Ecclesiastes and the Enneagram

I’ve been reading through the Bible this year as part of an invitation from my church to a “Journey Through Scripture,” and it’s been so good for my heart and soul. I’ve been reminded that yep, there are parts of the Bible that are difficult to understand and that can feel a bit like hiking through the mud, but then there are other parts of the Bible that are immediately accessible and astonishingly relevant to our current day. Enter the wisdom books of the Old Testament, particularly Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. I’ve found these gems from Proverbs that made for great conversations with my tween-age kids (as I shared with them how convicted I am about how I can easily give in to anger, too):

Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.

Pride leads to conflict; those who take advice are wise.

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.

Better to be patient than powerful; better to have self-control than to conquer a city.

Spouting off before listening to the facts is both shameful and foolish.

Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back.

Proverbs 13:2, 13:10, 15: 1, 16:32, 29:11 (New Living Translation)

Much, much more I could write on the themes of Proverbs, but Proverbs already gets a lot of the “limelight” in books and sermons and articles.

Ecclesiastes is a different story. Outside of the popular “A Time for Everything” passage (“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die …” 3:1-8), we often don’t know what to do with the book that systematically goes through all of life’s most popular pursuits and concludes, “Everything is meaningless.” It’s a bit jarring, to be honest, leaving me with questions like, “What is the point of anything then?” and “How did this book get included in Scripture?” Yet here it is, inviting me (as all wisdom literature does) to go deeper beyond my discomfort, to trace answers to my questions and accept the uncertainty that some questions will remain unanswered this side of eternity.

And yet, I was struck by how Ecclesiastes also brings balance. For a few years now, I’ve been interested in the popularity of the Enneagram (a 9-type personality theory). I was initially skeptical at a theory that would say all people fit into one of 9 personality types, but as I’ve continued to read about it and discuss it with friends who are much more well versed in it than me, there’s a lot that resonates as I’ve learned it’s much more nuanced than a simple 9-personality-type system. What’s unique about the Enneagram distinct from other personality theories is that the nine types arise from motivations. This means that there’s no easy test to determine what your Enneagram type is (although there are many that will help you sort through what your type could be – I recommend this one by “Your Enneagram Coach” ), and you aren’t supposed to “type” other people because you can’t really know what motivates them either. If you’re into the Enneagram, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not, rest assured that I’m not going to try to convince you to get on board “the Enneagram train.” I’m simply giving context to what I’m going to suggest – which is how different portions of Ecclesiastes seem to perfectly speak into the excesses (or “vices”) of these nine different Enneagram types. I focused on what speaks to Type Threes, Fours, Fives, Eights, and Sevens, because these are the ones I’ve studied most closely and am most intimately acquainted with (either through my own life or family). [Note: I’m using the labels crafted by Jeff and Beth McCord of “Your Enneagram Coach” as they resonate the most. Click here for their graphic and overview of all nine types.]

For Type Three – “The Admirable Achiever”

Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless – like chasing the wind.

“Better to have one handful with quietness than two handfuls with hard work and chasing the wind.”

I came to hate all my hard work here on earth, for I must leave to others everything I have earned. … Some people work wisely with knowledge and skill, then must leave the fruit of their efforts to someone who hasn’t worked for it. This, too, is meaningless, a great tragedy. So what do people get in this life for all their hard work and anxiety? Their days of labor are filled with pain and grief; even at night their minds cannot rest. …

Even so, I have noticed one thing, at least, that is good. It is good for people to eat, drink, and enjoy their work under the sun during the short life God has given them, and to accept their lot in life. And it is a good thing to receive wealth from God and the good health to enjoy it. To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God.

Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless – like chasing the wind.

Proverbs 4:4, 4:6, 2:18-23, 5:18-19, 6:9 (NLT)

For Type Four – “The Introspective Individualist”

Enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don’t have. Just dreaming about nice things is meaningless, like chasing the wind.

To enjoy your work and accept your lot in life – this is indeed a gift from God. God keeps such people so busy enjoying life that they take no time to brood over the past.

Don’t long for “the good old days.” This is not wise.

Ecclesiastes 6:9, 5:19-20, 6:10 (NLT)

For Type Five – “The Analytical Investigator”

But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.

Ecclesiastes 12:12 (NLT)

For Type Seven – “The Enthusiastic Optimist”

So I decided there is nothing better than to enjoy food and drink and to find satisfaction in work. Then I realized that these pleasures are from the hand of God. For who can eat or enjoy anything apart from him?

Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties. After all, everyone dies – so the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us. A wise person thinks a lot about death, while a fool thinks only about having a good time.

Finishing is better than starting. Patience is better than pride.

