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Sarah: Who you actually are is a gift, and not everybody has to be the same in order to be holy. There is a different path of holiness for all of us, and it can be so life-giving and healing without making you feel like you have to lessen who you are.
Jen: Welcome to the For the Love Podcast with me, Jen Hatmaker. Today we will explore the world of the Enneagram Nine with my dearest of dear friends, author Sarah Bessey.
Hey, everybody. Jen Hatmaker here, your happiest host of the For the Love Podcast. Welcome to the show. Oh my gosh, today I am happy and sad. I am so sad, because we are wrapping up our For the Love of the Enneagram series, and it’s been I think my favorite series we’ve ever done, an incredible time of learning. I cannot tell you how many conversations this series has spurred in my own household and in my friend circle. I’m just so sad to see it go, but we could not possibly wrap it up with a better grand finale than what we have today, because the person helping me put a bow on the end of this incredible series is one of my best friends, who happens to be the most wonderful Enneagram Nine herself.
Of course, I’m talking about Sarah Bessey. If you’ve been around me for half of one second, you know that I love her. You’ve probably heard her on this very podcast. She was on our faith series last year. She’s an incredibly beautiful writer. If you’ve not read her latest book, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things, just hurry up and go get your life right. Go get it. It’s beautiful, just pure goodness, gorgeous writing, incredible storytelling. Sarah is the co-creator of the Evolving Faith conference, which you’ve always heard me talk about a ton. She is such a wonderful mom and wife and friend. She is very, very much Canadian, which may or may not contribute to her Enneagram Nineness. Maybe all Canadians are an Enneagram Nine. I’ll have to ask her that. But she is so delightful, so kind, so wise, so good. She has been the truest friend to me. I can’t even say enough. She has been a student of the Enneagram for years. I remember Sarah walking us through what she was learning in the Enneagram years ago when we were still like, “I don’t know what that is.” And then she’s since taught me so much about it, and it’s been an incredible conversation.
And Enneagram Nines, you are going to love this episode. Sarah wraps words around who you guys are and what you think and what you feel and what you want and need so clearly, so precisely, I think you are just going to feel so loved and seen today. And all the rest of us who love Nines, who live with Nines, who’ve married Nines and parenting Nines, ah, you’re going to understand them so much better after this incredibly beautiful conversation. So pleased, again, to bring you one of my favorite people in the entire world, Sarah Bessey.
Jen: Well, I just said this to you before we started recording, but there isn’t a person on earth I would rather wrap this series up with than you. Hi.
Sarah: Hi. So happy to be here. It feels funny to be recording and talking officially, but this is great.
Jen: It does. It does. Everybody listening, Sarah and I talk with our voices all the time in our friend circle, and we do that on Voxer, which we’ve talked about forever. But we’re not usually recording it. We can’t be recorded. We’d all go to prison.
Sarah: The only way blackmail works is if it’s mutual.
Jen: Exactly right. Okay. I am so happy that you’re here.
So, you have been talking to me about the Enneagram way before I drank the Kool-Aid. Just for everybody listening, can you talk for a few minutes about when you first encountered the Enneagram—I’m not even sure I know that origin story—and who introduced it to you, and what you started learning, how long until you were like, “Yep, I’m 100% a Nine.” Did that happen pretty quickly?
Sarah: It was a bit of a slow burn for me, I think, in terms of discernment. The first time that I encountered it was a number of years ago, and I had a girlfriend who actually was an Enneagram coach. She would talk about it and would share some of it, and I was very resistant, because I felt like it was quite negative.
Jen: Oh, interesting.
Sarah: So, I kind of kept it on the peripheral for a little while. Then she ended up doing a typing session with me. So, instead of me discovering my type through doing an online test or reading books or whatever else, I had a real coach sitting down with me and doing a typing session where she had cards, and she had questions and prompts and all these things that she could do.
Then even there, after kind of discovering that type through that process, it became something that I then set aside again for a little bit longer, because in a lot of ways I felt like engaging with my type or engaging with the conversation or even the opportunity for spiritual formation that it presented me was like going from a dark room into a room that was really bright, and it took my eyes a while to adjust, if that makes sense.
Jen: Yeah. What a good way to describe that. Yeah, it does.
Sarah: Once my eyes kind of adjusted to the unending beams of light which was the Enneagram, there was this sense of, Okay, now I know my path for almost my soul. I know my path for my work. I know my path for spiritual formation and health. Then at that point, and that was probably five or six years ago, was when I was really like, “Okay, we can do this.”
Jen: For everybody listening, can you just high level for everybody? Talk through what is a Nine? What does a Nine look like? What does a Nine look like in health? Just the whole thing. Can you give sort of a snapshot of that type?
Sarah: I think sometimes that’s one of the hardest things about a Nine is that we often are very dissociated from ourselves, because we tend to merge with whoever we’re with.
Jen: Oh, man. I know.
Sarah: So, we can almost be one of the hardest ones to really get a beat on. But a lot of Enneagram teachers or coaches often refer to us as The Peacemaker. That means that we are people who are not only seeking peace within ourselves, but that you’re healthiest in the world, that you move from being a peacekeeper to being an actual peacemaker.
I think that, when you are healthy, there is a lot of goodness to that. It gives you a path. I mean, I think one of the things I love most about being a Nine or that I think is very indicative of a Nine is that we tend to be very open to people and to God and to nature, and we have a sense of wholeness to that where we can really see that in relationships and our spirituality. There is almost this ability to have a well of compassion and hold everything there. Richard Rohr has a book called Everything Belongs, and I think that that’s a very Nine title, just everything belongs.
Jen: It sure is. Yeah.
Sarah: Everything belongs. We’re able to kind of hold all of those tensions. We tend to be your mediators when we’re healthy. But also there’s this shadow side of Nines that leans toward numbness and sloth and routines, of being just almost pathologically avoiding conflict, not only outside in the world but even in your own heart. So, that’s where the numbing comes in. That’s where things like avoiding—for me, even with the Enneagram in the beginning, I numbed it out. I avoided it, because there was a conflict waiting there.
