Over the past 5 weeks we have been exploring the Enneagram as a tool for personal and spiritual growth. It is personality tool that presents 9 basic personality types. Each week, we are invited to learn more about ourselves and those around us. And each week, we are invited to see the best qualities of each personality type reflected in the person of Jesus, as well as in Scripture.
As we explore Type 5, The Observer, The Thinker, The Investigator, the Loner I begin with a fictional story about a person we shall call Gary:
Gary loves to understand things. From the meaning of life and theology, to the way cultures and countries have developed and changed through history, to what motivates human behaviour, and even quantum physics. Observing, investigating and thinking are Gary’s most dominant ways of relating to the world, all to satisfy this deep desire to know and understand.
The tendencies of a Five were observable very early on in Gary. From the time he was a baby, he was always a lot quieter and more reserved than most other children. But in his quietness, he would keenly observe everything that was happening around him including noticing when the adults around him were happy, sad or angry. From very early on, Gary would get very absorbed in investigating some particular thing and could get lost in fascination for hours on end, sometimes also lost in his imagination. In this sense, he was a very low maintenance child.
But the truth behind much of this observing and investigating was that he always felt a little less adequate and less competent than others. He had a deep need to feel capable and competent. Observing, investigating and learning, were a defence mechanism in order to try and equip himself as best as possible to engage with the outside world.
As Gary grew older, his shyness became more apparent. Being with other people for any length of time would be very draining to him, taking a lot of emotional energy. As a result, he would avoid parties and large gatherings, preferring to spend his time with just a few friends, mostly one-on-one who he could trust and feel relaxed around.
Once Gary learned to read, it was as though he was never seen without a book. He could lose himself for hours in books, especially those which helped him learn about life and the world, whether that was through the medium of stories that had thought provoking plots with interesting characters, or non-fictional books that enabled him to learn about life and the world.
Even though Gary could spend hours in books, and probably knew more than most people about a given subject, he would never feel like an expert. It was thus always with difficulty that he would share of his great knowledge in case there were chinks and gaps in his understanding.
Growing older, these observing, investigating and learning gifts have served him well. He thrived not just at school, but at University as well where he always got good grades. It was perhaps inevitable that Gary would end up being employed at a University as a medical researcher where he would often be able to spend hours on his own engrossed in work that he found meaningful.
While at his best, Gary can be described as observant, perceptive, reflective, self-contained, analytical, wise, objective and sensitive, Gary also has his shadow side, which is normally characterised by becoming withdrawn. Even when he is operating from a healthy place, Gary regularly needs time out to be alone where he can process his thoughts before re-engaging with the world. But when he is under stress and operates from an unhealthy place, Gary can very easily become remote, uninvolved, non-assertive and at his worst he can seem stingy, cerebral (lost in his head), unfeeling, arrogant and superior.
As Gary has grown to more maturity, unconsciously he has begun to adopt some of the qualities of his neighbouring personality types on the enneagram. What can be described as his 4 wing, the artist or romantic, has helped him to become more expressive and more in touch with his feelings with a greater balance between his head and his heart, making him warmer and more empathetic. When he draws on the strengths of what can be described as his Six wing, he has tended to become more dutiful and involved in life, even finding joy in being part of a group, although he is still very easily overwhelmed even in the company of friends and family and continues to need to carve out time just to be alone, to catch up with himself and have time to think and process life. His Six Wing helps him to become a very effective problem solver.
Like all of us, Gary has his good days and his bad days. But he is in good company. A lot of famous and successful people have been Fives. These include people like: Albert Einstein, David Attenborough, Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall, Alfred Hitchcock, Agatha Christie, Jane Austen, Marie Curie, J.K. Rowling and Stephen King.
As we explore the Gospel stories, we discover in Jesus some of the best qualities of the Five in the person and teachings of Jesus. Jesus was a great observer of the world and people around him. We see him observing nature “...Look at the lilies of the field how they grow...” He is also a great observer of human behaviour. In John 2:24 we read that “...Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.” In other words, he was very aware of the hidden motivations within people’s hearts. Robert Nogosek writes that to see the Five in Jesus we need to notice his great concern for wisdom. Like all Fives, it was clearly important to Jesus to be wise and not foolish. He describes those who are wise as those who build their homes on a rock and those who are foolish as those who build on sand. Wise people don’t just let life happen, but try to build their lives in chosen values and goals.
This search for wisdom and understanding is seen in the only Biblical record of his childhood, where Jesus is seen as a boy, on a trip to Jerusalem at the Temple, learning from and debating with the teachers of the law. He is clearly so absorbed in this activity, that he misses the train back to Nazareth with his parents, and they have to come back looking for him. In verse 52 at the end of this episode, we read, “...Jesus grew in wisdom and stature...”.
Again, as Robert Nogosek puts it, “Jesus own quest for Wisdom involved thinking things out for himself. He often sought out lonely places for such reflection on the scriptures, on his life, and on the will of God. As is characteristic of a wise person, he knew more than he said, or at least waited for the right moment to share his truth”. As we read in John’s Gospel, 16:12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
As Nogosek continues, because Jesus thought things out for himself, the crowds found a freshness in his teachings in contrast to the rabbis who could only quote other people. Like a healthy and mature Five, Jesus put himself out on the life by speaking out of his own reflections. And for this reason, Jesus gained the reputation of teaching with authority (Matthew 7:29). The parables Jesus told show how good Jesus was at communicating truth and wisdom to those around them, not just as a list of facts, but rather as an invitation that got others thinking more deeply about life, themselves and God.
But while Jesus clearly took time out alone, to think and reflect deeply, Jesus avoided the trap of the Five by not becoming aloof or a loner. While Jesus was a keen observer of life and people, he was not simply an observer, but was engaged in life, as any Five needs to do on the journey towards wholeness and maturity.
So much of an impact did the wisdom of Jesus make on his earliest followers, that in the opening verses of John’s Gospel, Jesus is described as the Wisdom, or Logos of God incarnate. Or from a different perspective, the Wisdom or Logos of God was made flesh in the person of Jesus.
Some helpful helping cues for those of us who may be Fives on the Enneagram:
• You are still lovable and safe in God’s love, even when you don’t have all the answers or if you feel incompetent.
• The head doesn't have all the answers.
• The heart is also important.
• Looking after the body is as important as feeding one’s mind. Like Jesus in our passage today, we need to grow in both body & wisdom.
• The Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14) and we too need to become flesh (not just a mind), and engage meaningfully with the world.