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)

Wisdom looks like love

Last weekend, I had the privilege of addressing a group of women at Grace Presbyterian Church in Lexington, Virginia, on the vast topic of “wisdom.” I’ve written a bit about that here, and I’m including a few more thoughts on the idea that transformed the way I’ve studied wisdom these past months. Oh, that it would change the way I LIVE out wisdom, too!


Since Jesus himself is the wisdom of God, looking at his life provides the definition of what wisdom looks like. At every turn, we see love. Jesus sought out the tax collector who was too short to see him and invited himself over to his home; he healed the woman who had been bleeding for years and took away her shame; he forgave the adulterous woman who was about to be stoned; he had compassion on the crowds and miraculously fed them; he loved us to the very extent of love – giving his own life on our behalf, becoming obedient to death itself so that we might live and be restored to God. Jesus was God incarnate, and since God is love, we could say that Jesus is love incarnate. So wisdom and love are inextricably connected. Love is the outflow of true wisdom that comes from God, flowing out of a heart depending on Jesus.

This really gets me. I can live in my head so much as a woman who loves words – reading them and writing them and pondering ideas. My profession as a counselor calls me to discuss wisdom and love outside of the actual situation where one is being challenged to love wisely, and so I can too often stop at the false conclusion that wise insight equals heart change. If you spent a week with me, you would see the gap between what I teach, how I counsel others, and the way I apply wisdom to my own relationships. Too often after giving marriage counsel to a couple in conflict, I come home and do the very things I warned the couple against. I interrupt before listening; get angry too quickly at petty differences; sulk and say “fine” when I’m really anything but; hold onto grudges instead of forgive. Same with parenting. I can explain to a friend that being calm will bring calm to her kids, but the minute my own kids get in the way of what I want (an uninterrupted shower? a peaceful Target trip? quiet in the mornings?), I erupt in anger and yell at them impatiently.

I’ve written a blog series entitled, “Confessions of an angry mom,” about how to bring anger under the control of the Holy Spirit through the power of the gospel of Jesus. And it has helped many others. But I still need these words for myself. I will never outgrow my need for wisdom. For I will always be drawn away from wise love by my foolish, selfish desires. Sin dwelling within me – the old self that died with Christ. And so preaching the good news about “Christ in me, the hope of glory” is essential to practicing wise love daily, being transformed by the One who is Wisdom rather than building up myself through my intellectual understanding of wisdom or analytical relational insights.

wisdom starts with listening

I am preparing for a retreat I’ll be speaking at in a few weeks on the topic of wisdom (a slight modification from the one I did in September 2013 at WRPC), and I am struck again with how important listening is. I’ve been looking at the verse in James 1:19 which says –

“Know this, my beloved brothers, let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger …”

Whew. There’s the trifecta of what I’m not good at. I am slow to hear, quick to speak, and quick to become angry. Just come be a fly on the wall any morning in my kitchen to see my folly on full display. It happens with regularity. One of the twins begins demanding something (they take turns with this, I swear); I get frustrated because I’m already busy trying to do something else they were asking/demanding the minute prior; and I don’t hear them or pay attention. I am quick to spout off with how frustrated I feel; and then it becomes full-blown anger before too long. Refrigerator doors are slammed, their food is slapped onto their plates with vehemence, and I become the martyr-mother-with-a-cause. Not only am I far from a picture of serving with love, but I am empty of self-control and wisdom. My reaction causes theirs to intensify. And so we sit down to eat breakfast as three very foolish women, one who’s old enough to know and act differently.

How do I get wisdom in that scenario? What is my hope? It starts with listening. Being quick to hear God’s voice of love and the truth of His presence and acquired wisdom given to me down from the ages. I need to learn to be quick to hear his compassion for me, the tired-in-the-mornings mom who needs her coffee and doesn’t wake up quickly. He is speaking to me through the “wisdom of the ages,” which often sounds like this:

  • Stay calm, and they may not become calm immediately, but at least you won’t escalate things.
  • You can only be in control of you; don’t try to be in control of them. Realize what you can control, and provide consequences calmly. Such as sending the tantrum-ing three-year-old to her room until she can calm down.
  • Catering to their demands will only increase their whines; so will blowing up in frustrated anger in the face of all their complaints.
  • Look at your own heart – you’re just as whiny and demanding of those around you and God, but you’re just better at masking it.
  • Continue to serve with love, confident that God sees the faith it takes to continue to do so when bombarded with two demanding preschoolers.