Jen: You Nine’d it.
Sarah: I Nine’d it so hard. So, there’s things about being a Nine, they kind of call it the crown of the Enneagram, because in a lot of ways you can embody the whole goodness of it, which, again, can sometimes be a negative, when you are merging with other people. But when you are healthy, it means that you are able to embody kind of the wholeness of it and have this sense of power, almost, to that.
Jen: That is my experience of you and of virtually all the healthy Nines in my life. I always, when I talk about Nines, I’m like, “They’re just so dreamy in the world.” I mean, so delicious. I’m always so lucky to be in close relationship with a healthy Nine, because you bring so much goodness to bear on your relationships. I deeply, of course, understand the shadow side of a Nine, because, as you know, I’m a raging Three. In disintegration, I go to the shadow side of a Nine which, as you know, for me looks like complete withdrawal. I just shut it down. I go quiet. I go dark. I go numb. I go sloth. I understand that impulse so much.
It’s interesting. As we slide around on the Enneagram when we’re healthy—you mentioned Richard, of course, who’s a One. But when he talked about his title, he said in this stage of his life, he’s very much accessing his Nine wing, the “everyone belongs” wing, which is so wonderful to hear. He suggested that our wings—we’re going to get there in a minute—can shift about that midpoint in life, which is interesting, because I cannot imagine myself as a Four, but I would love to be one. It sounds wonderful.
Let me ask you this, because you said you resisted the Enneagram at first because it felt negative. I understand what you’re saying there. I don’t love negative feelings either. I know, just like you, I felt like I was really like, ding, ding, ding, you’re getting really hot, when I saw the shadow side of a Three. I’m like, Well, that sucks. Why do they know this about me? It’s not fair.
Sarah: I know. It’s literally like you’re standing naked in the room. You’re like, “Look away!”
Jen: Devastating! I didn’t even want to admit to anybody, because I didn’t want them to read how gross I am when I’m dark. I have been hiding that. I have been patching that up.
When you were encountering your work and you saw all that makes up a Nine across the entire spectrum of health and disintegration, how did that—or did that—change the way that you looked at yourself or talked to yourself? Did it aid you in looking at the parts of you that could be disintegrated more critically or with a kinder eye? Does that make sense?
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely, it does. I think, too, for those of us who are type that is very different from our context, you can almost feel like you’re always trying to shoehorn yourself into that. So, for me, learning that I was a Nine, learning that these things about me that make me who I am are not actually—they don’t mean I’m broken.
Jen: That’s good.
Sarah: That don’t mean that I am doing it wrong. I grew up in a religious context, in a religious home that was in that third-wave, Neo-charismatic, happy-clappy kind of thing, which is very much both a Three or a Four kind of energy, of being both an achiever but also really wanting the mystical signs and wonders and energy of that. One parent was an Eight, and the other is a One. Just kind of feeling like my ability to see everything from every side, or always being able to see what everybody was saying was true wasn’t true, being able to have an awareness of both the light and the shadow and not being afraid of either one. Those sorts of things helped me begin to realize that those things that I had thought were aspects of myself that I had to spiritually mature out of…
Jen: Wow, that’s good.
Sarah: …surely I would be more certain. Surely I would be more ready to contend for the truth. Surely I would be a better black and white thinker. I would be better at these things….
Jen: I see. Oh, yeah.
Sarah: …were actually gifts from the Holy Spirit, that this was actually how I was engineered and created and blessed to be in the world. And that, for sure, you know what, there is a guardrail there. There are those key indicators of our health or our lack of health. But who you actually are is a gift, and that not everybody has to be the same in order to be holy, that there is a different path of holiness for all of us and it can be so life-giving and healing without making you feel like you have to lessen who you are.
Jen: That’s so good. You’re right, because every single type on the Enneagram spectrum is beautiful.
Jen: I mean, just beautiful human beings and so special and unique and able to enter relationships and systems and scenarios with such a different set of gifts and skills. There is no such thing as “This is the good one, and this is the bad one,” although we tend to hate our own shadow side so bad.
But let’s talk about your wing, because this conversation is interesting. Several of the different experts that I’ve talked to over the course of this series have different opinions about the wings. Some of them find them incredibly instructive and useful and really help us round out our Enneagram understanding, and a couple of them don’t, and found them distracting and that they can potentially send us kind of all over the place in a bit of confusion.
So, number one, I’d like to hear what you think about that. Number two, what wing do you primarily identify with? Because of course we have access to both.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely we do. I mean, I’m not an Enneagram expert, but I think that we do tend to have, usually, one that we lean on more than the other. Again, going back to the ultimate path of the Enneagram is that you do integrate.
Jen: That’s right.
Sarah: It’s not that you become more and more staunch in yourself. It’s that you are able to kind of continue to walk with the spirit, and you end up almost embodying or welcoming the strengths of all of them and learning from them and having those there. So, I think that the first chance you have to do that is with your wing.
For me, as a Nine, I definitely have a very strong Eight wing. It usually shows up on Twitter.
Jen: It’s an Eight’s playground, the Twitter.
Sarah: Once you’ve had a chance to kind of grapple with or wrestle with the Enneagram in any way, and you almost get a chance to look back over your life, you begin to see certain points where it was like, Oh, how did I miss it?
Jen: That’s right. Totally. Totally.
Sarah: I’m just like, This was right here. I literally—my second book title, the subtitle of it is Making Peace with an Evolving Faith. Is there a more Nine title than that?
Jen: But the evolving faith part’s kind of Eightish.
Sarah: Oh, exactly.
Jen: There you are. That’s who you are.
Sarah: There it is. That’s what it is.
Jen: You titled yourself. Yes.
Sarah: Even with my first book, with Jesus Feminist, one of the things that was really an indicator I think that I had that Eight wing was that I didn’t run away from conflict there.
Jen: Totally. Oh my gosh.
Sarah: You can say really hard, strong divisive things, but you do it in a very constructive, capable, calm, sort of invitational way that adds a lot of strength. So, I think that, when you can access that Eight wing, it makes me braver. It makes me bolder.
