In my last post we began examining a rather thorny leadership Catch-22: If we don’t know ourselves well we can’t lead ourselves effectively, and once that happens our influence begins to diminish. Simple enough you might say. But here’s the problem; the tendencies that undermine our influence the most are like broccoli in our teeth – everyone else can see them except us.
In other words, most of us lack the self-awareness required to see the broccoli and do something constructive about removing it. We simply don’t know what it’s like to be on the other side of us. I illustrated this problem by telling the story of my unhappy first two years of college and how I finally took a good look in the mirror while studying abroad in England and took action.
What did I finally figure out as a 20-year old that eluded me for over 2 years? Well, a few things actually:
When it’s everyone, it’s you. I was attending my fourth college in 4 consecutive semesters. (Yes, you read that correctly.) And, I was still very unhappy. About a month into my time in England the realization dawned upon me (by God’s grace) that if I am still discontent in spite of all the changes I had made, maybe the problem is with me. Bingo! I was finally ready to learn something.
A mirror is required. Without objective feedback I was doomed to keep repeating the same patterns that were undermining my contentment and influence. I needed a fresh perspective. I needed to see things as they really were. I somehow needed to move beyond blame shifting and the critical spirit that was masking a deep insecurity. And for me, this came through spiritual renewal as I simply cried out to God in brokenness, humility, and a growing sense of desperation. I had nowhere else to go. As I began spending a lot of time reading my Bible, talking with him about everything, and journalling (which was key) I heard his voice. God said to me: “You are my son. I love you. I am already pleased with you.”
That was the turning point. God was already pleased with me! In spite of the mess I had made of my life in college God loved me just as I was. It was like hearing the Gospel again for the fist time. And through that good news I caught a glimpse of who I was in Christ – accepted and loved. And so, the Gospel became a lens I looked through to see the real me. With my new identity in view I was then able to look into the mirror of my current reality and own up to all of my short comings without fear of condemnation. I was set free.
Grace received emboldens us to accept the truth. What prevents us from looking in the mirror of our current reality and owning our stuff? Fear. Self-preservation. Shame. “What if I’m not good enough? What if I don’t have what it takes? What if no one will love the real me?” These questions haunt us, bully us into submission, and keep our true identities at bay and in the shadows. Such was my experience.
It was a hopeless situation apart from God’s grace, which meant my situation was hopeful! Because God’s grace had already reached me, even before I boarded that plane for London. Two months prior Sandi and I began dating again after an 18-month separation. And if Sandi Burgess – the girl I fell in love with as a freshman in high school, the person who personified for me the best and highest of Christian virtue, the beautiful young woman who still loved me after all we’d been through – if she saw value and potential in me then I could, too. God’s grace flows through relationships. Through my relationship with Sandi I found the courage to face the doubts that haunted me with more faith than fear. And just when I needed it most, God confirmed that grace through my new friends in London. Andy, Duncan, Anna and Sue were fresh expressions of God’s grace pouring encouragement and confidence into my soul.
John 1 tells us that Jesus came “full of grace and truth”. By engaging with the grace of God we come to understand at the deepest level that we are loved and accepted unconditionally because of Christ. Romans 5:8 shouts “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” By engaging with the truth of God we come to understand that he loves us too much to leave us where he found us. His purpose is to transform our character and actions (inside and out) into the very image of Christ – the perfect one. This comes through a process (painful at times) of repentance, faith, abiding, mentoring, and community. As this process (also known as sanctification) takes shape in our lives and relationships we discover that we are no longer the same person living for the same things. We become, in every respect, a new creation.
So, that is how looking in the mirror (infused with God’s grace and truth) played out for me 31 years ago. But what about now? At 51 I find myself at another crossroads. The kids are all off to college, after leaving my ministry role in Michigan 5 years ago I have been on a professional roller coaster, and I am in a wrestling match with God over my calling as it relates to the local church. Once again I need to hear his voice, look in the mirror, and walk toward the best expression of my true identity.
In my next post I will explain how learning about your APEST and personality wiring can help you connect the dots for vocational and ministry calling. Whether you’re in college trying to figure it out for the first time, or you are an empty nester trying to figure it out for the next season, the same principle holds: if you know yourself, you can lead yourself.
If you want to get a jump on connecting the dots right away, I highly recommend reading 5 Voices by Jeremie Kubicek and Steve Cockram.