Lessons from C.S.Lewis: Becoming Fully Human

In my senior year of college, I took an English elective on the writings of C.S.Lewis. The professor, Dr. Kaye, was ebullient, effervescent, and contagious in her love for the Oxford don who spun words into gold. Her instructions for the final exam were simple but ominous: simply bring a pen and plenty of paper. We all eyed one another with apprehension, and it turns out with good reason, because the exam consisted of one question: Describe the theology of C.S. Lewis and support your statements from his writing.

Joe Rigney has taken this assignment one step further, for in  Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Theologians on the Christian Life), he presses beyond Lewis’s theology and considers its outworking in life on this planet. While it is true that C.S. Lewis was careful to remind his readers at every opportunity that he was not a biblical scholar nor a theologian, nonetheless, his writing has had an almost unparalleled impact on the way we think and talk about the Christian life. It is at this intersection of theology and practice that Rigney engages with Lewis’s words.

 

One of my favorite characteristics of Lewis’s thinking and writing is his ability to turn ideas on their heads until they suddenly–and unexpectedly–become very clear. Rigney’s goal in writing is not to explain Lewis so we don’t need to read him, but instead to create an appetite for his work, which he has definitely done in my case by quoting from The Weight of Glory, reminding me of the brand new copy that’s waiting for me on my bookcase.

On the Choice

Lewis is clear throughout his writing that Christianity boils down to a Choice:

“Both God and self are good and should be embraced. But the Choice in question is which of these will be at the center?

Furthermore, this Choice is expressed in any number of specific decisions throughout life, but the goal of the Christian life, according to Lewis, is to “so encounter the living God that we become our true selves. Becoming fully human in the presence of God–that is what Lewis thought the Christian life is all about.”

On the Person of God

In Letters to Malcolm, Lewis writes sage advice in four words:  “Begin where you are.” Of course, he’s thinking “chiefly on prayer” in that book, but the conflict lies in the truth that humanity is limited to here and now, while God, both omnipresent and transcendent, has chosen to join us in the here and now. “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him.”

In Lewis’s spiritual autobiography, Surprised By Joy, God is portrayed as a Pursuer. In Mere Christianity, he explains his favorite analogy of God as Author. “The world is His story or play, and we are His characters.” In Perelandra, we are reminded that Lewis viewed God’s creative work as a harmonious union, a Great Dance, and humanity’s sin came about because God’s Choice was to grant freedom in the dance, allowing for the possibility of sin.

On the Gospel

While Lewis decried the term “total depravity” on the grounds that a totally depraved individual would be unable to recognize sin in himself, his understanding of humanity’s sinful condition is certainly clear and orthodox. He also dismissed the doctrine of penal substitution on the basis that the reason why Christ’s death “has somehow put us right with God and given us a fresh start” is less important than the reality that He did it. However, it is ironic that Aslan’s sacrificial death on behalf of Edmund (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) is a lovely picture of the very doctrine Lewis protests about.

In applying the Gospel, Lewis describes the benefits of Christ’s work in the life of the believer through two images from Mere Christianity:

(1) Good Infection:  “We catch the Christ-life by being close to him, by drawing near to him, in truth, by being ‘in him.'”

(2) Good Pretending: This is the furthest thing from hypocrisy or moralism, but is rather a living out of our righteous standing in Christ, whether we feel like it or not. “The pretense leads to the real thing.”

On “Nothing-Buttery”

The Christian life, according to C.S. Lewis, is lived against a vigorous background of spiritual warfare. In The Screwtape Letters, Lewis highlighted the elder devil’s urgency in communicating to “the patient” a reductionist view of the world in which “everything we can see and know is nothing but a mixture of matter in motion.” If humans are nothing but sacks of protoplasm, emotions are nothing but a confluence of digestion and hormones, and stars are nothing but burning gas, life is reduced to its lowest common denominator.

For Lewis, the incarnation was an extremely practical matter in that it gave dignity to our physical existence and tore down the artificial barrier between “the scientific and the supernatural.” In fact, this is my favorite aspect of Lewis’s brilliance: he always left room for God.  As a spinner of tales himself, he knew the importance of giving the Author free reign, and maintained that “reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed.”

On Relationships

The way we treat other people is the test of our commitment to the Christian life, and Rigney chose Lewis’s final work of fiction, Till We Have Faces, to dissect the impact of divine love on selfish love. Juxtaposing Orual’s corrupt love with Lewis’s thoughts in The Four Loves, Rigney offered parallels that were revelatory for understanding Orual’s and our own twisted neediness. Even her relationship with the gods is marked by her demand that they reveal themselves on her terms.