It makes me able to lean into conflict a little bit more, and I’m really grateful for that. I’m still trying to develop the One side a little bit more, but I think I see it a little bit more in that way anyway.
Jen: Totally. I mean, you named your book Jesus Feminist. That’s got big Eight energy right there.
Sarah: It does. It does.
Jen: I want to talk to you for a minute about how the Enneagram is able to serve us in our relationships. I know you and I have talked about this a million times, but it’s so useful as a tool, not just for self-identification and growth, but marriage and parenting. So, I wonder if you could talk for a minute about Brian. What is his number? How does your Nine-ness show up inside your marriage, attached to the person that you married? And even with your kids, of course they’re younger, and they’re still developing and growing, but we have a beat on our own kids. How does being a Nine affect you as a mom, too? I’d like to just hear you talk about how this shows up in your home.
Sarah: I feel like that is probably one of the greatest gifts of the Enneagram has been in my relationships with other people. Not only even within your immediate family, but boy, it just gives you such compassion for people and such an understanding of where things are. I have someone I love in my life who’s a One. When I realized the depth of the inner criticism that that person was living with, I wept. I just felt so tender, so tender towards our Ones.
So, Brian’s a Three. Maybe that’s why you and I get along so well. I’m not sure.
Jen: Yes, you understand us. You do.
Sarah: Yeah. The triad is one of the aspects of the Enneagram that can be a little bit confusing for people. It means that you’ve got your own number, so for me it’s a Nine, and then you’ve got one number you move towards when you’re feeling healthy and strong, and for me that’s a Three. When I’m feeling healthy and strong, I’m engaged, I’m achieving, I’m getting things done. A lot of people from the outside can look at my life and think I’m a Three.
Sarah: Then on the other side, you have another number that you go towards, which for me is a Six…
Sarah: …which is your path of what they call disintegration. This is what you look like when you’re not doing so great and you take on the worst characteristics. So, it’s a bit of a fun energy. When I say fun, I mean terrible, because when I’m strong I look more like my husband, and when he’s a mess he looks more like me.
Jen: Oh, that is right. That’s right.
Sarah: Not great.
Jen: Oh, that’s so right. I had not really thought of this.
Sarah: I know. So, it’s kind of an interesting thing, because we understand each other really well. We understand each other’s motivations really well. We also have a very peaceful home, which really works well for me. I think that being able to be a mediator is really helpful in those instances. I think having a Nine in your home when they’re healthy and engaged means that there’s a lot of empathy, and you’re able to see all sides. There’s a lot of love and acceptance without a lot of judgment.
But on the backside, I mean, when I’m in times when I am not doing well, that avoiding conflict—I mean, I have often joked, or my sister has often joked, that my spiritual gift is passive aggression. I can be a wee bit passive aggressive, which isn’t always great. I think that even the awareness of those things, of realizing that that was actually how I am and how I can be was really healing in my marriage and healing in my other relationships.
We have four children, and they are as different from each other as you can possibly imagine. I try to resist typing them, or give them a narrative before they’ve really had a chance to shape their own. But quietly in the back of your mind you’re always like, “You’re totally a Seven.”
Jen: Totally. I know. I know! I try not to do it, too. I can’t help it.
Sarah: But I have found it really—I don’t know, maybe you can speak to this a little bit. I have found some of the language—because the Enneagram and your type, I mean, there’s one part[that’s] “This is how you’re created to be in the world. This is how you bear the image of God in the world.” Then there’s this other part of it that is “It’s really clearly honed in you because of your childhood wounds,” right?
Jen: That’s right.
Sarah: And there’s something very humbling about that as a parent…
Jen: Oh my gosh. Right.
Sarah: …as someone who is charged with shepherding someone else’s soul and being in the world for a time and bringing them kind of to the world or participating in that shaping. So, in a lot of ways, sometimes when I think I see their type, it almost makes me a little bit nervous, because I’m like, “Oh, is this something that you’re lacking? Is this an inadvertent wound that I’m creating?” I don’t know if this needs to be on the podcast at all, but…
Jen: Yes, it does.
Sarah: …but this sense of, I don’t know. It’s sobering, I guess.
It’s usually not intentional. It’s just how this person was and how this person was. They can be the most loving and caring and good, good caregivers, but it’s sometimes this alchemy that happens, and this is what ends up resulting. So, it’s not a place of blame or finger-pointing or guilt as much as it is an invitation just to explore and to be honest.
So, I don’t know, as a parent now on this side of it, I’m always just kind of a little bit spidey-sensey about the childhood wound aspect of it for kids.
Jen: Oh, I hate that. I hate that.
Sarah: Isn’t that terrible?
Jen: Yeah, I hate that. I hate that whole system. I hate thinking about our kids growing up and having to dissect the wounds they experienced in our houses. Of course it’s inevitable. They’re not going to be the first generation to walk out of childhood unscathed. But I sure do hate that. Golly, I wish we could advocate here.
Sarah: There’s some freedom in that, of realizing we don’t get to escape that.
Jen: You’re right.
Sarah: You can’t parent your way perfectly out of that.
Jen: You’re so right.
Sarah: No matter how you are or how good of a parent you, or how much you love Jesus, or how you did everything you possibly knew how to do, the truth is that we weren’t meant to be everything to our kids. They need community. They need Jesus. They need their own path to walk out. And in a way, there’s almost some freedom to that. It’s going to happen anyway, and so you might as well almost just release that expectation that you won’t wound them, because it’s going to happen.
Jen: I feel like we need to say that out loud to each other and to our communities a million times, because that is not the parental narrative you and I were handed. That is not at all it. I completely heard a story that there is a real clean path through parenting, and it’s formulaic. Here are the tools. Here’s how you do a family meeting. I mean, just all the things. This is how you create perfect young adults. Of course that’s dead and buried for me, of course, because I already have young adults. But we weren’t given the freedom that you said, and so we’re going to have to claim that on our own. It’s not going to be our sort of community narrative that’s going to tell us what you just said, and that’s some really deep internal work that matters so much.
