“God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. ”C. S. Lewis, “Four Loves”
Spiritual direction is vital to my spiritual formation. I do not intend this “book” to be a tribute to the practice of spiritual direction. Yet the fact remains: my spiritual journey was continually shaped and guided by the excellent questions asked and keen insights offered by my spiritual director. One of those observations illuminated something that would permanently shift how I think about God and how I understand his relationship with me — a hinge point of my journey.
If we are attentive, we may notice moments that have been called a “shock of grace.” Those shocks come when we are suddenly, unexpectedly, and, often, dramatically made aware of the superabundance of God’s love for us and the lengths he goes to shower us with grace. What happened next in my Pops’ workshop was a “shock of grace’ for me.
Shortly after Jesus spoke to me about the need to be known, the very next day in fact, I was once again with my spiritual director. As our time drew to a close, Danny suggested that perhaps, just maybe, I might eventually find myself among the pieces of wood in the workshop. To this day I do not know if Danny’s insight was natural or God-given. In the end, it doesn’t matter. As soon he made that suggestion, my mind flashed back to that mysterious, nearly incomprehensible “trip” inside a piece of wood with Holy Spirit. Suddenly awareness broke over me on me like a wave: I was the piece of wood Holy Spirit had been smoothing, straightening and correcting from the inside out. I had somehow, for some reason, been shown the work Holy Spirit was doing inside me as he did it. It was hard to comprehend: the vision of Holy Spirit reforming the wood was not a lesson in theology. It was a “hands-on” demonstration of what he was doing in a real person at that time. Even more, it was not some hypothetical “everyman” being transformed. It was me! I had the incomprehensible privilege of witnessing Holy Spirit’s sanctifying action in my life.1
It took me a while to recover from this revelation; I was a bit nervous about what might be coming next. Nonetheless, later that day, I asked Jesus if it was me that he was sanding that very first time I was in Pops’ workshop. Once again we were in Pops’ workshop, and once again Jesus was at work carefully, slowly, lovingly sanding a beautiful piece of wood. He did not answer, except by pausing briefly, blowing the sanding dust off the wood and smiling at me. It was a smile of warmth and compassion, not mirth. I knew at once the answer to my question was “yes, that was me he was sanding.”
As I watched Jesus sanding, a new reality began to sink in. I remembered my first visit to Pops’ workshop and seeing Jesus sanding the block of wood that I now knew was me. His words from that day were again in my ears: “You know, if you want something to be perfect you have to love it.” That piece of wood that had drawn my attention, captivating me with how beautiful it was in his hands, that he lavished loving attention on, that was me. I am the thing that Jesus loves and wants to be perfect! I was undone, sobbing as this reality of God’s love me sank into my soul: I am formed by the father, straightened and aligned by Holy Spirit, and made beautiful by Jesus. It really is me he cares about.
Having walked this journey with me, you may think that I was slow to come to this awareness. I now understand many things about the transformation God was working that I did not know as it was happening. I now that it was all him. My role in his reclamation project was receiver, observer, and chronicler. This transformation was not something I was asking for expecting. My only contribution was to stay in the game. I could have backed away from the process, saying in effect, “never mind, God – you are not what I am looking for.”
The Lord could have dealt with me directly instead of in oblique and mysterious visions. Why didn’t he tell me right off the bat what I had now come to know? On my first visit to Pops’ Workshop he could have said, “David, I want you to know how much I love you. I love you enough to want to perfect you, just as I am perfecting this block of wood, which is you, by the way.” Why make me wait weeks and weeks, groping my way to this pivotal understanding?
One reason is likely because the God who made us understands how we work. We learn better when we discover something, as opposed to having it told to us. Our discoveries are personal and more meaningful to us. In my case, there is another, deeper reason. To explain that reason I’ll have to introduce you to the Enneagram.
The Enneagram is a tool that can help us better understand ourselves and each other. I first encountered the Enneagram as a spiritual direction student. I was immediately suspicious of it. In my long years in corporate America, I had come across Meyer-Briggs, DiSC®, and other personality tests or assessments. They were generally used to either pigeon-hole other people or to excuse one’s shortcomings and bad behavior. “You know Mary,” people would say, “there she goes again, she is such an INTJ!” Or perhaps I would think to myself, “I can’t be expected to work with Sam. I as such a strong D, and he just can’t deal with that.”2
The Enneagram of Personality, as popularly understood today, has a different flavor.3 Yes, you end up with a “label,” a number from one to nine that denotes your “type,” but the emphasis is not on a static understanding of “what you are like.” The emphasis is more on understanding what motivates your behavior and how you can become a spiritually and emotionally healthier person. The classification is just a jumping-off point of self-awareness and opening yourself to God’s grace to heal your inner wounds and help you move forward, becoming the beautiful person you are created to be.
One of the points on the Enneagram where I find myself is the “five,” variously summarized as the investigator, the observer, the thinker or the loner. Generally speaking, people who find affinity as an Enneagram five value and pursue knowledge, the more and the deeper, the better. An average or less healthy five can have a hard time making a decision or taking an action because we know that there is more yet to learn that may be germane to the issues at hand. We can be intensely aware of how much we don’t know.
