by Suzanne Stabile
Sophia is the Greek word for Wisdom, and Propel Sophia seeks out the voices of truly wise women and asks them to share worked examples of how they express faith in daily life. Pull up a chair at Sophia’s table, won’t you? There’s plenty of space.
My husband Joe and I take time for a spiritual retreat at least once a year. We choose a place that will be both quiet and comfortable. We hope for good weather, good food, and few distractions. And Joe always has a plan for our time away that will serve as a guide for our spiritual quest for the coming year. One year, we had a limited amount of time, so Joe planned for us to stay at a retreat house in San Antonio..
It’s about a five-hour drive from Dallas to San Antonio and we didn’t need to be there until late afternoon so we could settle in before dinner. Joe thought it would be a good idea for us to prepare for the retreat by listening while we were traveling to some recordings of Father Richard Rohr talking about the spiritual practice of simplicity—which was the theme for our time away—and I agreed.
Joe punched the button to start the cassette (remember those?) but I stopped it and said, “Hey, before we get started, would it be okay with you if we stop at one of the outlet malls on the way?” He wasn’t excited about the idea, but he said, “I guess so. Why? Do we need something?”
And then I said, “Well, I’d like to go to one of the kitchen stores to look for a new toaster.”
“I like our toaster. Why do we need a new one?”
“I’d like to have one of those new, wide-mouth toasters.”
“Mostly for bagels. We can’t toast bagels in ours, but we’ll be able to if we get one of the new ones.”
“We don’t eat bagels.”
“That’s because we don’t have a wide-mouth toaster!”
Joe, being the peace-loving Enneagram Nine that he is, quickly merged with my agenda and agreed. He started the cassette again and I took a few notes as we listened. Richard was saying things such as, “We are a people who don’t seem to be able to even understand, much less be capable of, spiritual surrender.” He talked about our preference for a spirituality of “holding on” and “taking” as opposed to “letting go” and “surrender.”
As we approached the outlet mall, Joe took the exit, and we found a parking place right in front. Joe paused the cassette and we headed in to look for the toaster.
We found the toaster almost immediately. They had one that had a special button for toasting bagels. I looked around a bit to see if there was anything else we might need for our kitchen. Aware that Joe was more than ready to leave, I quickly chose two new potholders—who doesn’t need to replace potholders?—and put them on the counter. He finished the transaction, and we headed to the car.
I was chatting about bagels and cream cheese and potholders as we left the parking lot, and just as we turned to get on the highway, Joe punched play on the cassette. With God as my witness, Richard Rohr said, “It’s just like all those people who think they have to go out and buy a wide-mouthed toaster. . .”
Joe turned and looked at me, his face covered with an expression of both satisfaction and justification. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t have to. In that moment, and now as I write this, I’m aware that at times I am still grasping and needy, and honestly, I think I always will be.
Letting go is really hard.
There is a big difference between change and transformation. Change is when we take on something new. Transformation occurs when something old falls away, usually beyond our control.
I’ve gone on retreats and returned saying I’ve changed. I’ve read books that “changed my life.” After a good movie I’ve declared to Joe that “I will never be the same.” I’ve heard sermons, listened to podcasts, taken classes, and read good articles in magazines that I then subscribed to, declaring that each one had changed me along the way. Maybe they did. But change is not transformation. The wisdom teachers I respect insist that all great spirituality is about letting go.
And I believe that. And yet I find that I am inclined to add things to my life as part of my commitment of learning to let go. It sounds ridiculous, but I’d bet you might have done the same thing. The great challenge in seeking transformation is that we have no control over when transformative opportunities will come our way.
So, in seeking wholeness, we need to be aware and willing and open to allowing something new to happen. And we need to resist the temptation to believe we won’t have to give up anything. We don’t much like that. In fact, many of us are caught in the frenzy of our time and our culture, so we continue to add more and move faster and faster, looking for the kind of peace that we’ve heard about, the peace that surpasses our understanding.
Every day, sometimes many times, I have to ask myself, “Suzanne, what are you willing to give up for transformation?” so that I can answer the hallmark questions for my life: What is mine to do? Jesus asks all his disciples what we’re willing to give up to follow him (Matthew 16:24), even though he knows the specifics of that ask will be personal to each of us, just as they were for Peter and John (John 21:15-23.)
Transformation is a lifetime process, a process of letting go and staying with the inner work. I feel very fortunate to have found the Enneagram as a companion on this journey toward wholeness: For me, the journey continues.
Suzanne Stabile is a highly sought-after speaker, teacher, and internationally recognized Enneagram master teacher who has taught thousands of people over the last thirty years. She is the author of The Journey Toward Wholeness (from which this article is adapted), The Path Between Us, and coauthor, with Ian Morgan Cron, of The Road Back to You. She is also the creator and host of The Enneagram Journey podcast.