I want to go back to something you said a second ago, because you kind of mentioned it in passing, but to me this is something really, really, really special about the Nines. I experience Nines as a really interesting capacity for being spiritual-seekers if you will, just this ability for openness, this ability for curiosity, this potential for evolution. And I say that word specifically, because obviously you co-created Evolving Faith with Rachel [Held Evans]. That is what that space is. If that’s how I had to sort of cast it, it would be this place that is very, very safe for spiritual curiosity, which I did not grow up like that and neither did you.
So, can you talk a little bit about how this works for you between you and God, between you and the world, between you and faith in general, this sacred way of imagining the world? I grew up where certainty was not only the currency, but for me kind of in my type it was a comfort. I liked it. Where it rubbed for you, it was a comfort for me, and I was good at it. I mean, give a Three a faith with rules. She’ll be the best rule-follower that ever lived, and I was. I don’t know if I’m supposed to say this, but I kind of envy the way a Nine is able to hold his or her faith. Can you talk about that?
Sarah: Definitely. I think that some of this has maybe come as I’ve gotten older, of realizing that the very things that I have been taught to fear about my spirituality were actually gifts. I think that some of the aspects of Nines that we bring to some of these conversations are non-dualistic.
Jen: Oh, gosh.
Sarah: We’re not…
Jen: Yes, but that is radical. That’s radical in Western Christianity.
Sarah: Yeah, absolutely it is. I think especially if you came of age in anything that was evangelical-adjacent in North America, it was very much certainty, and “if this, then that.” Right? In a lot of my work around Evolving Faith, we talk a lot about spiritual formation and path of spiritual growth. There’s these stages of spiritual development that are very much like that. They function best if you are a literal “if this, then that” black-and-white thinker.
Sarah: Nines seem to come very easily into seeking and bringing wholeness to people, of having space for almost everyone and being able to make room for that in a way that feels like sanctuary, and that it’s not a matter of having to have everything figured out or not be curious. We’re able to even usually hold the aspects of ourselves that are not maybe as whole as we would like them to be, or our unanswered prayers, or our grief, or our loss, at the same time we can hold our joy.
I think that that’s sometimes one of the things that I’ve grown to be most thankful for, the older you get, the longer you live, the more sorrow you’ve experienced, the more loss you’ve experienced, is learning that you don’t have to choose between hope and grief.
Jen: That’s great.
Sarah: That you get to hold both of them, and that’s actually a place of healing and wholeness and goodness in the world. It’s not a matter of pretending that everything’s fine, which I think Nines have a real tendency to want to do. We tend to be very simplistic and bright side and “Let’s get those silver linings on those clouds, people!” And that is not great.
Sarah: It’s a thing that can drive people literally crazy. Then on the other side, there can be this almost total withdrawal into that grief and into that cynicism and into that numbness. So, I think the invitation for Nines is what does it look like to acknowledge and hold and bless both of those things?
Jen: Oh, man.
Sarah: To hold both of them, to bring them to God, I think that having no division between what is sacred and secular in your life is another aspect of being a non-dualistic thinker that can be a real blessing and gift, not only to you but to the people whom you lead or with whom you’re in relationship, to say that “The most human parts of you are actually the most sacred and the most beautiful and the most made in the image of God.”
Jen: That feels like such a relief to my little Three heart.
Sarah: I think that’s one of the things that I am so grateful for in my relationships with Threes and my relationships, honestly, with almost every other type, because again, we get some aspect of the image of God from each of us.
Jen: That’s right. That’s right.
Sarah: But I think the thing that Nines can tend to bring—I’m not saying that this is the energy I bring all the time by any stretch of the imagination—but there is this sense of unconditional love.
Jen: Yes, there is.
Sarah: Right? And just an abiding in it. I think that’s the invitation that we have when we can, that that’s the gift that we can bring to those places is that unconditional acceptance, unconditional love, and to walk in that and know it, but then almost give it as a gift to other people.
Jen: You do. You are healthy, and that’s exactly how I experience you. In fact, I told you when Fierce came out that I told myself the day before it released that I was literally going to be you. That was my whole goal—I was going to be Sarah Bessey, because you have set an example for me so well. We’ve released so many books together. God, why do we keep writing books? What are we doing?
Sarah: I know. I blame you. It’s your influence. I do the exact same thing. I try to access my Jen whenever I’m releasing a book. I’m like, “Okay, I’m going to wake up. I’m going to be fierce. I’m going to be free.”
Jen: You can market. You really do have some Three energy that you have clear access to. I watched you on the last couple of your own releases where you just did such a beautiful job sitting deeply in every moment, and you were like, “For this, I am grateful. This right now, what is happening, is beautiful. I cherish it, and I see it, and I am experiencing it fully in my heart.” It meant so much to me, because my impulse, I’m already ten steps down the road. I’m like, “What’s the next marker? How do we keep going? What’s the momentum?” And I struggle to ever be grateful in the moment I’m in, ever. It never feels like enough. Never. It does not matter how hard I have worked or how precious the moment is. I’m just always knowing this is going to pass in a minute, and then I’ll be back to the not enough.
So, you have taught me what it looks like, the health of sitting deeply in a moment and just treasuring it for what it is. Now, I’m not saying that I did that, because I didn’t, but I wanted to. I tried.
Sarah: Well, you know, I saw that in you this time around. Honestly, I’ve seen that in you the last couple of books, because, again, you and I’ve talked about this before, but you really earned Fierce. You earned every word of it. You earned every bit of wisdom that you had, that this is your book that you wrote after wrestling with God, and this is [what] you’re offering back to the world.
Jen: That’s it.
Sarah: It looks so beautiful. I think that that’s one of the things that I’ve seen you do as you have matured and you have grieved and you have developed those really robust muscles of hope and gratitude and love and goodness. You have become so centered. And seeing you release this book, and seeing you just feel it all and let it all belong with you, whether it’s the moments of hustling or it’s the moments of gratitude, you have done a really, really good job in all of that, Jen.
