I thought I was destined to be forever shy—the one silent in most conversations, the one who avoided eye contact, the one whose comparisons always showed that I was the one lacking.
Yet today I let my Peacemaker Enneagram 9 personality show me where I need to grow, not prevent me from showing up.
Our home and yard have become one of the hubs in our neighborhood. I seek out rather than avoid friendships with my neighbors. We prioritize playing out in our front yard because it’s so much easier to meet our neighbors when we are visible. Conversation initiator, welcoming host, missional community leader—in my wildest dreams as I kid, I never thought I would be that neighbor.
Not only could I not foresee that the me who once wanted to change my name to give myself a boost of confidence would find investing in relationships so life-giving, I could not foresee the factors that shaped the person, and thus the neighbor, that I have become.
It’s easier to see the path traversed when we look backwards, is it not? The road not yet traveled seems allusive, but the footsteps we leave behind imprint the way we walked ahead. I sincerely hope that in disclosing some of the key places my feet have trod, I can make the way forward a little easier for someone else.
I know what it feels like to be paralyzed in fear. I was afraid of so much as a child—mainly of talking, doing anything that would draw attention to myself, and all that was daring and adventurous. I was inclined to play it safe, blend in, mind my own business. And losing myself in the thrill of adventure capsulated between the covers of a book was safer than showing up to the adventure my own life offered me. I would later uncover that I am a 9 on the Enneagram and certainly not alone in being asleep to my own life and dreams.
I would unearth something about Enneagram 9s too that would prove immensely freeing: inertia. Inertia is a theory we likely all learned in science that states that an object in motion tends to remain in motion and an object that is stationary tends to remain unmoved. This couldn’t be truer of me, truer of the way that I am all in for nearly anything I have ever started.
Yet in order to employ the positive side of inertia, I need to move despite my fear of starting. The starting is the hardest for me, and perhaps you can relate. As Emily P. Freeman gently urges in The Next Right Thing, “I accept my role as a beginner.” It takes humility to face the starting line of a race you’ve never run before—but I can never finish what I choose to not start. Simply starting is beyond crucial to not staying motionless and stagnant.
So I begin small; I take baby steps. I linger when I check the mail. I raise my gaze and look for who to acknowledge rather than avoid. I don’t close the garage door until after I have unloaded the car. And then ideas for what I can as easily do out in the front yard begin to surface: picnic a lunch in the front yard, apply my six-year-old’s dance make-up on the front step, jump in raked leaves, bring Kidz Bop outside via a Bluetooth speaker.
The baby steps begin to snowball, and then there are impromptu gatherings in the driveway, kids running back and forth to each other’s houses, connections formed through helping each other with projects, missing ingredients and tools readily shared, and a neighborhood-focused missional community many can walk to when we gather.
The overwhelm of starting, for me, stems from thinking that I need to bridge the gap from where I am today to where I want to land in one swift motion. As I survey the steps behind me, though, what I find is baby steps, one right after another, inching me ever closer to the direction I wish to go. Each baby step makes the next one just a little easier to take.
This too I’ve discovered: the repetition of choosing to baby step forward no matter the pace naturally cultivates a habit. When I form a habit of valuing the people around me more than my own comfort zone, the starting line cannot continue to paralyze me. The key to delating my hesitation in starting is to keep moving once I begin so the starting line stays behind me.
Another lesson I see my footsteps have visited is tuning my ears to listen to the whispered words of the One who alone has the authority to define me. Yet this is not a single place on my path but one that dots the entire landscape behind me.
The answer to my fear? Knowing that “the Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in [me]” (Romans 8:11, NLT). The answer to my tendency to side-step being open and vulnerable? Knowing that the work that Christ is doing in me is not meant for me alone but to help others help others help others love Him and love people better. The answer to wanting my house to look Pinterest-perfect before I welcome neighbors in through my front door? Knowing that what people think or even say about me can never annul what God says about me.
In the same vein, when I look to God to find my identity, I stop seeing what I do as a way to earn my value. I don’t lean into doing life with my neighbors throughout the week to earn God’s approval. I don’t see a lifestyle of organic discipleship as something that raises my value in God’s eyes, but as the outflow of who I am—part of God’s family of disciple-making-disciples. How freeing to know that who I am determines what I do, not the other way around!
Not surprisingly, when I deeply understand how my identity is in what Christ says of me, I find it more natural to notice and value the others around me. In the busyness and the noise, the words that matter most become less distinct, more easily forgotten. But when I am willing to slow down and listen, He reminds me that I am beloved, and so is each and every person in my neighborhood.
Learning about the Enneagram, too, has been part of my journey. I am grateful for the way it has grown my ability to see the value different personalities in our neighborhood bring as we learn to do life together.
The Enneagram augments what I already know from Scripture—that His love is relentless and pursues each of us. It reminds me that we all have something beautiful to bring to the table—that the community we form when we come together is far richer than if we gathered only with those who saw the world the same.
Fellow sojourner, thank you for walking this winding road with me. My hope and prayer is that you will find a new layer of freedom in listening long to one and only Voice who can truly tell you who you are. May your baby steps be blessed as you too press on and in to becoming the neighbor you never thought you would be.