Happy is the land … whose leaders feast at the proper time to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk.

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.”

Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, 7:2-4, 7:8, 10:17, 12:1 (NLT)

For Type Eight – “The Passionate Protector”

Control your temper, for anger labels you a fool.

Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person than the shouts of a foolish king. Better to have wisdom than weapons of war, but one sinner can destroy much that is good.

If your boss is angry at you, don’t quit! A quiet spirit can overcome even great mistakes.

Ecclesiastes 7:9, 9:17-18, 10:4 (NLT)

transitions

Photo credit: Country Living

It’s September, and change is in the air. The leaves haven’t yet begun turning, but there is a crisp coolness that invites their transformation in the coming months. School started for my daughters and my newly minted Ph.D. husband who’s now a dean at a seminary. In my counseling practice, summer clients brought their sessions to a close, and there is a new influx of fall clients.

Personally, I find September to be a good time to set new goals for health and spiritual practice. I want to read the Bible daily, journal, eat more healthily, exercise more regularly, and make time to be present with the people I love. There’s something about the pages of a new planner that invite me into a season of new beginnings. (And I love new beginnings. I usually take the opportunity for them a few times a year – January, of course, as well as my birthday, that falls in June, and September, the beginning of the school year.)

And then there are the unexpected transitions. My parents sold their home recently, and, along with my two brothers and their wives, we enjoyed reminiscing over the memories that these four walls held for 27 years of our family history. It’s the only home the grandkids (11!) have ever known for Gigi & Pops. All of us adult kids with our families have spent at least a few months living there when in transition from one home or place to another. There are stories of pranks, heartaches, joy-filled celebrations, family pets, laughter-saturated dinners around the table, tear-drenched heartbreaks, backyard adventures (a mountain biking course that caused more than a few injuries), the infamous front porch swing with Mom’s not-so-subtle interruptions, parties hosted, more than your average number of driveway collisions, and heartfelt prayers through both the joys and sorrows of our family’s life. To say there is an accompanying flood of emotions for each of us would be an understatement. Yet as Ecclesiastes reminds me, there is a time and season for everything. And just as surely as there was a time for making this home our own – when I was just starting high school and my brothers were still in middle and elementary school – this is the time for saying farewell to this home. So there have been many days of boxes (and memories) packed over the last several weeks. There has been the assurance that the memories aren’t sold along with the house – those are always ours to keep – and the happiness in knowing that a new family will get to begin making their own memories in that beloved home.

This fall is also my 20th college reunion, which I find just about impossible to believe. It can seem like only yesterday that I was a recent college graduate. Yet I remember being a senior in college, and some 20th-year-reunion-friends coming by our campus house to walk through and reminisce. We felt like they were so old. Now to think that will be us??

Another milestone recently celebrated is 15 years of marriage. Again, it feels like yesterday that I said “I do” as a 20-something young bride to a 20-something handsome young groom. We knew nothing of the adventure, challenge, and joy that marriage would bring us. We knew God, and that He was faithful, and it is to Him we have clung through the hardest times and the best of this past decade and a half. A quote I love was from a sermon by Reverend John Leonard during our formative few years at Cresheim Valley Church: “When you say ‘I do,’ God says, ‘I will.'” That truth has been an anchor for us through some stormy seasons, both storms without and storms within.

Our beloved twin daughters passed their milestone of 10 last September, and they’re days away from turning 11. Their birthday is always a time of remembering God’s faithfulness and protection, from the anxiety-ridden 10 weeks of bed rest to their premature delivery at 35 weeks and a week-long stay in the Children’s Hospital when they were but days old. To think that they are now strong, healthy, growing girls entering their “tween” years is truly a testament to God’s sustaining faithfulness in their lives and ours. We know we will be clinging to God’s grace in new ways over the next several years! And it is an amazing privilege to be parents of these two creative, smart, funny, strong and tenderhearted girls.

And then I zoom out and think of the transitions our country and world is facing. Covid-19 is spiking again, and we are all weary of fighting this battle. We are all doing our best, the best we know how. Our healthcare system is overwhelmed, and doctors like my brother are overworked and exhausted, yet carrying on in their faithful care of the patients entrusted to them. Troops withdrew from Afghanistan, and before they were fully out, the Taliban took over. It’s heartbreaking, especially considering all of the families who gave beloved sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and parents to this years-long battle. I think we all have the question, “How long, O Lord?”

And so in this season of transitions, both big and small, welcomed and dreaded, hope-filled and grief-laced, I find myself forced to anchor into the One who is Unchanging. The One who knows there is a time and season for “everything under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 3)- and whose presence is the only unchanging constant through all of life’s transitions.