Tag Archives: self awareness

you have a theology problem.

Puzzle from Flickr via Wylio
© 2008 Andreanna Moya Photography, Flickr | CC-BY | via Wylio

“You have a theology problem.”

A trusted woman in my life told me that the other day.  (And by trusted woman I mean my counselor whose qualifications for saying such a thing to me are found in the string of abbreviations that represent her many professional degrees in these matters!) I cringed, but couldn’t exactly protest.  I was asking all these questions of her, looking for wisdom and counsel and frankly, some answers!  What I got instead was, “You have a theology problem.  You need to go work that out!”  Not what I was looking for.  In fact, I’m quite certain I left the conversation with more problems than what came in the door with me!

It seems that what I believe to be true for you, friend, is not what I actually believe to be true for me.  I carry around two different theologies.  One for you and another for me. Can you relate?

What I believe for the world and for you is like this:

I believe that God is good and beautiful.

I believe that you are loved and worthy of love simply because you exist.

I believe that God is first and foremost a Father;  a perfect, loving Dad who desperately wants good things for you.

I believe that the kindness of the Lord is the only thing that leads to repentance.

I believe that you are free.

I believe that for you.

I do not believe that for me.

I “know”rationally that these truths apply to me.  As it turns out, the problem is that I, along with the rest of the human population, am made up of more than just reason and logic.  (I know, I know- it was surprising for me to learn, too!) So things start to really break down for me when I’m challenged to push beyond what I know and consider what it is that I truly believe.  It’s a full on meltdown for me then when what I think in my head contradicts what I believe in my heart (or spirit or gut- let’s be honest, those are pretty tough to distinguish between).  Apparently I am not a fan of said meltdowns (can you blame me?!) so I’ve just learned to avoid them largely by ignoring my heart.  Things are tidier and more stable for everyone that way. At least that’s what I tell myself.

People are sophisticated and strong creatures– we can hold a massive amount of tension for a while.  We can subdivide ourselves.  (Some of us can do that more efficiently than others.)  We can decide what parts of us have a higher moral value, what parts of us are more socially acceptable, what pieces are “stronger” or more important or appealing about us.  For me, those rational and reasonable parts are what I offer to the world, the parts I invest in and care for and like the best about myself.  All the other pieces in there I’ve labeled as weak, intemperate, fickle, and untrustworthy.

What I have been learning the slow, long, hard way is that God made us to be whole.  He made all the parts and all the parts are needed to make me whole.

There are no spare or inconsequential parts in me.

There are no spare or inconsequential parts in you.

The painstaking process of reconciling my “theology problem” involves me being willing to hold onto all the puzzle pieces; not throwing out or dismissing half of them just because I can’t figure out where they fit right now.

It looks like carving out space in an already impossibly full day to dig deep; to find a way to name the hard things; to gently call out the fragile things hidden away.

It means confessing my unbelief to the Lord over and over and over again. It requires me writing with ink on paper what’s in my heart.  Sometimes it helps to think of someone I love and what I would say to them if the unbeliefs I hold were coming out of their mouth and not mine.  What would I want them to know?  How would I pray?  How could I bless them and deposit tender truths in their heart?

Those are the things I have to do in solitude.  But then I am reminded of Dietrich Bonhoeffer writing:

“The Christ in their own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians. Their own hearts are uncertain; those of their brothers and sisters are sure. At the same time, this also clarifies that the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

This means I cannot fix my little “theology problem” alone.  It becomes a group project, a team sport.  The Lord mercifully recruited bringers of the message of salvation for me.  He gives me a trustworthy counselor, who I affectionately refer to as my very own black hole.  Let me tell you that there is something holy about saying whatever you need to say to someone who is trained to suspend judgement and who is bound by law to keep your confidence.  She’s an amazing bringer.  Then there are the handful of friends and family who still manage to take my calls and want to spend time with me, even though it must feel like watching a dog chase its tail for hours on end to listen to me process all of this.

Lastly, I know deep down that banishing my unbelief will mean taking some hard and scary steps in my “everyday, ordinary life—my sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life” as Eugene Peterson puts it.  Honestly, I don’t know what all those will be yet.  I imagine many of them will be small and awkward- the kinds of things you think surely wouldn’t be so insignificant if they were really from God, but so hard to talk yourself into doing that they must be from God.  You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?!

There will be big steps, too, I’m sure- “Peter steps” is what I’ll call those.  Because while I know it was by faith that Peter believed and earnestly wanted Jesus to call him out of the boat, the miracle we all talk about is the guy actually walking on the water, not simply him wanting to do so from inside the boat.

I guess the best way to say it is that I don’t know how much you can believe, or how much unbelief you can exorcise, from inside the boat.  That’s the terrifying truth.  It’s terrifying though in the way that really trusting God is always terrifying…and life-changing.

Knowing just isn’t enough for me anymore.  It isn’t all that I need, it isn’t all that I am inside.  I need to believe, in every sense of the word, that Jesus is for and with me in all the ways that I deeply believe that he is for and with you.  I need to be free from the weight of lugging around two different theologies everywhere I go.  I just need one really good one in which Jesus is more than enough for every part of each and every one of us.

 

 

 

 

 

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Choosing My Own Adventure

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

My husband and I recently attended a parenting class hosted at Renovatus based on the popular book Loving Our Kids on Purpose by Danny Silk.  The second week of class revolutionized my life.  It was literally mind blowing to me.  In the lesson Silk declares that we’ve all bought into the great lie that we can be controlled and that others can control us.  The longer I thought on this, the more apparent it became that I have swallowed that belief hook line and sinker.  And while the point he was making was largely confined to how we raise our children, I knew this was far bigger for me than my 2 & 4 year old.