Once I silence my own angry demands in order to tune in to the wisdom of the Spirit speaking to my heart, then I am able to move on to speaking what needs to be spoken, and slowing down my anger. It really is a self-perpetuating cycle. Start with being quick to anger, the words will spill out too quickly for anyone’s good, and there will be no listening. But reverse this and begin with listening. Then you’ll be calm enough to speak and you keep anger in its place. The question really is who I am listening to – if it’s my selfishness, then I’ll be quick to speak and get angry; if it’s my Creator, I can afford to be slow in speech and allow his words to mollify my angry heart before it spews onto another.

watering plants and finding wisdom

This will not come as a surprise to those of you who know Seth and me. Plants are an endangered species at our home, whether inside or outside. The past few summers, my dad generously helped us to landscape our front bed – meaning, we picked out a few “hearty” plants and bushes at Lowe’s, and I watched as he planted them, and I listened to his advice about watering them daily (twice in the heat of summer), fertilizing them, mulching them. And I have tried. Promise, Dad! We even bought a lawn sprinkler this year to water the little planties for 30 minutes at a time (or two hours once when I forgot to turn it off. Hello, high water bill).

But after months of diligent watering, we unintentionally took a few weeks “off.” We went on vacation, and thankfully it rained, and then I stayed on vacation from watering our plants. And then a week or two later, I noticed that they looked a bit wilty. Like this photo:

By the time I noticed, I scrambled to find the hose and began watering like mad, enlisting my two favorite little gardeners to come with me. I watered them until the soil looked saturated, hoping against hope to somehow make up for the lost watering time with some extra TLC that could be retroactive.

And that’s when it hit me. That what I was trying to do with my garden is what I often do with pursuing wisdom. I go a long time without nurturing my relationship with God in prayer, Bible study, and community – and then when the need for wisdom arises, I try to take a crash course in it overnight. It rarely works like that. Wisdom is the fruit of a walk with Christ. Just as in watering my plants, it’s easier for me to know when my heart has not been “watered” regularly than if it has been. If I’m daily watering my plants, I won’t notice much growth – it’s slow, steady, constant. However, if I miss a few days in the sweltering heat of the summer, then it will be almost immediately obvious.

What a picture for me of my need to daily seek God’s face, to ask him to reveal my pride that hinders me from obtaining wisdom, and come to prayer, His Word, and church to water my thirsty heart.

Thankful Thursdays

{I’m thankful for} the wisdom of God shown through the “foolish” love of a crucified Jesus. Really looking forward to exploring more of the depths of this wisdom as I prepare two retreat talks – “God: The Source of All Wisdom” and “Love: Wisdom in Action.” 

{I’m thankful for} the opportunity to speak at WRPC‘s fall retreat on “Get Wisdom” and the great team of women I get to prepare and brainstorm with throughout the process.

{I’m thankful for} a fun new tradition-in-the-making of gathering neighborhood moms for “happy hour” once a week during what’s usually otherwise known as cranky hour or what I’ve heard termed “arsenic hour” – yep, post-nap, pre-dinner period between 3:30 – 5pm.

{I’m thankful for} new neighbors who are good friends who moved in a few houses down from us last weekend.

{I’m thankful for} a break in the oppressive summer heat and humidity.

{I’m thankful for} a royal baby! How fun to hear the news of this new real-live Prince George and see the excitement generated around the world.

{I’m thankful for} finishing a really great novel, The Thirteenth Tale, about twins and story and writing … many familiar subjects to me.

{I’m thankful for} a quiet weekend ahead, full of beautiful beach days (I hope) and good family memories built – especially excited to see some of Seth’s cousins who are in the area. I *heart* living in a place people like to visit in the summer.


Want to join up with me for “Thankful Thursdays”? If so, grab the button above; leave your blog address in the comments below, and link back to this post. I’m thankful for “Loved and Lovely” for such beautiful artwork that I’m using. No rules on this as far as how many “thank you’s” or that it needs to be profound and deep. Let’s practice together opening our eyes to the grace that we’re showered with daily.