If, at the beginning of this adventure, God had come right out and said, “David, I love you and want to perfect you,” I would have likely reacted in one of two ways. Most likely, I would have thought, “I already know this. God loves everyone and we are to be perfect as Christ is perfect. It is good to be reminded of that.” I could have let the whole thing end there, accepting a confirmation of knowledge I already possessed.
On the slight chance that the Lord’s declaration of his love for me had ignited a spark, it would have lit a fire of research and investigation, certainly not one of introspection. I might have dived deeply into the various Greek words for “love.” Was it agape love Jesus felt for me? Or perhaps it was philia? What might it mean to be made perfect? I would have perhaps set myself on a word study of “perfection” in the scriptures or I might have researched what Christian theologians and apologists has to say about perfection.
I would have affirmed what I already knew or I would have acquired new knowledge. I would have remained looking outward at the world around me, not inward at the state of my soul. Even if, somehow, the visions had continued to unfold, I would have been a detached observer, like a scientist studying some novel phenomena. I would not have ended up sobbing, overwhelmed by my experience of God’s love for me.
A growth path for Enneagram fives is to get out of our heads and get more in touch with our hearts and emotions. God, the ultimate spiritual director, knew that about me and knew how to pique my curiosity, leading me step by step to where I needed to be. I believe that God approached me with intriguing visions because he knows that I am drawn to solving puzzles and working through something I don’t understand. He kept me “on the hook” with visions for me to work through and wonder about.
Even in my growing awareness of God’s love for me, one nagging doubt persisted. If God wanted me the way he was now shaping me, why did he allow me to become so twisted and bent in the first place?37 The next day, with the understanding that I was the wood that Jesus was making beautiful and I was the wood Holy Spirit still running through my head, I turned again to prayer. My thoughts returned my difficult childhood and my parents. I saw an image of a tree growing in a completely calm environment with rich soil, gentle breezes, and plenty of sunshine. As I thought about that tree, growing in a “perfect” environment with no winds and no stress, I recalled something I had learned years before.
When my children were young, we would take camping trips in the high desert of northern Arizona. On one of those trips, we heard a talk from a naturalist who talked about the twisting growth of the Alligator Juniper, a tree common to that area. They are often seen with twisted or spiral trunks; the twists in the tree’s structure is a response to its growth on windy mountainsides. A tree that grows with a with straight grain is much more likely to break in a strong wind or under a heavy load of snow. The twisted junipers have the internal strength to bend and flex in the wind without breaking. A tree growing in ideal conditions would grow with a straight trunk. Such a tree would not survive should it be subjected to strong winds.
God wasn’t saying that he caused my childhood to be the way it was so that I might be stronger, but he was showing me that in some ways, I was stronger and more resilient as a result of my upbringing and that strength and resilience was something he could use. I still had the challenge of being strong without being hard, but it comforted me to know that even though I was not yet how the Lord intended me to be, he would leverage my strengths.
I already knew, as a matter of fact, that he loved me. I needed to experience it, to live in it, to let it permeate me. Knowing about it was not going to be good enough. This new level of understanding was soon to come, in a matter of a few days.
1I have never understood why I was allowed this grace. Perhaps God, knowing me better than I will ever know myself, knew that it would take a revelation like this to finally get my attention.
2You may rightly claim that is not how these tests and profiles are meant to be used, but in more than thirty years in the corporate world, I never saw a different, healthier pattern.
3 In the years since I first wrote this chapter, I have been introduced to a much healthier and more helpful expression of the enneagram, the Enneagram of Christlike virtues. Whether you are new to the Enneagram or have some experience with the Enneagram of Personality, I encourage you to explore the Enneagram of Christlike Virtues from Mosaic Formation. You will find a holistic, systemic approach that illuminates the nine points of the enneagram as reflections of Christ’s virtues; we are not limited to our “number” but can and should grow in Christlikeness in all aspects of our being and in all nine Christlike virtues.
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2 thoughts on “Workshop Chapter 16: Who Does God Love?”
Love this issue, David! Anytime you start with a CS Lewis quote you’ve got me 🙂 Have you run into Fr. Richard Rorh’s work? He’s big on the Enneagram. Check it out here https://www.amazon.com/Enneagram-Christian-Perspective-Richard-Rohr/dp/0824519507/ref=sr_1_1?hvadid=580750528466&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9033252&hvnetw=g&hvqmt=e&hvrand=11180668559997185435&hvtargid=kwd-10763363777&hydadcr=22569_13493349&keywords=the+enneagram+by+richard+rohr&qid=1683916188&sr=8-1. Thanks!
Thanks, Joe. I have Rohr’s book! Still, I am finding David Wu’s Enneagram of Christlike Virtues to be even more helpful. It takes a “systems” view of how the different points on the enneagram interact and impact each other.