I sat in the darkened parking lot while my husband helped the woman and her son load up our van with her belongings. She had showed up a couple of weeks ago in my Sunday school class looking very foreign to Florida culture in her black clothes and European accent. The distress on her face, however, was not foreign to any of us. As she shared her predicament that centered on a love story gone wrong and her quickly approaching eviction with nowhere to go and no way to provide for herself and her son (she did not have a work visa), I felt a nudge inside me say, you can help her! I went home and told my husband about her, and he agreed that we should both meet with her to discuss the next steps. Two days later, we were helping her and her son move into our guest room.
It was supposed to be just for a few weeks until she could find something in a shelter, but we were loath to send her and her 9-year-old son to stay in a shelter. So we just waited and said nothing. Things were great at first—she was grateful and we were happy to help. But, over the months, things started to sour. A large part of it was me, too. Even though we’d had many people stay with us before, this was the longest amount of time so far, and it had no end in sight. I started to feel trapped.
In the morning, my glorious time to be alone when I had three small children, she would get up and be there. When I got home from work, exhausted and wrangling kids, she would be ready to talk to me or tell me something that was wrong that needed to be fixed. I had no place to hide and get my energy back between her and my kids. I felt myself getting angrier and angrier, and I didn’t know why. I hated myself for feeling this way and how un-Christlike it was.
Finally, a conflict erupted between her son and my son (who had not gotten along at all—another stress point), and she decided to leave. I felt guilty to admit it, but I was relieved. When I came home after she had moved her stuff out, I felt the difference in the air of my home. I felt a peace that I hadn’t felt in a long time, but I didn’t understand it. I went over and over in my mind trying to understand why I couldn’t have handled this better.
We didn’t stop hosting people, and I felt varying levels of stress with different individuals who stayed with us. But I couldn’t understand why it was hard except that I was a selfish person. I was angry at myself and felt this character flaw was proof that I was incapable of being like Christ. When we had guests, I would try to hide my discomfort, but it made me seem aloof and cold. I felt like I couldn’t win.
I imagine that I’m not the only Christian who struggles with situations similar to this. We have in our mind an image of what it means to be a believer, and we try very hard to fulfill this. We see examples of generosity in Christian heroes of the past and present and castigate ourselves for not measuring up. While there is nothing wrong with respecting the loving sacrifice of others, I have come to believe there is something unhealthy about holding ourselves to a standard that we might not be designed to meet.
For my job, we were asked to read a book called Strengths Finder. While this is not a Christian book, he makes some great points. One of them is this: “From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to our shortcomings than to our strengths.”
I wondered if maybe I was coming at this issue from the wrong angle. Instead of focusing on all the ways I was doing this wrong, maybe I needed to take a look at how I was designed and focus on the strengths God has given me instead of my inherent weaknesses.
It is here that the book Sacred Enneagram gave me great insight. Immediately, I saw how the Enneagram was different from every personality test I’d ever taken. It felt like the Enneagram took my fears out of the dark places of my heart and brought them out into the light. The result was that I realized I am not the only one who feels this way!!
Christopher L. Heuertz (the author) says, “Learning to see ourselves for who we truly are—the good, the bad, the ugly—is a gift of grace. The Enneagram helps us do just that.” I learned that I am a 5w6 which is titled (in other resources) as the Troubleshooter. Fives tend to be cerebral, often feel overwhelmed by social responsibilities, and have an innate fear of energy depletion. Understanding this about myself helps break the shame cycle I have been living in. It doesn’t mean, however, that I stop being generous. It means, instead, that I play to my strengths and anticipate my weaknesses, not with anger and shame, but with a plan. Most importantly, particularly as a 5, I must create seasons of rest which is both biblical and necessary for me as a person. Generosity is always needed, but so is rest.
A. J. Swoboda in his book Subversive Sabbath comments, “Like sleep, the day of rest comes before the fall. Rest was not a result of the devil’s work. As we were made to eat and breathe and walk, we were made, from the foundations of the world, to rest, or to Sabbath, in God.” Our Christian culture does not really appreciate rest, though it is a commandment. The irony is that with the pandemic, we are forced to rest and we see what a struggle it is for many people. We have idolized the believer who burns themselves out for their faith—not the one who rests in who God is. I never used to allow myself to believe I could rest. I felt I must resist this aspect of my personhood at all costs—to give in was failure. I wasn’t truly giving until I felt burnt out and broken.
Understanding rest and understanding myself has changed my perspective of generosity. I am to give and I am to give generously, but I am also called to give uniquely as myself and from a place of strength and blessing, not exhaustion. I don’t want to use my personality as an excuse to retreat, but I do not think it is healthy to withhold the biblical mandate to rest intentionally and often.
There is freedom now to be in different seasons—seasons of giving and seasons of rest. Understanding that my seasons will also look different from those around me also helps me to stop comparing myself to other believers and helps me release my plans and ideas into God’s hands. I cannot change who I am, but I can allow him to do his work through me as limited as I may be. The focus then is who he is instead of myself and my weaknesses.
Photo by Stacey Gabrielle Koenit