Throwing away joy with both hands, Orual brings us full circle, back around to Lewis’s point that the Christian life teeters at the tipping point of choice from beginning to end. Whether it’s a matter of initial surrender of your life or a wide place in the road where you are holding out on a seemingly smaller decision, here’s the Truth from Lewis’s pen:

“If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead.”


Many thanks to Crossway for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Lewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God (Theologians on the Christian Life), simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Motherhood: Learning the Ropes of Joy

Motherhood, for me, started out like a tightrope walk. To keep my balance and maintain my place on the tightly stretched wire, I read all the books, analyzed all the angles, second guessed all the decisions, and the only thing that saved my sanity is that Google had not been invented yet.

I’m still in the process of taking grace for this mothering gig, and one huge encouragement along the way is the shared experiences of others. Jamie Sumner is also a mother who walks on the tightly-wound side, and Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood is a memoir of her mothering journey in which she allows her own story to tell itself, while weaving in fresh re-tellings of the familiar life stories of biblical women.

It was none other than Sarah and Hannah, Elisabeth and Naomi who walked with Jamie in The Wanting and The Waiting of infertility. It was Mary Magdalene, Martha, and a choir of lesser known biblical women who sang her through The Getting and The Appreciating of a high-risk pregnancy, a ten-week endurance test in the NICU, and the white knuckle gauntlet of learning to parent an extremely fragile special needs infant.

The conflict that persists throughout the book’s narrative arc is Jamie’s struggle to “stay present, be still, and take notice of the moment” she was in. Being “in” a season of infertility presented a persistent reinforcement of the truth that even a much-wanted baby would not fill Jamie and her husband Jody’s hollowness in a way that was eternally satisfying. Years of shots and pills and finally the roller coaster of IVF made it hard to stay close to their mission statement:  What was all this about, anyway?

The Wanting and the Waiting

As she waited for “success,” Jamie threw herself into her teaching career and went about the business of  lesson plans and grading papers as a distraction from the continual pondering of the state of her uterus. Progress was always followed by set backs, and the devastation of miscarriage mirrored the empty/full, empty/full rhythms of Naomi’s life in the book of Ruth. Jamie identified with Mrs. Noah, pacing the deck of the ark and feeling like a spectator in her own life’s story.

The Getting and the Appreciating

Throughout her first pregnancy, Jamie worked hard to “turn down worry” and “crank up the trust,” which is a continual battle in a process over which one has so little control. Coping with waves of uncertainty and an always-changing prognosis, Jamie was Mary Magdalene, sitting on a hard rock during a long sermon on a Galileean hillside. She was a frayed and frazzled Miriam in the thirty-fifth year in the desert.

Learning the ropes of joy meant embracing the blessing of birth and the promise of new life while living with the bitter disappointment that came when waves of bad news continually washed over their days.

Images of Motherhood

Unbound comes from the perspective of a young mother against the backdrop of infertility, high-risk pregnancy, and parenting toddler twins plus a special needs pre-schooler with a chromosomal defect and cerebral palsy. Jamie’s story will encourage and lighten the load of readers who are living a similar journey, but her insights on mothering transcend any particular season. The voice of Unbound is a dialogue between reader and author, and feels like the conversations that happen among mums over coffee around a mult-generational table.

Reading Unbound, I was reminded that Motherhood is:

  • a sky dive into unknown territory where your shoot won’t open until the very last possible second, and only when someone else pulls the cord; (76)
  • an endless attempt to get your legs back; (115) 
  • a long way to fall without a net; (107)
  • a continually changing plan that has you kicking the tires and eating fried rice; (140)
  • a continual reminder that we cannot claim possession of either our lives or the lives of those we love. (166)

Tracing the Outlines of Grace

We come through the challenges of mothering NOT because of our own incredible giftedness or the presence of a “mom-gene” (157) that imparts super powers and exalted wisdom. Women become mothers and thrive in the role because there are “outlines of grace” (153) on our story, even though they are not visible to us all the time.

When Mary of Nazareth sang the poignant theology of the Magnificat, she was operating in faith that the new upside-down of her life was part of a bigger plan. When the impoverished New Testament widow emptied her pockets and let those two coins fall away, she was exercising trust for an unseen and improbable future.

