The Way The World Works: A Brief Introduction

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Yesterday I pulled into my driveway and suddenly I “came to.” Sitting in my car, the question suddenly occurred to me: What have I been doing? Where did I go while my body was driving this car? I had just zoned out for almost the entirety of my twenty-minute commute, but something inside of me was deciding what speed to drive, when to accelerate and when to stop and how to navigate traffic. Experiences like this make me wonder if we are all just sleepwalking through life. I feel like I am awake, but then I have these driveway moments. Surely I’m not the only one.

The Hebrew and Christian traditions both speak of people trapped in a lack of awareness. The Psalmist describes those trapped in idolatry as people who “have mouths, but they cannot speak; eyes but they cannot see” (115:5). The Hebrew prophets also pick up on this theme, regularly describing ears and eyes as under-functioning. Isaiah talks about a “deceived heart that turns us aside” (44:20). Jesus also believed those who heard his parables saw, but did not see, heard but did not hear (Mat. 13:13).

While we are paying attention to things on the outside, our sleepwalking is happening on the inside. We tend to focus on the external demands of life—paying bills, running errands, keeping up with relationships, responsibilities and work. Meanwhile there is a story inside each of us, and unbeknownst to us, it is silently directing and often sabotaging our outer life.

The Lie

We come by these inner stories honestly. As children, we develop our best guess at how the world works, based on our limited and often painful experiences. We are just trying to make sense of things so we can get by in this life. We are all loved imperfectly, even by the best of caretakers. When our needs are not met, we begin to lose our fundamental trust that the world is a place that will take care of us.

For example, Sam is a seven-year-old girl waiting at the curbside of her primary school. Her dad is late picking her up. While waiting for her father, she is left alone with her thoughts. She regrets needing to be picked up in the first place. She feels selfish for having needs at all. She wonders what she could have done to avoid being forgotten. Regardless of her father’s deep love for her, she feels abandoned. She thinks to herself, From now on I’ll be so caring and giving that dad won’t forget me again. She decides to be more helpful at home. She sets aside her own needs and forgets she is worthy of love regardless of her ability to care and serve. Ultimately, she has forgotten what the Father said to the Son at his baptism—“you are my beloved child”— is also true of her.[i]

Sam has unwittingly attempted to rewrite the laws of the universe. While the true nature of the universe is hidden safely in a powerful and loving God, as far as the children can tell they have succeeded. She has constructed an arbitrary world so compelling it might as well be true.

Sadly, we are like Sam. We have adopted a less than generous vision of how the world works based on our perceived absence of God’s love. A deceived heart has turned us aside (Isaiah 44:20). Your personal story is different, but it’s also the same. Our stories are parallel, with parallel pain and a parallel strategies for (1) securing love, (2) safety, (3) and maintaining control in our lives.[ii]

We all have developed an Enneagram number—a false salvation strategy seeking to mend our wound, borne of a lie about how the world works. We attempt to secure love, create safety, and maintain control in a variety of unhealthful ways. It will always be like this until our reunion with God. Until then we can prepare for that beautiful day by exposing the lie inside, immersing ourselves in a new story that captures our imagination and connects with our experience. Our transformed emotional experience of reality will compel our new actions through our mended hearts. This new series entitled, “The Way The World Works” will explore each Enneagram Type in an effort to name the secret. These articles are about discovering the misleading story inside each of us and exploring the invitation in Scripture to be transformed by the healing message of Jesus Christ.

[i]Henri Nouwen Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1992).

[ii]Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love: The Way of Christian Contemplation (London: Continuum, 2012).