Beyond the Enneagram
Inner Soul Restoration
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. —1 Peter 5:10
To ask to be healed is an incredibly courageous thing, because we will then be taken into a world that we know not and we will be stretched and challenged to make our living in a new way, not off our pathologies, but from our health. —Parker J. Palmer, as quoted by Catherine Whitmire in
Visualize with me a beautiful handcrafted chair, constructed from the finest wood and assembled with masterful and flawless workmanship. Admire the intricate carvings that adorn the elegant back. Imagine sitting in the comfortable seat shaped into just the right contours. Notice the deep and rich luster of the wood brought out by the soft and smooth finish. Marvel at the splendor of this irreplaceable and priceless work of art, lovingly and carefully created by a master artisan.
Now imagine this chair, years after it was made, in the corner of a dusty and cramped garage, buried under disorderly stuff and seemingly useless to anyone who might find it. The wood is covered over with layers of paint, an arm is dangling loose, another seems to be missing, the leg joints are loose and wobbly, the carvings are indistinguishable, and the wood is etched with deep and damaging grooves.
In order to recapture its initial and authentic beauty, the chair must undergo a rigorous yet gentle process of restoration. A skillful and dedicated woodworker, who imagines and appreciates the original masterpiece and sees beyond the damage and layers of paint, would need to take on the extensive endeavor of reclaiming its former glory. If you’ve ever stripped layers of paint from furniture, you know what this involves: solvent, scraping, sanding, more solvent, more scraping, and more sanding over and over until the paint is removed, the wood is smooth, and the grain shines through again.
Replacing lost parts and reconnecting all the pieces presents a very real challenge. Although the new parts will never exactly replicate the original ones, a careful and adept carpenter can create a close match. Flaws will remain, but they will give the newly restored chair a distinctive look with its own form of beauty and an expression of its unique history. The final coat of penetrating oil or lacquer will preserve and protect the wood and give it a lustrous sheen. At long last, the furniture restorer will stand back and celebrate with satisfaction that the chair once again fulfills its original design as an exquisite one-of-a-kind work of art, beautiful to behold and a comfortable place to rest.
With this image in mind, let’s look at what the complex process of “inner soul restoration” involves and why we need it to more fully experience a centered life with God. Like the metaphorical chair, we’ve each been changed from our original sacred design by the life experiences we’ve encountered and endured. Being restored to our original undamaged condition may seem appealing and desirable—something we long for—but it’s also daunting to think of being sanded, scraped, and repaired. What does it really mean, and what might the work of restoration entail? Although the mystery of soul transformation will always be more than our finite minds and limited experiences can grasp, we can gain some initial insights by taking a look at these three words: Inner. Soul. Restoration.
Inner. The process of true soul renewal takes place in our inner life. It’s not about redecorating the old self or gluing the “seed coat” of the Adapted Self back in place. Managing behaviors and exercising self-discipline are important and may alter some habits and change our ways, but that’s not enough. If our inner life—where memories, wounds, false narratives, and habitual self-protective patterns reside—is not addressed, then long-lasting change is unlikely.
W. Ian Thomas, in his book If I Perish, I Perish
, uses a humorous and striking analogy—attempting to domesticate a pig—in order to explain the futility of trying to change ourselves by altering our outer life without an inward transformation. Thomas uses a phrase that still reverberates in my mind from this hypothetical story: “Pig is pig.” The author invites us to imagine he decides to adopt a pig to prove his belief that pigs have been misjudged and that they wallow in the mud only because of their unsatisfactory environment and insufficient upbringing. He feels that with proper training and attire, a pig can change and develop better character and live a more acceptable life. The pig is dressed in little blue pants, is taught to wipe its feet, learns to sit at the table, and how to sleep between clean sheets. All is going well, and it seems the little pig is converting to a more desirable life, until someone leaves the door open and the pig gets a whiff of the outdoors. It hurries outside. “Reaching the muddiest bog it can find, the little pig plunges in, and after rolling over and over, it lies on its back in the mud, little blue pants and all. With a delightful grin on its face, and with its feet sticking up in the air, it cries at the top of its voice, ‘Home, sweet home.’”
Thomas explains the point of this allegory: “It is absolutely imperative for your own spiritual well-being that you recognize the fact that this old nature will never change its character. All the wickedness of which it is capable today, it will be capable of tomorrow—or for that matter fifty years from now.” Our natural proclivity is to go back to the mudhole when we have the chance. This may sound a bit harsh, but this truth is actually quite a relief. We don’t need to dress up our old self, train it to behave, embark on rigorous self-improvement plans, bury our hurts, deny our shortcomings, and live as if our Adapted Self persona is all we’ve got. True transformation happens not on the outside but in our inner being where the Spirit of Christ dwells, guides, and restores us. Thomas ends his “Pig Is Pig” chapter with these instructive words: “It is only when you are honest enough to face up to these facts, that you will have, on the one hand, a big enough view of what the Lord Jesus came into the world to do for you; and on the other hand, the desire to let Him do it!”
Soul. In my quest to find a good definition of soul, I encountered many different attempts to narrow this mysterious part of us to a simple and clear understanding. One’s soul is generally defined as a composite of one’s mind, will, and emotions. Tilden Edwards, in his book on spiritual direction, was especially helpful because he combines the reality of the human soul with the impossibility of fully comprehending what it is. He opens with this reflection: “Perhaps the greatest paradox of human life is the discovery that what is most substantial about us is most elusive. I am speaking of our deep souls, that essence of our being that transcends but is integrally part of all our visible dimensions of body, will, mind, and feelings.” Further, he says, “For all its fuzziness, the word soul strikes a deep resonance in many people, as though our hearts know what it means, even if our minds can’t fully grasp it.” The topic of the soul gets even trickier when we endeavor to distinguish it from the spirit; I’m not even going to try to do that!
For the purposes of this book, I won’t attempt to explain the soul, but instead offer, as it relates to the subject at hand, this conclusion: Our souls need restoration. Our minds need renewal, our wills need bridling, and our hearts need mending.
Why is this so? Because our souls are damaged, distorted, and disregarded like the handcrafted chair we imagined earlier. Even though our Master Creator fashioned us to live freely and fully as stunning masterpieces, we are in “the corner of the garage” in a variety of ways and in varying degrees. Some of us have suffered great trauma and loss, while others have endured subtle hurts. I don’t need to cite statistics to prove this is true. We know it within us, and we see it all around us. The outward manifestations of our inner soul stories show up in numerous ways, from withdrawal to aggression, from overachieving to underachieving, from resignation to rebellion, from one form of reactivity to another.
None of us are completely destroyed like the chair I described earlier, or we wouldn’t be here. We’ve managed to survive and thrive in many courageous ways, and we’ve experienced love, beauty, joy, hope, and gifts of grace. Each of us can look with gratitude at the goodness of life and the many blessings we’ve known. And we should—gratitude is so vital to our well-being.