In the NICU and beyond, Jamie and Jody Sumner have parented their children in the context of a growing faith that prays two-coin-prayers for God to “keep [their son] protected and deliver him to [them] in whatever state He saw fit.” (177)

Faith unbound perseveres in prayer no matter what.
Hanging on hard to the ropes of joy, faith prays and doesn’t give up during seasons of infertility, during the sturm und drang of toddlerhood, against the hum of hospital emergency equipment,  when the engine of the teen’s new truck is revving in the driveway, or when the grandchildren are coming for their first overnight.

Throughout our wildly varied parenting journeys, may we find freedom from anxiety and unrealistic expectations as we trust God and pray:

“Please help us to be good stewards of our own lives and any life you grant us.” (192)

Please.

Amen and amen.


Thank you to Faith Words, a division of Hachette Book Group, Inc. for providing a copy of this book for my review which is, of course, freely and honestly given.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Unbound: Finding Freedom from Unrealistic Expectations of Motherhood simply click on the title, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Thanks, as always, for joining in the reading, the thinking, and the prayer that is part of Living Our Days,

michele signature rose[1]

Drawing Out a Handful of Light

Wendell Berry poured this wisdom into the mouth of one of his fictional characters:

“Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.”  (Jayber Crow)

This is always the nature of story, and in Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace, Walter Wangerin, Jr. has scooped deeply to tell what he could about his lifelong awareness of grace, shining in darkness and healing our wounds.

With a glance in the rear view mirror, Wangerin recalls his childhood search for a physical Jesus there within the church building. Under the pews? In the restrooms? Certainly not in the “gobbledygook” of the morning service? He is encouraged in his searching by the faithful worship of his mum and the humble and sacrificial gift of a “bunch-backed old woman.”

Light in the Context of Life

An adoptive dad with a multi-racial family and with a season of shepherding an African American church, Wangerin writes as father and pastor, as victor and failure, as celebrant of a joyful faith and mourner of lost opportunities and hasty words. Theology and biblical narrative lie just beneath the surface of this handful of tales, emerging now and then into the full light of day:

“In the first covenant God’s part was to offer blessings, and the people’s part was to obey. On account of the failure of the people to uphold their part, it was the covenant itself that failed. In the second covenant, therefore, God in Christ decided to take both parts upon himself.

Mercy hath a human face.”  (98)

As with all theology, the true beauty comes in its application and Wangerin’s son Matthew provided numerous opportunities to explore the relationship between law and grace. “Whims in him were deeds immediately,” (98) but it was the tears of his dad after an overwhelming disciplinary session that melted the little sinner’s heart.

Since God is “the giver of lazy afternoons,” (49) it follows that throwing a fish hook into an absolutely quiet lake with a fly-tying parishioner may fall under the category of ministry. Since God is the source of all forgiveness, “a free gift, freely given,” it follows that forgiveness between human souls should not be demanded as a law to be obeyed, but offered up freely with both parties going “straight to the source of grace.” (83, 84)

Grace for Ordinary People

Walter Wangerin’s stories are populated by a memorable cast of characters:

  • the staunch librarian whose “spine was composed not of bone but of rectitude” (100);
  • Billy who makes his living by the good will of others, but screamed in fury when Walter failed to include milk, butter, and cream in his donation package;
  • Shrill Miss Brill, allergic to the very air she breathed, but afflicted much more by her “very self.”

Only slightly less shimmering is Wangerin’s fresh vocabulary with its images of “obdurate” children, leaves clothed in “umbers as dark as sleep,” God as “supernal” parent, and the motion of “perfervid” dances.

It is extremely good news for readers that young “Wally” grew up to realize that his wounded self, the cracks in his character that brought him shame, the broken people to whom he ministered (and who taught him what it means to minister)–this is where Jesus lives. This is where light breaks through and where God’s love comes rushing in.


This book was provided by Zondervan through the BookLookBloggers program in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wounds Are Where Light EntersI have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy Wounds Are Where Light Enters: Stories of God’s Intrusive Grace, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

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Thankful for the Light,

Decoding the Beauty in the Universe

If it is true that, as we age, we become even more of whatever we have been all our lives, then Luci Shaw is becoming more and more difficult to “shelve.” A poet and essayist well into her eighties, she continues to tackle topics ranging from quantum mechanics and the incarnation to the haecceity** of things and what it means to “doubt faithfully.”

Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace examines these themes and more within the context of Luci’s decoding of the rich presence of purpose, design, and beauty in the universe in which we see God’s fingerprints and His invitation to become part of the creative process.

