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ENNEAGRAM Type One: The Reformer, Idealist, Moralist or Perfectionist
Gillian’s home is always neat and tidy. Her motto is “everything has its place and every place has its thing.” Gillian has an amazing ability to keep her home in tip top shape, even with three busy children. She can get quite angry and irritable with them when they leave things lying around, but she inevitably tidies it all up quickly because her world would feel out of control if she didn’t.
This tendency in her started very young, when things in her family and home life felt somehow out of control. Her way of coping was to keep her room absolutely tidy. The more she tidied her room, the more in control she felt. For whatever reason, she felt the need to be the “hero” child who did everything right to help her parents out. She hoped that being good would hold her family together or simply win over their affection and so she started policing herself quite strictly.
As an adult, some of these perfectionist traits came in quite handy. Gillian has a close attention to detail. In her earliest job she worked as a personal assistant. Her boss was amazed by her filing ability and even when the office became extremely busy, Gillian’s desk was always miraculously free of clutter.
Later she trained as an accountant, a job that she was supremely competent at because of her fine attention to detail. A favourite saying of hers is: “If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well!”
Gillian also has high ideals for the world she lives in. She is very concerned about the problem of injustice and corruption. She tries to live a highly ethical life, making sure she is doing her bit for the world she is living in, as well as being a campaigner for change.
Gillian is often admired as a person who seems to have her life together. Always well presented, she is honest, dependable, ethical, conscientious, diligent, orderly and fair.
But Gillian also has her flaws that are apparent to those who know her, love her and work for her. Especially when she is stressed, Gillian can very quickly become uptight, impatient, critical, moralistic, inflexible and emotional. At times she can come across as constantly angry, but it is something she doesn't like to admit especially to herself. She lives by high standards and expects others to do likewise. But she is also very vulnerable when people criticise her because she tries so hard to be as perfect and blameless as she knows how to be.
As she grew older, Gillian began to discover that her perfectionism could be a little over-bearing and difficult for those around her. Unconsciously, she began to expand the repertoire of her personality as on the one hand she tried to give her energy in helping others, and on the other hand, working to keep the peace at home and at work. She discovered when she does these things, people find it a little easier to be around her as her caring and peace-making help to bring out something of the softer side to her personality, which can otherwise sometimes feel a little cold, and a little too perfect.
Over-time, Gillian has had to learn to become a little more tolerant of imperfection. Sometimes she deliberately doesn't pick up the children’s socks as a way of reminding her that the world won't fall apart if they remain there for a few hours. She is also trying to be more honest with herself when she is angry so that she doesn't become passive aggressive. It is so hard to admit when she is angry, but much better for herself and others when she does. She has also realised that to bring more balance to her extremely disciplined life, she needs to make room once a week for a bit of joy, fun or adventure.
Last week I did an introduction to the Enneagram, a personality tool that is designed to promote self-knowledge of one’s tendencies, strengths and weaknesses and thereby helping to create personal & spiritual growth.
Ennea means 9 and Gram means Picture and so the Enneagram portrays 9 basic personality types, from which multiple variations can be found.
In today's sermon, I would like to look at Type One on the Enneagram which is sometimes called the Reformer, Idealist, Moralist or Perfectionist. The story of Gillian that I have just told gives a portrait of the One on the Enneagram. It is clear that Gillian has some wonderful and admirable qualities that I have already named: At her best she can be idealistic, principled, orderly, self-disciplined, diligent, honest, conscientious, fair, dependable and ethical. But Gillian also has some difficult aspects of her personality. At her worst she can be uptight, critical, impatient, judgemental, inflexible, controlling, moralistic, puritanical and dogmatic.
Like all of us some days she has good days, and some days she had bad days. But she is in good company. A lot of famous and successful people have been Ones. These include: Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, Michelle Obama, C.S. Lewis, Julie Andrews, Mahatma Ghandi, Confucius, Anne Frank, Margaret Thatcher, as well as the cultural ethos of Switzerland. Sometimes she thinks that she would be very happy moving to Switzerland.
Some of the best qualities of Gillian’s life as a One can also be found in the person of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reveals himself to be a very exacting ethical teacher. Living an ethical and principled life was clearly very important to Jesus. “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” He also had high ideals for his disciples that their righteousness and their conduct should exceed the righteousness and conduct of the Pharisees and teachers of the law. But the saving grace in the personality of Jesus was that perfection for Jesus was always ultimately about the perfection of love and compassion.
We see this reflected in two parallel sayings of Jesus:
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: Be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect.
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says to his disciples: Be compassionate, as your heavenly father is compassionate.
For Jesus, to be perfect was ultimately to be perfectly compassionate. And that is the paradox. Compassion and mercy clearly makes room for imperfection because compassion and mercy only become necessary in the presence of imperfection. Despite the fact that Jesus lived a supremely ethical and principled life, it is clear that ordinary sinful people did not feel his judgement. Somehow sinners, imperfect people were attracted to him. And in his presence, without him even saying a word, except a word of love, a desire was stirred within them to become their best selves.
Jesus, the highly principled, fair and ethical person overcame the dark side of perfectionism by creating a space of unconditional love and acceptance for those who knew themselves to be imperfect. The story of Jesus and Simon the Pharisee is a story of a whole ‘One’ and an un-whole, or un-redeemed One, or Perfectionist. When the woman of ill-repute gate crashes the dinner party, Simon is revealed as an un-redeemed One on the Enneagram. He has high ideals and principals, and he is very critical of those who seemingly fail to live up to his high ideals. He is critical and judgemental of the women who makes such an undignified spectacle of her self. Critical and judgemental of her morally dubious background. Simon the Pharisee is even critical and judgemental of Jesus. Surely if Jesus was a prophet, he would know what kind of person she is and he would not tolerate this undignified display of emotion.
By contrast, Jesus shows perfect love, not just to the women who sits at his feet weeping and wiping his feet with her, but he also shows perfect love even to Simon in his self-righteous idealism and moralism. He tells Simon a parable that will help Simon grow beyond his narrow judgementalism and become a more whole, forgiving and compassionate person himself, without losing his own principles in the process.
Simon needs to learn that the highest perfection is the perfection of love and that there is something perfect, even in imperfection.
There is a One in each of us. For some of us the One in us, the Perfectionist, Idealist and Reformer is hidden and sometimes even disowned. Maybe you lived under what felt like the tyranny of a perfectionist growing up and vowed never to be like that yourself. But the One in each of us is revealed whenever we become angry, uptight, critical, impatient, judgemental, inflexible, controlling, moralistic, puritanical and dogmatic. And when these tendencies arise in us, they become an invitation to remember the way of Jesus, the way of perfect love and compassion. And this way of perfect love and compassion can begin to open up to us, when we become honest about our own imperfections and allow them to be embraced and held within the unconditional love and grace of God, that has been shown us in Christ Jesus. Amen.
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