We are only as strong as our foundation. What do you do when you begin to realize your foundation is cracked? My formative years were spent in a church building throughout the 1990s. At one point we were in church services just about every night and we witnessed God do some incredible things. It was unusual, wonderful, powerful and I have always considered myself fortunate to have the experiences I did. Looking back I now can see growing up in the 90s that the church, for all its good qualities also possessed a healthy amount of legalism and judgment. It may have been full of truth, but was lacking in grace.
I am writing now to express some of the things I learned in church that were not only biblically incorrect but also left me feeling hopeless, constantly reaching for what could never be achieved. I want to be clear, not all of what I’m about to write over the next 5 posts were things intentionally taught. I learned them none the less. Perhaps it was the tone in which some truths were presented or maybe it was the way people treated me. Regardless of how I learned these things, there are some things about myself and my faith I have believed for most of my life. This past year has been a painful, gut-wrenching journey in which I have been unlearning the faith of my childhood and discovering faith in Jesus.
How did I get here?
I didn’t set out to pick apart truths that were embedded deep within me. I didn’t set out to question my childhood. I’ve actually never been one to question. As a youth pastor so many times students will ask me questions and I just smile and say, “What a great question. I’ve never thought about it.” However, when you truly set out in pursuit of personal growth, you don’t always get to choose how you grow.
Over the last three years, I have become someone who sincerely desires to learn. I am constantly consuming content, rather it’s books, podcasts, sermons, meaningful conversation. Throughout that process, I came across something called the Enneagram. (in-e-a-gram for those not sure how to pronounce that.)
One artist I greatly appreciate is called Sleeping At Last. Through his music, Ryan O’Neal creates some incredibly moving and thought-provoking songs. As a part of his Atlas project, he decided to create a song for each of the nine types of the Enneagram. I had never heard of this, but I quickly realized it was an examination of nine different personality types. That isn’t something that never interested me in the past, so I wasn’t super excited about the upcoming series of songs. Then he released “One”. The lyrics of this song truly captured me. Something deep inside identified in a way I couldn’t quite explain.
On the Sleeping At Last Podcast, Ryan goes into great details about the songs he creates and reveals the incredible amount of research, thought and genuine art that goes into creating each song. For each of the Enneagram songs, he does something truly special. He invites Chris Heuertz, author of The Sacred Enneagram, to reveal a little about each type and to even offer some wonderful words of encouragement to that type. Listening to his podcast on the song “one” was like an awakening I didn’t quite have words for at the time. I’ve listened to each of the following songs and podcasts with eager anticipation, enjoying learning about the different types.
A friend of mine is a type six and she listened to the podcast on her type and said, “I feel like a stranger knows me deeply, and that is weird, but feels amazing to be understood through his narrative language all at the same time.”
I even bought the book and have enjoyed reading it and learning more about the Enneagram. It was through that journey that I really began to understand myself in a way that I never have before. If you’re not familiar with the Enneagram you need to know two things to understand what affected me so greatly. Each type has a basic need and what is usually referred to as a childhood wound. I’m a type one. The basic need of the type one would is the need to be perfect. I see that innate desire to strive for moral excellence in every part of my life. The childhood wound of the one is something I found particularly interesting.
In the EnneaApp, Lori Ohlson describes it like this: “These children felt heavily criticized, punished, or not good enough. Household rules may have felt inconsistent. As such, they became obsessed with being good/not making mistakes to avoid condemnation. The principle message was: “You must always be better than you are.”
As I read that I thought, this doesn’t sound much like my family or my home life growing up and then I read the last line. “You must always be better than you are.” I may not have felt that way at home, but that was the core message I took away from the church. I never felt like I measured up. I never felt like I was enough. I always felt like I must strive to be better or else I was a failure.
This discovery has crawled into my mind and refuses to loosen its hold. The Enneagram is so important because I’m learning there is this incredible connection between how I view myself and how I view the world. It carries over into how I perceive God, how I think God sees me. I’m learning that if I don’t understand myself, I can’t fully understand God. I can’t understand my relationship with Him. The more I grow in understanding myself, I am looking back and realizing so many things that I learned that are completely wrong. I’m not even just talking about head knowledge, but things I learned in my soul. Things I didn’t even have words for. Things deep within me that have negatively affected my outlook on so much of life. As I learn more about how I relate to He world I find myself unlearning much of my faith. In its place, I am finding a Jesus that is fully life-giving, restorative, healing, freeing and completely full of joy.
I’m not writing to bad mouth the church. I love the church. However, I cannot ignore the faults past and present. It is my hope that as I share how I’m unlearning my faith over the next few weeks that you might be able to relate. Perhaps you will see some of these faults in yourself. Maybe you’ve been hurt by the church and no longer find it a safe place. There is always the chance you will be angry with me for the things I say, that’s ok too. I just hope we can all learn to love Jesus better and just as importantly demonstrate that love to the world He gave His life for.
Look for part two, “Recognition” on Thursday evening and the remaining parts Monday’s and Thursdays throughout May.