In four places in Scripture, God is identified metaphorically as a potter, and, made in His image, we also delight in the creation of useful and beautiful things. This response to beauty should not surprise us, for it is a “mark of the Maker,” and Luci Shaw has concluded that “beauty doesn’t reside simply in what we observe or the fact that we can see and take note, but in how we perceive and distinguish with all our senses.” The glory of this is that as seers, we become “partners in revelation to bring beauty into view.”

A collector of pottery through the years, Luci invites her readers to consider the beauty that results when something is imprinted or stamped upon clay — or upon a life.

**To discover the meaning of “haecceity” and to read this post in its entirety click on over to The Perennial Gen where I’m sharing my review of Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Grace.

I hope you will join the conversation over there as we wonder out loud together: Can we live in awareness of the rich evidence of purpose, the fingerprints of God upon His world, and then invite others into the creative process?


I  am participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Thumbprint in the Clay: Divine Marks of Beauty, Order and Gracesimply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

This book was provided by InterVarsity Press in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Desperate to Hear God’s Voice

Imagine the shrill ring of the phone and the jolt into wakefulness. The voice in your ear carries unthinkable news. Is it possible that you are still dreaming?
“Your son has been been arrested.”
“The charge is murder. The victim: his wife’s ex-husband.”

As daylight comes, you learn more.
Your son was desperate to protect his step-daughters from their father’s abusive behavior. An unsympathetic judge had lifted restrictions and mandated visitation. Taking matters into his own hands, your son has somehow come to believe that the only way to save the girls from more abuse was to take their father’s life.

This is Carol Kent’s real-life story, lived out against a backdrop of grief, shame, and self-recrimination:
What kind of mother produces a murderer?
What about all the prayers, committing her son to God’s care and guidance?
How could she continue as an author and a speaker at Christian conferences when her son had been sentenced to life in prison?
If they had been more spiritual, would God have protected them from this nightmare?

Following a tragedy too big for her heart to hold, Carol was thrown back on her trust in God and her dependence upon His Truth. Heart break slowed her reading pace to a crawl, and she clung desperately to the sound of God’s voice, meditating on the words, writing down the morsels of comfort that came, line upon line.

As she has shared in her book, When I Lay My Isaac Down: Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances, there was no neat and happy ending to Carol’s story. Her son continues to serve his sentence in prison, God has not intervened miraculously, and yet, Carol continues to learn, “day by day, that there is no obstacle that Christ’s resurrection doesn’t give me the power to overcome.”

Living with the daily need of God’s presence and protection, Carol has produced He Holds My Hand: Experiencing God’s Presence and Protection, a devotional work offering 365 individual meditations on Scripture. Accompanied by a relevant quotation, thoughtful questions, and a suggested prayer, each reading offers the Words of God as Words of Hope, spoken over each day. Having experienced the miracle of receiving life- altering truth in the midst of crisis, she recommends that her own words be a devotional complement to a regular schedule of Bible reading as you pause and listen for daily reassurance that God is present in the midst of your circumstances as He was present for her.


This book was provided by Tyndale Momentum, the nonfiction imprint of Tyndale House Publishers, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase When I Lay My Isaac Down: Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances  or He Holds My Hand: Experiencing God’s Presence and Protection, simply click on their titles here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

A Guide for Living Well as an Introvert of Faith

Little Rock, Arkansas was the Sunday stop on the last leg of our cross-country trip. I don’t recall the denomination of the church we visited, but I sure remember its personality: the two-handed handshakes, the over-the-top meet-n-greet . . . and the dear woman who sat next to me and kept touching my arm whenever the pastor made a good point. That church leaned hard toward an extroverted culture. For this introvert with the plexiglass space bubble, I  honestly couldn’t get out of that building fast enough.  While that church is certainly not typical by any means (thank heavens!), it demonstrates with broad brush strokes the extroverted culture that prevails in the church.

Adam S. McHugh looks at the church through the lens of an introvert. He encourages introverted believers to celebrate their temperament and, rather than being defined by what they are NOT (outgoing, people-loving, gregarious, etc.) to lean into the strengths and gifts that come with their personality.  Rather than equating spirituality with sociability and portraying evangelism as a back-slapping presentation of The Four Spiritual Laws, Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture argues for a biblical vision of worship that puts God on display through relationships that encourage both introverts and extroverts to go deep into their inner worlds while at the same time moving outward in sacrificial love.