Jen: Thank you.
Sarah: I don’t want you to miss just how beautiful it is to see you walking this out and just how lovely it has been. I see that you haven’t missed it. You’ve had eyes. You’ve had eyes for every single gift in the midst of all of it, and you have appreciated it and noticed it.
Jen: Thank you.
Sarah: I think that that is really beautiful…
Jen: Thank you.
Sarah: …because it is such a gift to everybody else. So, it’s like, God, you want it to be a gift to you, too.
Jen: Totally. I learned that from you. I learned that from watching you.
So, you are so incredibly self-aware, and you’re also healthy. You’re in really good, full possession of who you are and where you are. What have you learned to pay attention to? What are the warning signs, if you will, the red flags, that you are potentially beginning to move away from health? What is going on in your life and maybe in your behaviors, or maybe it’s interior in your mind, where you start to notice Uh-oh, uh-oh, danger. We’ve got to steer the ship back? What does that look like for Nine?
Sarah: I think one of the things that I really have grown to appreciate about the Enneagram is that it’s almost the only spiritual formation tool—I mean, with the expectation of maybe some super fundamentalist people—but it’s almost the only one that I’ve found that really talks about sin, that talks honestly.
I think that, again, you and I have both kind of found ourselves in some form of public ministry and life within what a lot of people would consider more of the progressive area of the church. But the truth is that I still really yearn for and need language for sin, that I haven’t evolved past that, I guess, yet at any point, just like I haven’t evolved past Jesus in any way. So, I think that for me learning how to speak well about sin in a way that is not shaming, that is not guilt-inducing, that is not crippling, but in a way that is an invitation, has been what this has been for me. I think that for me a lot of beginning to acknowledge what my own besetting sins are, because then it illuminates a path of growth.
Jen: Right. Totally.
Sarah: It almost serves as like a guardrail, right? Even going back to how so much of this is lived in relationship, I know that when my husband says to me, “Hey, you’ve been really withdrawn. You haven’t talked really for a week,” or when I get really stubborn, I can tend towards a lot of numbing behaviors in order to avoid even the conflict that I’m feeling in my own heart.
Jen: Oh, wow.
Sarah: So, if I’m feeling conflict with other people, I can literally just retreat into myself or into a book or into food, or for some people it would be alcohol or drugs, that we can numb to those things, because that’s our way of withdrawing. There’s a sleepiness almost to some of my sinful patterns, a sloth, passive aggression.
I think that when I begin to see those things manifesting in my life—and this is the work that you do really for your whole life—is that there’s this underlying thing that I’m going to sleep, that I’m not rising, that I am falling deeper and deeper and deeper in. So, for me, that’s where the invitation then, in terms of sinfulness or sloth or whatever else, whatever language you want to use, is that the invitation is to restore you to relationship not only with God but with yourself and with other people.
Jen: That’s good.
Sarah: For me, that looks like, again, that path of integration goes more towards yourself as a Three…
Jen: Right. Engagement.
Sarah: …of rising and engaging and waking up. That’s why I am so grateful to be married to a Three, because it gives me a path.
Sarah: It gives me a thing. And to be in close relationship and close friendship with you or the other Threes in my life, it gives me a glimpse of like “I need to engage.” Some types, when they’re not doing great, they need to withdraw. They need silence. They need a lot of things. I have to move towards engagement if I’m going to be well.
Jen: Oh, that’s good.
Sarah: That is a spiritual discipline for me. It is almost an act of faith sometimes to do.
Jen: Totally. When all your instincts are saying to bury, really it’s just obedience almost. Totally.
Sarah: Well, there’s even the sense of belittling in a Nine, like your voice doesn’t matter.
Jen: Oh, of course.
Sarah: There’s a natural cynicism almost to it, like this sense of “You don’t matter, this doesn’t matter. Why would anyone want to hear from you? You’re not the important person in the room. I can even walk in a room, and just literally nobody will know you’re there, and you’ll leave again. It’s fine.”
Jen: Oh my gosh.
Sarah: It’s just like, Right, you could just…it’s not great.
Jen: I’ve heard you say this before. Before we started recording, Sarah was like, “I have a suggestion for an alternative person you should probably interview for this episode.” I was like, “No! I want to interview you! Stop giving me someone else’s name!”
Sarah: I’m still doing my work, Jen. I’m still doing my work.
Jen: I love that so much. It’s so opposite. It’s so funny.
How about this? I want to ask you this. Let’s say that somebody is listening, and they are married to a Nine, or they’re in a close relationship to a Nine, or parenting one, whatever. If someone finds themself in conflict with a Nine, which you’ve got to push a Nine hard, I mean, you’ve got to really, really push to the end of the fuse. But what is the best path toward reconciliation or toward restoration with a Nine in conflict? What gets to you? What finally reaches you? What brings you back?
Sarah: That is a really good question. I think one of the biggest triggers for me—and maybe other Nines who are some of your listeners would say differently, or maybe they could even share some of those things after they listen—again, because going back to some of the tendencies or the temptations that you have as a Nine is to withdraw, to just shut down, to just go deep and to go deeply within, there’s a lot of processing that happens on the inside. A lot of people sometimes can think that we are never angry or never resentful, but actually we’re just holding all of that.
Sarah: We’re super angry.
Sarah: Inwardly full of rage. It’s great. So, there can be this sense of going along in your life with a Nine and not realizing that is piling up, and then all of a sudden there will be this rage monster that will just show up and be like, “That’s it! Table’s flipped. We’re done here!” kind of thing. And it could be scary for the people in the room, but I could be really scary for the Nine when that happens, because they want to believe that that’s not who they are.
So, the best case scenario is to have conflict before it gets to that, and that can be like pulling teeth with a Nine. The things that I have found that really cause me to shut down is when there is very in-your-face conflict, when there is yelling, when there is accusations, when there is really high conflict and high disagreement and big, big aggression. I will just literally shut down, and it’s over. I will never speak of it again. It will never come up again. So, that’s not super great.
