The Repentant Reformer

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.”
John 1:5

CONFESSION:

I harbor a spirit of anger

sprout

 TRUTH:
I am being made new

If you’ve spent any time around our little household of four lately, it’s not unlikely you’ve found yourself confused, if not annoyed, at the constant exchange of seemingly meaningless “numbers” that pass knowingly between us, as though we were speaking in code. And of course, to be fair, that is precisely what we’re doing.

[Exhibit A]

“Oh really, you have another idea? Shocking. You’re such a 7!”

[Cue eye roll]

“And you’re a killjoy- Typical 1!”

“Girls, can’t we just stop with the number calling already?”

[Laughter]

“Okay 6!”

Now, I consider myself to be a relatively self-aware person. As someone who is naturally hard-wired to be highly introspective, people rarely manage to tell me something about myself I don’t already know, or haven’t thoroughly contemplated. From tendencies, thought patterns, strengths, weaknesses, stressors, triggers, anxieties, fears, hopes, dreams and all the multitude of places they touch in between, I’ve spent a good deal of time turning each one over in my mind, ill at ease until I’ve connected the dots.

As such, I’ve taken a number of personality tests over the course of the years, and while I’ve found them insightful and valuable in their own right, I’ve rarely been “wowed” by them. Rather my response tends to be one of neutrality- “Yep, those things are all true of me, I already knew that. Great, moving on.”

Meyers Briggs will tell you I’m Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking and Judging.

Yep.

Strengths Finder will further underscore my areas of giftedness as those revolving around the “life of the mind,” specifically: Intellection, Input, Learner, Responsibility and Connectedness.

Makes sense.

So when our friend Tammy started talking about the Enneagram at a dinner party one evening earlier this fall, I merely shrugged, doubtful it was really any different from all the others. But knowing her and the way she “totally geeks out” on this kind of thing, I listened as she described the test that “wrecked her.” And as I listened, I found myself intrigued that this particular evaluation doesn’t simply focus on one’s strengths but rather highlights root sins, temptations, and subconscious motivations/inclinations as well. Okay, now you’ve got my attention.

So I took the test, which categorized me as a “ONE” and laughed with my roommates as I read aloud how those of us in this camp often see ourselves as “the only responsible adult around.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said exactly this. I’ve lived my life by the mantra, “If you want something done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.” And my roommates laugh because they can attest to it- this mistrust of others to follow through- this unrealistic standard I have for, well, pretty much everything.

They laugh because they have felt it.

Classic ONE move.

ONEs are labeled “The Reformers.” We are categorized as rational, idealistic, principled, purposeful, self-controlled and perfectionistic [read: impossible to please]. We exemplify the desire to be “good,” to live up the “highest ethical standards, and to effect positive changes in the world.” We report feeling a “powerful sense of mission; a deep feeling of purpose,” which of course, is a wonderful characteristic. But our idealism gets us into trouble by setting us up for inevitable disappointment when the world and others do not live up to the standards of perfection we hold them to, ultimately leading to resentment. As such, we are often known for being opinionated, impatient, irritable, rigid, perfectionistic, critical [of self and others], sarcastic, and judgmental.

There’s a reality check if I ever saw one.

Feeling convicted, but wanting to dig deeper, I did some extended research and read, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective and sat in amazement as someone I’d never met laid bare some of my darkest struggles, my most deep-seated insecurities, and my most crippling fears. I sat alone in a cafe with my hot tea in late September and laughed at how eerily it described my temperament and instinctual inclinations as I shifted uncomfortably in my chair, and then wept as I read about my ever-present anxiety, perfectionism, and ultimately, my root sin: anger.

In his book, The Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster addresses this very issue in his chapter on fasting. He has this to say: “Anger, bitterness, jealousy, strife, fear—if they are within us, they will surface during fasting. At first we will rationalize that our anger is due to our hunger; then we know that we are angry because the spirit of anger is within us” [emphasis added].

The longer I sit with this, the more I realize how squarely I am being called out. I can no longer dance around the sobering reality that in fact this is precisely true of me.

Foster’s point immediately brings to mind the passage in Matthew 5:22 regarding murder. Jesus takes a familiar piece of Torah and further amplifies it for his audience, who would have been well-versed with the command, cutting immediately to the root of the issue- the heart– when he says, “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.” Curious though, the King James Version spins it a bit differently, a bit more… conveniently if you will, by adding “without a cause,” words not found in the original Greek manuscripts. The text is then altered to read like this: “But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment…” [emphasis added]. This later addition to Jesus’ teaching is incredibly revealing because it sheds an uncomfortable light into the troubling reality of the human heart: our desire to justify our sin.

Wow.

Friends, this… this rocks me, for I am indeed someone very skilled in the art of justification; very comfortable and privileged in my “rightness” [or more appropriately: self-righteousness], my warranted resentment. And what’s worse, I’ve become so accustomed to my own anger, so familiar with the protective callous that’s formed around my heart, I hardly even notice it anymore. Quite frankly, I hardly feel anymore.

In an effort to better understand myself in light of this deep-seated issue, I’ve been studying anger in the Scriptures. I think it bears mentioning that it’s Cain’s brooding anger against his brother that God addresses when he warns him, “sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you” in Genesis 4. He tenderly urges Cain to repent from his pride and to “do what is right.” He warns him that his anger/sin will overtake him if he allows it to smolder, and instead urges him, “you must rule over it.”

This of course then begs the question: how?

In the course of inviting God into these unredeemed parts of my life and heart lately, I’ve been deliberately unpacking the process with my community group, and what I’ve discovered is this: the more I speak about it- the more I bring it out into the light in the spirit of confession- the more it loses its hold over me.

“Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”1

I’ve always read this verse and considered “mercy” to merely be a stand-in for God’s forgiveness, you know, like the Big Man just kind of looks the other way, if-you-will. But what I’ve been realizing is that this “mercy” we’re granted as we bring our brokenness into the light, is so.much.bigger than that. This mercy has little to do with merely overlooking a transgression and has everything to do with freedom. “God is light,”2 and as such, he longs for his kids to invite him into their spaces of darkness so that he can illuminate them and begin the process of setting us free from the chains that bind us. That is the full measure of his mercy. And because he’s in the business of revealing the “deep things of darkness and bring[ing] utter darkness into the light,”3 we must imitate him and do likewise as he makes us aware of what it is we need to confess. When we do this, we enable “the blood of Jesus Christ his Son [to] cleans us from all sin,”4 because at last, we are able to recognize our chains and thus our need for freedom. And then ultimately, we can begin to receive it.

Suddenly Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 take on a whole new dimension:

“For you were once darkness, but now you are in the Lord. Live as children of light… Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them… everything exposed by the light becomes visible – and everything that is illuminated becomes a light,”5

In The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, Richard Rohr explains that each character “type” has a root sin, and a corresponding “gift” or “fruit” that marks mature persons in any category, and that it is always the reverse of the root sin. So then, the fruit of the Spirit of the ONE is cheerful tranquility.

Let it be so.

—————

1 Proverbs 28:13
2 1 John 1:5
3 Job 12:22
4 John 1:7
5 Ephesians 5:8, 11 & 13

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