Explaining the Introverted Brain

Research shows that introverts and extroverts function differently because they process life differently. Introverts derive their energy from solitude while extroverts are energized by interaction and external stimuli. In addition, introverts filter that external stimuli through a finer grid, becoming overwhelmed more quickly than extroverts do with their more flexibly filtering brains.  Introverts tend to prefer depth over breadth in relationships, in their interests, and in self-examination. Scientifically and theologically, it would not be an exaggeration to say that our Creator knit each one of us together as either an introvert or an extrovert.

Solitude vs. Isolation

While introverts have a reputation for being selfish and isolated, all believers who are operating in health will instead practice solitude which McHugh defines as going “deep into ourselves in order to become more self-aware and more compassionate.” In a culture that thrives on over-stimulation, all temperament types need to formulate healthy practices of retreat, times of pulling away from the noise in order to re-enter with perspective and godly wisdom.

Level-5 Leaders

The “Level-5 Leaders” described in Jim Collins’s book Good to Great are not the classic charismatic leaders we associate with success. Their humility, diligence, and willingness to build into the lives of others explain God’s choice of leaders throughout biblical history: the second-borns and the slow-of-speech; the shepherd boys; and the uneducated fishermen. It turns out that “leaders in the real world are about equally divided between introverts and extroverts.”

Thriving as an Introvert of Faith

It is possible for a believing introvert to find a place of fulfillment and influence within the church. This is NOT accomplished by learning and parroting extrovert-ish behaviors, but rather by operating as teachers, leaders, and involved neighbors out of introverted strengths.

I was rather hoping for an “introvert exemption” on the matter of evangelism, but what I got from Introverts in the Church was far better. I was assured that there is an approach to evangelism that does not put me in the role of an answer dispensing content dumper. Introverted evangelists are fellow seekers who share with authenticity how “God’s love has reached the dark parts of [their] lives.” McHugh sees himself as one who shares glimpses of God by responding to the ways in which God is already at work in people around him. A narrow-focus of relationship building, open-ended questions, and non-defensive dialogue open the door for both introverted seekers and introverted evangelists.

Finally, as believers we are called to embrace discomfort for the cause of Christ and for the enlargement of our worship. Both introverts and extroverts will grow stagnant if never challenged. The inward and outward movement of breathing provides a helpful picture of the way a living thing survives and thrives. Believers of all temperaments need the depth and richness that come with solitude alongside the self-giving poured out life that accompanies community. God has created a diversity of personalities and gifts within the church, and this is a treasure we are only beginning to understand.


This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

I have begun to experiment with including an Amazon affiliate link here in my book reviews. If you should decide to purchase either Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Cultureor The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction, simply click on the title here, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Additional Resources

As an introvert, Adam McHugh realizes the power and importance of listening — and he wrote a book about it. I enjoyed reading it and shared my review here.

The Listening Life imagines a world in which the usual pattern of listening is reversed, where leaders listen to followers, where the rich listen to the poor, and the insiders listen to outsiders – not as part of a program or with a prescribed agenda, but one person at a time with listening as an end in itself.

True listening is a path out of the spiritual fatigue and distractedness that we bring to every interaction.  As we listen to God, as we pay attention to the messages our own hearts are trying to communicate to us, and as we turn our focus outward to hear the hearts of others, we are giving a gift that comes directly from God — and in the process, we receive a gift as well.

 

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Who in the World Am I? (Dating the Enneagram)

Following the writings of the prophet Jeremiah has been a challenge this year. So far, it’s been seventeen chapters of lament tempered by steadfast faith — along with words of judgment interspersed with glorious promises of restoration. It shouldn’t have surprised me then when Jeremiah 17 took a sharp curve in the road at verse nine:The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

Who indeed, for we are many things in addition to being “deceitful,” and our inability to know ourselves fully becomes readily apparent when we take it upon ourselves to know someone else in a meaningful way. Alice Fryling offers insights on how knowledge of the Enneagram can help us in sifting the motives of our hearts by understanding our own unique temperament — and maybe that of our loved ones as well.

Mirror for the Soul invites believers to connect the dots between self knowledge and the grace of God, for as we embrace our Enneagram number, we learn that we are more than just a package of gifts and failures.  Alice shares her own self-discovery in this way:

“I am a person created by God, loved by God, and uniquely gifted to love others with God’s merciful and gracious love.”