If you’re in relationship with a Nine, I think some of the best things—or at least it’s what my family tells me works—is to slow down, to make conflict a place of connection, to find ways to have peaceful connection while you are working through what the conflict is, to learn how to almost help them say what they need and say what they want and know they won’t die from it. Right?
Sarah: So, some of the things even practically that they have done that I have found really helpful is, rather than the intensity of face-to-face, they’ll put me in the car and go for a drive. Side by side. We’ll just talk it through. And they will give me lots of room to talk about all the things that need to be talked about, say all the things that need to be said, and will try to gently help me see where we are in conflict here and where this needs to be resolved. What do you think would be a helpful way to kind of find some peacefulness here? So, maybe I’m being managed, but it works.
Jen: Right. Totally.
Sarah: I mean, I’m not mad about it.
Jen: I know when I’m being handled, and I don’t care.
Sarah: Yeah, exactly.
Jen: I’m not even mad.
Sarah: It’s so much better, so much better.
Sarah: But I will say, too, that Nines are really great to have in the room during conflict when they’re healthy…
Jen: Totally. Oh my gosh.
Sarah: …because they’re able to understand everybody’s side and usually bring it together and articulate it and name it in a way that makes everybody feel heard and everybody feel validated and can find a cooperative agreement. So, when a Nine is healthy and able to engage in conflict, they are literally peacemakers.
Jen: Literally. So reasonable, so able to hold and nurture dialogue. The greatest, thoughtful mediators. It’s so true. You definitely have that muscle to flex when you want to and when you can.
The Enneagram helps us understand one another, and thus, as you mentioned earlier, it offers us the opportunity to develop deep compassion for the people that we’re in relationships with. If you had to get down to the brass tacks, and somebody is listening who deeply wants to understand a Nine, can you talk about way, way, way, way, way down at the bottom of everything, what is it that you want and need the most, and what is it that you’re the most afraid of?
Sarah: I hate you. You shouldn’t ask these questions.
Jen: I know. I know. I’m sorry.
Sarah: You’re terrible.
Jen: I love being on this side of the microphone. This is fantastic.
Sarah: At least buy me dinner first. Geez. I think that—all right. Let me think for a second.
Sarah: I think that some of the things that we are really yearning for is wholeness. There’s this sense of needing to have integration, of needing to have everything belong. And some of the things that can be really hard as we grow or as we learn, I mean, maybe this is more just my own stuff in this regard, but one of the things I had struggled with the most, especially in adulthood, and the big shift that happened to me was learning to own my authority and learning that I actually had a voice and that it mattered, and learning that I got to have preferences, that every time someone said “Where do you want to go to dinner?”, I didn’t have to say “Whatever you want” in an effort to keep the peace. That’s a simple thing. When you put that on a grander scale of your life, your ministry, your vocation, your choices, what you yearn for in life, you end up having a life that looks nothing like who you actually are and what you actually want.
Sarah: So, I think that the temptation, again, going back to what we both love and hate about the Enneagram, is that there’s an invitation always on the other side of the shadow side. For me, I felt like writing was really my place of learning to practice that, that it became an altar where I met with God…
Jen: That’s right.
Sarah: …without expectation of it, without any need for it to produce or do something, that it really was my place to learn that you identify as God’s beloved, that you matter, that you are deeply loved and deeply cherished and worthy and valuable…
Jen: That’s good.
Sarah: …beyond any of these other things. So, I think that for me learning to own my voice, own my authority, and again, some of this can be cultural conditioning as a woman. It can be cultural conditioning even in terms of Canadians. We have a very self-deprecating sense of humor.
Jen: That’s right.
Sarah: That’s nothing we love more than making fun of ourselves. So, even learning to manage some of those things and saying, “Okay, no. You know what? My voice is an act of faith, having strength, of leaning into those things, of owning the authority that I believe I’ve been given by the Holy Spirit and by God to minister, to live, or move through my life, instead of just constantly feeling this need to withdraw, be a little smaller in order to not make other people uncomfortable.”
Sarah: So, I think that that will probably be the work I have to do for the rest of my life, which is a little bit sobering, but at the same time it’s been healing. There’s been this sense of goodness and of co-creating with God in the midst of that, an invitation to it that I am incredibly grateful for, and I don’t think I’ll ever really get over it.
Jen: I love that so much. I love hearing you say that, because I have watched you do this. I find you a fully reliable and faithful and trustworthy authority. I appreciate you saying that that was work, because I honor it. I honor that you did it and that you said yes to that invitation and that you stepped into it, because your instinct was to shrug it off, and yet you have put your hand to the plow in that space now for so long that I consider you literally one of the leading spiritual authorities in my life.
Sarah: Well, then we’re both in trouble.
Jen: You’re a mess. You’re such a mess.
Sarah: I love you so much.
Jen: Oh, same. I think you maybe just answered it, but just in case there’s nuance to add before we wrap it up, to the Nines listening right now who are like, “I’m interested in a path of growth. I want this. I want this for me first and then ultimately for my relationships,” and sometimes you just look wildly around like, “Where do I even start?”, from you, from a Nine to the Nines, how would you say maybe, “Here’s just a place to begin. Here is what a Nine might want to consider as she begins her own path forward”?
Sarah: That’s a really good question. I guess if I had to look back and think, What were some of the things that I wished I would have heard at the beginning stages of this journey? Well, there’s a number of things. First of all, you won’t die from saying no.
Jen: Good. Good.
Sarah: You won’t die from having a preference.
Jen: That’s good.
Sarah: But I think that some of the bigger things—and, again, I know that I come from a charismatic tradition, and so my answer to everything is always going to be the Holy Spirit.
There is really this sense for me of an invitation to contemplation, and I think that Nines, the invitation is to wake up for that. So, go to the places, go for walks. Nature is a big thing for us, beauty, goodness. Just really ask with open hands and an open heart and say, “Would you begin to show me the ways that I am withdrawing? Would you show me the ways where I’m numbing? Would you give me eyes to see it and ears to hear it and heart to understand when those things are happening? And when that happens, Spirit, would you illuminate those things? And then help me to lean into the pain of that, lean into the discomfort of it, and see that you are faithful even there?”
