and seemed to capture the fuller picture of who I am.

Now, why I am I telling you this story? 

I’m telling you because I love the way it demonstrates how God answers our prayers beyond our expectation. I went into that prayer feeling polarized, distressed, and confused. To me, there was only one answer to my question about my real type, and I needed God to show me one which it was. 

But God showed me it was all three. 

This kind of unexpected revelation happened recently for me in another context too. Do you remember when I told you about my prayer storm experience? That experience happened on the heels of a week and a half’s fruitless efforts to create something that didn’t seem to want to be created, no matter how much I thought it was supposed to be made. 

When I finally surrendered to God in prayer, asking what God wanted me to do, I had the prayer storm — and what I received was so far beyond what I could have conceived for myself that it could only be inspiration divinely given. 

God’s gifts and responses to us go beyond us. God gives us the unexpected. 

Where do you need to receive God’s unexpected response to your struggle right now? 

Much love,