Going deeper

A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us ― Henri Nouwen

My mentor, former CPE supervisor, and now dear friend Amy used to joke about my being the epitome of a Four: obsessed with authenticity and with being seen, fixated on articulating and understanding my emotions, overwhelmed by the compulsion to be “special” or “unique.” She’s not wrong. On any given day, the number of times I find myself stopping to ask “What is this feeling?” — and yes, go ahead and break out into your own rendition of Wicked — is almost too many to count.

In addition to being dominant in Type Four, I also have a Three wing. This means I not only want others to see me as special, but also I long for them to admire my uniqueness, and then to tell me about it. The strain this has put on even my closest relationships has been unbearable… for both parties. Unsurprisingly, I’ve been called “needy” more times than I can count, and often in ways that tell me I’m “too much.”

Thankfully, there are those who have seen beyond my faults and behavioral compulsions deeper to where my True Self lies: in my Belovedness. They choose to have a relationship with me not because I’m special in some grandiose way, or because of what I’m able to do or accomplish. They love me simply because they choose to. In these relationships I’ve found a deeper truth: God loves me, loves all of us, in the exact same way — just because.

The last month, I’ve been listening to The Sacred Enneagram, a book by my friend Christopher Huertz. I first met Chris while interning for the Marin Foundation during seminary. Though I was still under the notion I was a Two at the time, I appreciated his knowledge of the Enneagram and how he was able to translate its richness into a tool for spiritual growth. After having a painful first church experience here in Korea, I knew I would need to get creative if I wanted my time here to be one of renewing my faith. Thankfully, I have no shortage of relationships or resources in my life to help me do just that.

My last few years in the US, starting with chaplain residency and continuing until I left for Korea, I made significant progress in dealing with mental illness, grief, relationships, self-love, and faith. Arriving in Korea, I realize my journey was far from over. I was slipping back into unhealthy thought patterns, coping mechanisms, addictive tendencies, and overall an overwhelming sense of sadness, inadequacy, and isolation. I’ve shared these struggles with my closest friends after realizing how rapidly I was regressing and decompensating. I’ve been reminded many times that the struggles I now face are normal and unsurprising, especially given my own history and patterns. Rather than drowning in shame, now is the opportunity to take the healthy skills I’ve nurtured and use them to go deeper into God towards my True Self.

In Sacred Enneagram, Chris talks about three contemplative practices that are crucial for any and every Enneagram type in order to go deeper into their personal journey towards wholeness, health, and integration: silence, stillness, and solitude.

Silence is God's first language; everything else is a poor translation. ― Thomas Keating

During my summer road trip before coming to Korea, I was blessed to spend just over a week with my close seminary friend, Paige. While I lived in the Pacific Northwest, we stayed in almost constant contact, talking on the phone regularly, doing a long-distance Bible study, and just showing up for each other. She supported me while I navigated the challenges of being a full-time staff chaplain in the early stages of divorce, and I supported her transition to post-seminary full-time parish ministry. Both being people who lived alone, we had a few reservations about staying together in close quarters.

One day, after coming back from an outing, I did what I normally did when I returned home: I turned the TV on. She made a remark about it, and though it initially stung, I was able to take her question as an invitation to silence. Truth is silence has never been my closest friend. Like so many, I fear silence because it leaves me alone with my thoughts and feelings: thoughts of my inadequacy and sadness, feelings about my failures and isolation. While I still come home and turn on the TV or some music, I remember that time with Paige and hear it as a reminder that it’s okay to be quiet. It’s okay to trust silence.

In addition to our drive to build a better world, we also live in a time when productivity and impact feed the lies we believed about ourselves. The constant pressure to do more, to fill up our schedules, to work harder. But we have to stop the busyness or we will be stopped by burnout or exhaustion — Christopher L. Huertz

Back in America, as part of the United Church of Christ, I was surrounded by friends whose weekly schedules often included at least one protest, several meetings, and more activities than I could ever imagine as part of my own calendar. It felt like these friends were always busy, always doing something. In some cases, I felt like their busyness left no space for a friendship with me. As someone whose dominant emotional affect is frustration and whose primary coping mechanism is withdrawing, their lack of stillness felt overwhelming to me.

Stillness, one of the gifts that Chris talked about in Sacred Enneagram, has never been a particular problem. If anything, I struggle with too much stillness, verging on apathy or sloth. While there are many issues I’m passionate about, many activities I enjoy doing, I’m more prone to being overly still. So when I choose to be active, to engage in the world, I often feel like I need to address my underlying motives for doing so.

Am I going to the gym because I genuinely want to be healthy and nurture this body God has given me, or am I working out strictly to make myself more attractive or desirable to others? Am I going to this meeting, this protest, or this rally because I feel God’s spirit drawing me into catalyzing God’s justice in a world riddled by pain and suffering, or do I just want others to think I give a shit about these things when I’d rather be home binge watching my next Netflix series? Stillness I find is a two edged sword. There are those who desperately need to embrace it as a tool of healing, and there are those of us who maybe need less of it in our lives.

We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being. ― Hermann Hesse

Finally, Chris writes about a word that often instills in me a sense of dread: solitude. Ask one of the Enneagram’s heart types (Twos, Threes, and Fours) to practice solitude, and we usually have a string of four-letter words for you. More than that, we feel a deep fear of whatwill come to the surface when we are alone. Talking about going deeper in one’s movement towards God, Chris says that Fours need to rest in solitude.

When I am alone, it is insanely easy to dive into my fantasies, imagining all the ways the people I know are enjoying not having me around, hoping they are thinking of me, wishing I had some tangible proof that they miss me, that I’m special to them. It doesn’t matter that my wall is splattered with cards from friends and loved ones I’ve collected over the years, with quilts handmade by my former mother-in-law, precious crystals given to me by kindred spirits, when I am alone, historically it has been too easy to forget the very real Truth that I Am Loved. This seems to be the next leg of my journey — truly learning to not only be alone, but to rest in the solitude my soul needs.

On this, the last Sunday before we enter the season of Advent, I hope you can find and embrace whatever it is your spirit needs, whether it be silence, stillness, or solitude. I hope you know you are loved. I hope you have everything you need. And I hope you know you are enough.