Jen: Oh, that’s so good.
Sarah: That beginning stage for you will begin to be able to see, Oh, these routines aren’t serving me, or this thing I’m doing of not saying what I really think or of hiding or of belittling my own voice or pretending that I’m not as strong or as powerful or as insightful or smart as I really am. But instead you almost begin to have Holy Spirit eyes, or discernment eyes.
It doesn’t have to be all the time. That sounds exhausting. But I think just having a gentle invitation there to say, “All right. I’m seeing that I’m doing this thing, because the Holy Spirit has brought it to my attention. Can I sit with that? Can I explore it in prayer or in silence or on a walk or on a drive with someone you trust?” Then just push into it a little bit and see if you can push to the other side of it and see what is waiting for you on the other side of that threshold, because almost anytime that you’re experiencing loss or grief or discomfort, any of those things, it’s a liminal space where the spirit is waiting. You can trust the invitation of the Holy Spirit. There’s nowhere you go that God is not already waiting for you with love and acceptance and joy. You can lean into those.
Jen: That is a sermon that you just gave. That served me, because I often present like a disintegrated Nine. So, that very much served me today. Thank you for the reminder that just nobody will die from engagement in a hard place. That matters so much.
The Three episode in this series was with Lisa Whelchel, and I asked her, “What would you say to a Three who was considering a path of growth?” She was like, “I wonder if you could let yourself believe that every bit about you is still so loved and lovable if you’re absolutely ordinary.” And I kind of just howled. I kind of just howled.
Sarah: I guess maybe that’s even part of it for a Nine then, because on the flip side of that…God, that’s a good word from Lisa.
Jen: Wasn’t it?
Sarah: But there’s this sense of could you believe you were just as loved if you were amazing? Could you believe you were just as loved if you woke up, if you rose? What would it look like? Especially, I think, for the women of our time, for you to step into your God-given authority and power and goodness for this moment in time, could you not die of that?
Jen: Whew. Wow. I have goosebumps.
Sarah: Right? This is why it’s so good, because everybody has such a different path and needs to hear a different message, and it’s not dependent on those things. So, oh, that is so good, because you guys are Threes, and us Nines need you. We need that.
Jen: We need each other.
Sarah: Oh, so much.
Jen: Between the two of us, we’re like one whole person. We would make the most amazing and grounded human person if we could just mate.
Okay. We’re wrapping it up. These are just some quick questions that I asked everybody in the Enneagram series, and so you can just kind of top-of-your-head it. Here’s the first one. Not that we would want to, we love who we are, but if you could choose to be any other Enneagram number, even if it’s just for a day, what number would you pick?
Sarah: That is a good question. I don’t know. Honestly, I mean, probably an Eight. I love Eights in my life.
Jen: Me too.
Sarah: I love their energy. I love their assertiveness. I love their strength and power. That just is really, really attractive to me. But also Threes as well. I think especially when you are in a place of leadership or ministry, I yearn for their kind of certainty and ambition and energy.
Jen: Totally. Yes. Yes. You’ve picked two of the high energy, high power numbers. That is so funny.
Sarah: I know. I think it’s because I just feel like that would serve me well. If I could just put it on, especially during big career stuff or whatever else, that would be really great. I don’t know. Yeah, there’s something really, really good about both of those numbers that I would really like.
Jen: I love that. I wanted to be a Seven, because it seems so fun.
Sarah: It does seem super fun.
Jen: But alas, I’m just not fun. I’ve just made my peace with it. “Nope, that’s just not in the cards for me.”
Sarah: Well, you can be fun as long as you’re achieving the most fun ever.
Jen: That’s right. As long as I’m having the most fun, well then…
Sarah: Exactly. Then we’re set.
Jen: Okay. What about the flip side of that question? Which part of your Nine personality do you love most about yourself?
Sarah: I think that there’s a couple things that I really have grown to appreciate, I think, especially given things. I think that empathy, being able to see a lot of people’s sides and really, really see everybody as being made in the image of God is helpful when you’re in ministry. But one of the things that I have grown to really like about myself is that I’m easily pleased, that I almost always can find something to be happy about.
Jen: You can.
Sarah: And that small things bring me a tremendous amount of joy. I don’t need things to be big and shiny. I don’t need life to be anything but ordinary. I can get so much joy. Even just last night, I think I tweeted out, I was like, “The kitchen is clean after a family supper, the kids are on a bike ride, and I have good music on. I’ve never been happier.”
Jen: Oh, that’s so great.
Sarah: Easily pleased is a good way to go through life.
Jen: It sure is! God, we need the Nines in the world. They are so important.
Then, of course, last question, which you love, I love, we love her, we love this question. BBT’s. What’s saving your life right now? It’s a weird moment to ask.
Sarah: I could be super spiritual about this, but I’ll be really honest and say I take a bath every night, and it is…
Jen: Do you?
Sarah: …saving my life right now. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. My kids are home. I’m homeschooling four kids who are quite a bit more extroverted than I am. I have a Seven in the mix. “What’s next? What’s next? What’s next?” So, between school and then trying to work full time around the edges of all of that, it’s taking all my energy to manage everybody’s peace and manage all the things that are happening and all the stuff that is going on. And every night at about 8:30, I go into my bathroom, and I lock the door. I bring in a paperback book, and I take thirty or forty-five minutes of silence.
Jen: Oh, oh, that sounds so dreamy.
Sarah: Then I get up, and then I go off, and do it all again. I was like, “I can keep doing this as long as you all need me to keep doing it. It’s been five months now. I can keep doing this, but I just need my bath.”
Jen: Do you do the whole thing like the salts, the bubbles, the whatever? Do you have a system?
Sarah: All of it. All of it.
Jen: Oh, everything?
Sarah: Throw it all in.
Jen: All the oils?
Sarah: It’s a cauldron of soothing.
