Part 4: Self-Knowledge and Self-Examination
Editors note: During the launch of the fall ministry season, we offer you part 4 of our eReflections series encouraging you to establish spiritual rhythms that will strengthen the soul of your leadership. Click on the link to read part 1, part 2, and part 3 of this series.
“A leader is a person who must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside his or her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good.”
A natural outcome of time spent in the safety of God’s presence is that we come home to ourselves in God’s presence. We are able to engage in a rhythm of celebrating the goodness of ourselves as God has created us as well as inviting him to show us those places where we are still living in bondage to sin and negative patterns.
One of the most significant outcomes of Moses’ forty years in the wilderness was his ability to settle down, to name himself more truly in God’s presence and to allow God to release him from old patterns so that his leadership could be a force for good in the world. In a remarkable journey of transformation, Moses’ ability to name the unresolved inner dynamics that had shaped him (“I have been an alien in a foreign land”) created space for God’s transforming work in his life.
After sinning spectacularly, he settled into a more solitary existence far outside the public view and began to change—from being an angry young man who gave in to murderous rages to being a leader who could work for justice in ways that were truly helpful. He started small—coming to the defense of some shepherd girls who were being threatened by unruly shepherds—but this time he was able to help without killing anyone. A real improvement any way you look at it! Eventually, he was ready to be entrusted with God’s ultimate calling upon his life.
Search me, O God, and Know My Heart
Without the regular experience of being received and loved by God in solitude and silence and experiencing the deep rest of God that is available to us in that place, we are vulnerable to a kind of leadership that is driven by profound emptiness we are seeking to fill through performance, achievement, and powering up on our world. This unconscious striving is very dangerous for us and for those around us; it will eventually burn us out since there is no amount of achievement that will ultimately satisfy the emptiness of the human soul. And the people we work with will eventually notice that they are mere cogs in the wheel of our own ego-driven plans.
It takes profound willingness to invite God to search us and know us at the deepest levels of our being, allowing him to show us the difference between the driven-ness of the false self and the deeper calling to lead from our authentic self in God. There is an elemental chaos that gets stirred up when we have been in God’s presence enough that we have allowed pretense and performance and every other thing that has bolstered our sense of self to fall away. In solitude we are stripped of our external distractions and we inevitably become aware of false patterns of thinking and being and doing that have lurked unnoticed under the surface busyness of our lives.
We may even begin to see how these patterns have mis-shaped our leadership. Perhaps we glimpse an ego-driven self that is bent on control and image management. Perhaps we see an empty self that is hungry to fill itself with the approval of others. Perhaps we glimpse a broken self, desperately seeking to preserve the illusion that we have it all together. Or maybe we see a wounded self that has spent untold energy seeking healing where healing cannot be found.
When I Want to Do Good
All of us have a shadow side to our leadership. We start out with a desire to do good things and to make a difference but as Paul confesses, “When I want to do good, evil is close at hand.” (Romans 7:21) Our personal insecurities, our anger, our feelings of inferiority, our need for approval and applause—which can actually work for us early on—are often the very same issues that can precipitate our failure if left unattended. The raw gift of leadership might be there (as it certainly was for Moses) along with a strong sense of what’s right and what we think needs to be done in this world. But it cannot be a force for good if it is not being refined by the rigors of self-examination in which we invite God to search us and know us, to help us to know ourselves and to lead us in a more life-giving way.
Psalm 139 describes a healthy rhythm of self-knowledge and self-examination that is essential for our lives in leadership. Self-knowledge begins with waking up to the presence of God and the truth that we are forever secure in God’s love. It rests on the foundation of being utterly convinced that there is nothing we can do that can cause us to fall out of that love. (Vs. 1-12)
Healthy self-examination includes the ability to receive and celebrate the goodness of who we are as created beings. (Vs. 13-18) This includes the ability to celebrate the uniqueness of our bodies, our personalities, the configuration of our soul and its unique way of relating to God and the world, our heritage, our background, and all of the experiences that make us who we are. This kind of acceptance and celebration is not as easy as it sounds and some of us have significant work to do in learning how to celebrate the goodness of our created selves as the Psalmist does here!
The culmination of a healthy self-examination process is to bring our whole selves to God—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and to invite God to go with us in the search to “see if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Vs. 19-24)
Leading from Your Authentic Self
It is impossible to overstate how dangerous we as leaders can be when we have not established a rhythm of self-knowledge and self-examination—regular moments when we invite the healing love of God to expose that which is good and that which is false within us, allowing God to touch us in the unexamined, broken places of our hearts and lives.
The journey beyond our false-self patterns to living and leading from our authentic self in God is a harrowing one that is paved with truth-seeing and truth-telling. But it is eminently worth it because the truth will ultimately set us free to lead from our authentic self, compelled by the truer motivations that God placed within us before the foundation of the earth.
©Ruth Haley Barton, 2011. Not to be used without permission.
In the context of leadership, how do you respond to Paul’s statement, “When I want to do good, evil is close at hand”? How have you experienced self-examination as an essential practice for your life in leadership?Discuss