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How Does Personality Affect Your Prayer?

How the Enneagram personality types might help your prayer.

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A way of understanding human personality has gained wide popularity in recent years. It is called the Enneagram. Its origins are a subject of debate and some people view the concept suspiciously or dismissively. To others, however, it is a helpful way to describe and understand human personality. 

The “Enneagram” outlines nine personality types that are commonly identified by numbers. Each personality (1-9) is characterized by a dominant strength or virtue and a dominant weakness or vice (which tends to be that person’s default position when under stress). There is much more to it than that, and some enneagram enthusiasts can talk and talk about each type and its “wings” and so on. 

But discovering and understanding your personality can be an aid to prayer. For example, a “1” in enneagram terms is a “reformer”—a person who longs to be good, “right,” or even perfect, but is also tempted to become critical and judgmental. If you’re a “1,” you probably take yourself and your spirituality very seriously. So how does that personality affect your prayer life? You probably tend to have high expectations. You may beat yourself up if you think your prayer life is lacking. So, you may find it helpful to follow the ancient practice of fixed-hour prayer that is explained in such books as Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours. Or you may want to relax your prayer habit, perhaps by taking prayer walks or injecting some form of play (such as coloring or painting) into your prayer life.

If you’ve never taken an enneagram assessment, you may want to start there (this can be done online). If you know your enneagram, however, here is a brief overview of the types, and possible corresponding prayer practices that each type may find beneficial (some because they match a person’s strengths, and others because they counter a person’s weaknesses): 

1.  The Reformer
Strength: Being “good” or perfect
Weakness: Criticism, anger
Prayer Practices: Fixed hour prayer, using prayer books, prayer walks, employing “play” in prayer 

2.  The Helper
Strength: Caring, generous
Weakness: Pride, burnout
Prayer Practices: Solitude, prayer walks, “soaking prayer” (spending time in God’s presence without expectations or demands)

3.  The Achiever
Strength: Success-oriented, rule-following
Weakness: Deceit, concern for appearances
Prayer Practices: Silence, solitude, learning to “be” in prayer (as opposed to accomplishing tasks)

4.  The Individualist
Strength: Sensitive, introspective
Weakness: Envy, melancholy
Prayer Practices: Silence, solitude, journaling, expressions of trust and gratitude

5.  The Investigator
Strength: Learning, thinking
Weakness: Secretiveness, isolation
Prayer Practices: Reading prayer-related books, conversational prayer, praying aloud, praying with others

6.  The Loyalist
Strength: Faith, believing
Weakness: Doubt, indecision
Prayer Practices: Praying affirmations, praying aloud, memorization, prayer journaling 

7.  The Enthusiast
Strength: Wisdom, planning
Weakness: Dissatisfaction, impatience
Prayer Practices: A regular prayer routine, using prayer aids, prayer journaling—especially prayers of praise and gratitude 

8.  The Challenger
Strength: High regard for truth, unafraid of conflict
Weakness: Self-sufficiency
Prayer Practices: Praying affirmations, praying aloud, prayers of submission, trust, and abandonment 

9.  The Peacemaker
Strength: Loving
Weakness: Avoiding conflict
Prayer Practices: Singing, listening to music, praying the Psalms, praying with others 

The above is, of course, an over-simplification, and a case could be made that human personality is so complex that a person should try virtually everything in prayer in order to find a combination that “fits.” I certainly agree with that view. But you may be helped by thinking about how your personality influences your prayer life, and how your prayer life can be enriched by cultivating those practices that take advantage of your personality strengths and counter your weaknesses.

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