Jen: A cauldron. Oh my gosh. What’s the current paperback that you’re taking in with you?
Sarah: I don’t know if anybody else is feeling this, I don’t know if you’re feeling this. But since the pandemic really kind of broke into our lives and kind of decimated everything, I have lost the ability to read anything above a Grade 8 level or hard or anything. I would normally read ten books a week of big, theological things. I cannot do it right now. So, I’ve actually gone back, and I’m revisiting the Inspector Gamache series.
Sarah: Have you read this?
Jen: I know about it. I haven’t read it. Is it delightful?
Sarah: It is saving my life probably just as much as the baths, because there’s about fifteen books in the series. I’ve reread them probably three times. This is probably my fourth time through. Wonderful characters, beautiful setting. Cozy murder? Is that a thing? I don’t know. All the violence happens off the page.
Jen: That’s very a Nine/Eight wing, cozy murder.
Sarah: It is. All the violence off the page. It’s very much like human motivations and relationships, and they eat really well. You just grow to really, really love them. So, yeah, they’re very addictive, and I love these books very much. I’m reading my way through Louise Penny‘s catalog right now.
Jen: Okay. That’s perfect. We’ll link to that.
Okay, sister. Well, you’re my favorite Nine in the whole world, and I have learned so much from you just in a million ways, but definitely just in the way you are in the world. All the beautiful, profound things you say have deeply affected me, as you know. You’re deeply in every bibliography in every book. But just the way that you are, the way that you are amongst your friends and your family and your marriage, the way that you lead, the way that you consider are so incredibly instructive for me.
When I’m trying to channel my best self, I just try to be you. I know. I don’t think that’s good science, but it’s just what I tell myself. Like, “What would Sarah do?” I was just telling Sydney right before I came out here, I’m like, “I’m going to pop in to Sarah.” She’s like, “Oh, mom. Sarah.” I’m like, “I know.” She said, “Mom, when Sarah saw me at Evolving Faith last year, we were leaving. She grabbed me by the hands and kissed my hands and called me beloved child.” I’m like, “Honey, that is Sarah! That is who she is in her core of her heart.”
Sarah: I wish I could pretend to be less earnest and sincere than I am, but I’m just so earnest and sincere!
Jen: I literally said, “Sydney, she is that earnest, and it is meaningful. She means it, and it’s sincere.” She’s like, “Mom, she’s the nicest person.” I’m like, “I know. I know.” Okay. Well, until we meet again. I sure do love you.
Sarah: I love you, too. I’m so grateful for you.
Jen: Me too. Me too. Same.
Jen: And now to tell us more about the music you’ve been listening to in this episode, we hear from composer Ryan O’Neal, AKA Sleeping at Last, about the inspiration behind this piece.
Ryan: As a type Nine myself, I honestly believed that it wouldn’t be very difficult at all to write my own song, and my reasoning was, of course, because every Sleeping At Last song is kind of technically a type Nine song.
And I’m sure you already see this coming, but it ended up being the most difficult song I have ever written—by a lot. My music is sensitive and it’s vulnerable and I overshare and I try to write as personally and honestly as I possibly can. I really thought that it wouldn’t be that much of a challenge to share the inner workings of who I am, because I already do that in so much of my other music. But the problem is, I set a precedent in the start of this project. In writing these nine stories of redemption, I needed to not only just share my own experience, I needed to actually understand what redemption looks like in my life and in me, which, as it turns out, meant that I had to be a level of honest with myself that I have apparently never been in my whole life. And it took months and months and months for me to finally realize that I have ultimately ignored the baggage of my own type. And as I’ve said, I was studying the Enneagram as a typology of only eight types and not nine. The need is to avoid for type Nine. So of course, I did that end. But through the struggle of writing this song, I had these really deeply meaningful revelations about myself and about who I am and who I want to be.
The short version of that story is that I realized that somehow, without meaning to at all, I had turned the volume down on who I am, essentially, since I was a teenager. And I can even trace it back to being about fourteen years old. Because I wrote sensitive songs for so many years, I guess I had assumed that I was very in touch with my emotions and my heart. And writing this song and researching the type Nine and the conversations I had forced me to see that for the sake of safety or just to maybe to keep things simpler or easier, I put my heart in the backseat of my my life, which means for for years I’ve only been giving a portion of myself and my energy to the people I love most.
The turning point for me was realizing that empathy is often talked about as the gift for the type Nine. And for some reason that just didn’t totally feel right. Empathy is a gift of the type Nine, but also Nines need empathy for themselves in order to more wholly express empathy towards others.
That’s essentially the song. It’s by far the most personal song I’ve ever written. And it hurts a little bit to hear it, if I’m being totally honest. But it also serves as a really helpful reminder to myself, to always keep my heart really wide open, which is what I’ve been trying to do ever since writing it.
And my hope for other Nines that here it is that they are also reminded of their redemption stories to try not to self forget, as we so easily do, to find empathy towards ourselves in the same way that we are wired to empathize with others. I hope it honors the softness, but also emboldens the strength of the type Nine.
Jen: And there you have it, one of the greats, one of the greats. She is as good as you want her to be. I’m grateful to my friend Sarah for all she’s taught me, and I’m grateful to you, and I’m thankful for this series. Wah! Oh, why do we have to say goodbye?
Oh, guys, the For the Love Podcast community has shown up in incredible ways for this entire series. My team and I have been super blown away by your response and how many times you have shared this podcast and listened to it and re-listened to it and talked about it. I’m just thrilled. That’s why we’re here. Laura and her team, and Amanda and I, we really just want to put incredible content into your eardrums. That’s it.
So, thank you for your feedback on this series. Thank you for being so highly engaged. Thank you for sharing it and subscribing to the show and reviewing it and rating it. Just all that means so much to the podcast, and it means so much to the team. So, it’s our pleasure and it is our delight to serve you week in and week out. All right?
Next week, we steer into a brand new series. You’ll want to come back. We have been working and planning and planning and working, and we’re excited to kick off a whole brand-new space with you. So, don’t miss it. See you then, guys.