The inside cover of the brown NIV Bible is dated June 8, 2004. It must have been a middle-school graduation present. Presented to Matthew Edward Cambridge by Mom and Dad. It was clearly written by my mom, with neat handwriting. Flip a page back, though, and you have a handwritten note from both mom and dad. After a few kind words and a call to find my purpose, dad writes, to borrow from Luke 3:22: You are my son, I love you, and I couldn’t be more happy with you. I love you, Dad.

This past Thanksgiving weekend, I’m sitting in my parent’s living room in Dexter. My mom comes down the stairs and hands me a big, yellow binder. I open it and start scrolling through photos of their wedding and first year of marriage. Hawaii pictures. Wow, my dad looks just like me here. Or, I look like him now. A trip to Houghton Lake. Those glasses are so big and dorky! Wow, you guys were babies.  

No, that’s not what I wanted you to see—this one, this is the one.

She hands me a big white binder. “Baby’s First Year.”

Inside are medical records, photos of my grandparents holding me, and a lot of hand-written notes. Each month has space for descriptions. In months 4-6 I started recognizing my parent’s faces. Within a few months of that, I started to have a mischievous look on my face when I knew I was causing trouble. I was speaking a lot around age one. Can I keep this? Yep, it’s for you. It’s yours.

Since Kendahl started work on her recently completed (!) Master’s in Counseling, we’ve been talking about the Enneagram quite a bit. The Enneagram is a personality assessment featuring nine numbered “types.” For example, Enneagram 1 is The Reformer; these are people who are perfectionists, always trying to improve things. Each type has unique underlying motivations and characteristics that, when you read your type, will knock you out.

It didn’t take long for me to come across a type that piqued some serious interest:

Enneagram 3, The Achiever: Adaptable, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious.

Matt Cambridge, nice to meet you.

There is no personality test that builds you up like a Jenga stack only to rip out the wrong piece faster than the Enneagram. It goes through all these nice words: excelling, adaptable, leader… and then wastes no time getting to image-conscious. Basically it’s saying to me, hey, Matt, you’re super good with people, you achieve a lot, you work well in a variety of social setti—OH AND ALSO YOU ARE SUPER FAKE AND EVERYONE ACTUALLY HATES YOU.

Truthfully, the Enneagram has played a key role in Kendahl’s and my life over the past year. We’ve learned about our types, what our fears and desires are, and, as mentioned, what it looks like when we’re unhealthy. The Enneagram, with its centuries of roots and volumes of interesting supplemental reading, is a unique personality test in that asks us to do some deep inner work and face our “shadow” side. Thus, it took me awhile to get on board. Wait, can we go back to the part where we were talking about my five strengths?!?

I’m a classic Enneagram 3 which, as mentioned, is called “The Achiever.” While this type doesn’t exclusively define me, it does explain a lot of my feelings and behaviors, and it helps me understand a lot about myself. Healthy threes are leaders; they can achieve a lot and inspire others to do the same.

But here’s the thing. (Now that the Jenga stack is complete…)

Threes value success, and they worry so deeply that they’ll be worthless and fall off the face of the earth if they aren’t “successful.” Threes need affirmation so they’ll often do whatever it takes to get it, to achieve the next feat, to garner praise and prove to themselves that they are worth it. Sometimes that means deceit, not being true to who they really are, or people pleasing. It can become easy for threes to lose track of their identity. Alternatively, they begin to define their identity by what they achieve and accomplish. Matt Cambridge, nice to meet you.

I’m driving in to work on a Monday last month—a very normal day, sun coming up, that beautiful red orange streaking across the morning sky. I’m listening to my new favorite podcast, an Enneagram-related show called Typology, hosted by Ian Cron (10/10 would recommend). Cron is talking to his guest, a teacher and pastor, about how we often question our own value and worth so easily. At one point, Cron mentions how much he wants to get up in a pulpit and repeat over and over again, “You have always been with me… and everything I have is yours.”

And all of a sudden, I’m weeping.

I pause the podcast—still haven’t finished it—because I am breaking down, tears escaping my eyes in a way that hasn’t happened in a long time, almost involuntarily. Cron is referencing the story of the Prodigal Son, the son who rejects his father, moves away, and squanders his inheritance, only to be welcomed back with open arms by the father. The older brother in the story is indignant; he’s been “good” this whole time and hasn’t abandoned the family. I’m guessing he has achieved some level of “success” within his family circle and with his father specifically. He can’t believe the father would welcome his ungrateful brother back. He can’t wrap his mind around what’s happening in front of him, which is a clear picture of grace, something that by definition we can’t achieve. The whole scene leads to that beautiful line spoken by the father to the older brother:

You have always been with me. Everything I have is yours.

The story has always meant a lot to me, probably because I am literally an older brother and my younger brother has, in many ways, literally been a Prodigal Son. I probably couldn’t have articulated it in the moment, but I think I’m weeping because I’m a 3 and I’ve become so driven by achievement that I’ve forgotten that I’m beloved not just because of what I achieve. What my dad was trying to tell me when I was fourteen, and what my mom reminded me over Thanksgiving, was exactly what I’ve been longing to understand this whole time, words that were spoken over Jesus before he entered the wilderness in Luke 3, words the father speaks to the older brother who he loves:  

You have always been with me.

Everything I have is yours.

As I turn into work, I wipe away the last few messy tears. I’m feeling a taste of the type of relief that I would imagine comes with a cancer-free diagnosis after years of fighting. I feel ten pounds lighter. I feel free. I’m laughing because I know I’ve just become confronted with a beautiful truth but, simultaneously, my heart needs to change. I’ve learned about grace my whole life, but am experiencing it in a new, undeniable way. With the realization that I’m deeply loved for who I am, I now have the responsibility to let my heart change, to not continually measure my worth by trying to achieve. In the same way that I already adore my daughter so much—she’ll never be able to earn my love or lose it—I needed to be reminded of how radically and deeply I’m cared for and how it has absolutely nothing to do with achievement. This is the deep work that made me hesitant to move toward the Enneagram. Now I’m ready.

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