Often what we lack in our efforts to change and grow is a language of transformation. Alice found this in her study of the Enneagram and holds it up to readers as a mirror to provide a clear view of ourselves, and as a corrective to the “puzzling reflection we have of our own lives.”

The Enneagram has hazy historical origins, but, then, so does the wheel. In the 1970s, Richard Rohr brought its teaching to laypeople, and since then, numerous authors have made it accessible as an aid to the Christian’s spiritual journey.

In my reading about the Enneagram, I’ve been eager to find a parking space that fits me so I could begin to understand my gifts and the reasons I get sidetracked. Mirror for the Soul has given me a different goal for this personality inventory. Why not slow down and live in a space, trying it on to see if it describes me? Then look at another one that might be a closer fit? Alice calls this “dating the Enneagram,” and recommends a meandering process of self-discovery, noticing what happens when you are under stress, and using the process to learn about yourself.

Nine Spaces and Nine Unique Perspectives

The diagram shows that each of the nine spaces has three components:

  1. A main attribute
  2. A compulsion of “the false self” whose agenda is to look good and to pretend
  3. A “grace given to that person as an invitation to return to the true self.”

I’ll clarify this using the Three as an example, because I think that’s my space: The main attribute of the Three is Effectiveness:  I like to get things done. Ugly Deceit rears its head when I need to hide behind “success” in order not to be known as a failure. However, the path back to health is Truth: truth about myself, and Truth from God (in large doses, everyday).

The gift of the Enneagram is that there is no “right” space. The Two with their gift for loving is no more beloved than the Eight with their gift for power. Each space is vulnerable to hiding, but in different ways, and God invites each of the nine types to receive grace in order to become their true self.

Trying On the Triads

Alice Fryling’s approach to self-discovery within the Enneagram focuses first on the Triads or groupings of the nine spaces:

  • The heart triad (2,3,4) lives life based on feeling.
  • The head triad (5,6,7) lives life based on thinking.
  • The gut triad (8,9,1) responds to life with their gut instinct.

It was this recommendation that sent me into “dating mode” with the Ennegram, because, although many of the traits of Three-ness line up with my tendencies, I typically function from the head rather than the heart. My love of books and knowledge lead me to wonder if I’m a five. I’m taking the author’s advice and looking at my motivations, life perspective, and instinctive responses to get closer to the bottom of this mystery.

Looking in the Mirror

For those who are on a quest for the transformation that comes with self-knowledge, Mirror for the Soul offers a number of practical principles and cautions:

Look to your weaknesses and motivations rather than behavior. Beware of your blind spots.

Since “the Enneagram is not in the business of giving out compliments,” (49) it is helpful to ponder the problems that come along with our gifts rather than focusing only on our gifting.

Spend some time attempting to understand the Wings and the Arrows.

Referring to the chart above, our Wings are the spaces on either side of us and influence  each of us differently and to different degrees.  For example, my bent toward quirky has led me to think that whether I’m a 3 or a 5, my wing is likely a 4.

Referring again to the chart, the Arrows pointing away from a number indicate where we tend to go in stress. Those pointing toward the number describe “how we are living when we are in a healthy place in our lives.” (109) With this in mind, it becomes clear that spaces in the Enneagram are not rigid boxes, which accounts for the uniqueness we see even among people who may share the same type. Alice speaks of being “at home” (107) in a space, and the more we understand ourselves and the Enneagram, the more likely this is to occur.

The So-What Factor

For the believer, greater self-awareness is not a narcissistic rabbit trail, but, rather, it leads to a greater capacity for loving relationships with others and deeper worship of God. The Enneagram invites us to wonder about addictive behaviors that keep sending us back to the same broken cisterns for satisfaction. It reveals suffering as a means to growth and transformation.

As we look into the mirror of God’s Word, and then ponder what we find in the mirror of the Enneagram, it would be tempting to despair, for we all have work to do. However, “the truth is that God is always waiting to be gracious to us and always ready to extend mercy.” This is good news as we boldly persevere in asking, “Who in the world am I?” and then live our way into our own unique journey of discovery in which we confront our sadness and frustration alongside our unique gifting and strengths and learn that the reflection gazing back at us belongs to a face that is deeply loved.

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This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Additional Resources

Alice Fryling is a spiritual director whose website joyfully announces this stunning truth:

“We are mirrors whose brightness is wholly delivered from the sun that shines upon us.”     ~C.S. Lewis

Her site offers more information about her work with the Enneagram as well as engaging with Scripture.

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