I grew up an Army brat.  My father grew up an Army brat.  My grandfather, my father, my uncle and my cousin all graduated from the United States Military Academy.  My grandparents were married there and are buried there.  Heredity has bred in me a profound respect (dare I say fear?) for authority and a serious understanding of the value in a chain of command.  To this day my father could put his hand on his hip and point his finger at me and I feel certain he could reduce me to tears without even raising his voice!  My sister and I were never spanked because the threat of my mother telling my father on us was enough to correct almost any disobedience on our part!  Ironically, neither of my parents are particularly controlling people.  They are not manipulative or coercive or overbearing.  However, respect and obedience were core values in our home and were taken very seriously.

Now let’s take a moment to couple my upbringing with my temperament.  I am a rule follower and a people pleaser.  I like (dare I say need?) for everyone to get along and to feel cared for.  I am easily influenced by a compelling argument or an impassioned case.  While rational and reasonable, I am not overly trusting;  yet I can be manipulated  by authority or strong personalities.  I presume they must know what they are talking about in order to be so dramatic or insistent!  And in this way, I can live a lot of my life at mercy of others with their intense feelings, opinions, and pseudo-authority.

Subconsciously, my primary life goals then and now have been to avoid making mistakes, to keep the rules, and to make the people happy.  THIS IS NO WAY TO LIVE!  Don’t get me wrong- these are decent objectives.  They just aren’t compelling or healthy life goals!  There is no adventure, no real freedom nor sense of self in those pursuits.

Realizing that day in class that no one could control me honestly felt utterly scandalous.  I’m sure I have understood that logically in the past, but never in such a way that made me feel liberated to take ownership for my thoughts, feelings, and choices.  Historically those things have always been incredibly contingent on others.  And if I’m being really honest, not living so contingently on others feels selfish when I do it, though it sounds healthy & right when I see others do it!

These days I’m putting a lot more effort into acknowledging myself and owning my thoughts.  I have a voice.  And it’s just as valid as the overly dramatic person’s or the overly confident person’s.  I am in control of what can offend me.  I can choose what I like even if no one else likes it.  I get to decide how to respond in any given situation.  Much like the books we read as children, I really can choose my own adventures in many ways.  I can do all of that and be a loving wife and mother and friend and leader.  It is possible and IT IS GOOD FOR ME.

These are new muscles I’m learning to flex.  I’m grateful for the people around me who won’t let my sense of self atrophy– the people who know when I’m deferring when I shouldn’t be, the ones who know to ask me the questions sometimes as I’d much prefer to hide behind asking all the questions of you instead.  Without them I’d surely give myself away to following the rules and avoiding mistakes and trying to make the world happy.  Instead, I think I’ll flip to page 52 and see what adventures I can get into.

Recovering People Pleaser

Hi. My name is Tracey and I’m a people pleaser.

I don’t need everyone to like me, I just need everyone to be alright.

I don’t need to be popular or at the center of a conversation, I just need everyone to keep the peace and get along.

I want people to be well and free.  I want to be well and free!

The difficulty with being a recovering people pleaser is that there is some rightness wrapped up in there that can’t be altogether abandoned.  There is some good that comes with wanting people to be well.

However, what I know is that the desire for wanting everyone to be alright can become an idol.  I (all too willingly) sacrifice my own emotional health and the health & development of others on its altars in the name of keeping the peace.

The irony of worshipping this idol is that I also know (all too well) that just because there is no commotion, no crap hitting the fan, doesn’t mean everything and everyone is alright!

Furthermore, I’m coming to see the value in the tension, in the conflict, in the disruption.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t like it at all.  I’d rather avoid the awkward conversation or swerve to miss the punch to the gut.  BUT I recognize that there’s a lot of learning and growing that happens in the confrontation and the disruptions.  No one chooses to have their plans hijacked or their lives thrown into a tailspin.  But for better or for worse, we learn by doing.  And if I have any hope of learning and growing in any capacity in my life, I’ve got to be okay with people not being pleased sometimes.

Unsurprisingly, I’ve landed a job that is THE crucible for me and my people pleasing ways.  When you are a leader of leaders, next to never is everyone alright.  Next to never is everyone keeping the peace.  There is always a conflict to manage.  There is always a sensitive relationship to be mindful of.  (Being an executive pastor is practically People Pleasing Rehab for me!)

People pleasing can dress itself up like compassion.  It also does a pretty good peacemaker impression.

But at the end of the day, our motivation tells us the truth of the matter.  Am I avoiding the hard, but right thing?  What could be gained by letting this conflict play out?  What’s really at stake here?

I don’t want to miss the opportunity to invest in someone because it’s easier or more comfortable not to.  I don’t want to hinder ministry and discipleship in order to keep the (faux) peace.

I don’t want to worship a god who keeps me as anxious as a sheepdog always trying to count the flock and keep them all peaceably moving in the same direction with their heads down.

That’s not leadership and it certainly isn’t love.

The Discipline of Becoming All Things

We have a document called the Renovatus Manifesto. It’s our code, our culture in written form. It hangs on our walls, it’s on our website, it’s part of our language. One of the themes throughout is the emphasis we place on diversity. It’s really important to us that we honor people of all kinds.

The difficulty in doing that well is that each of us sees the world through our own eyes. We lead from our perspective, our strengths, our convictions. And while I fundamentally believe that to be good and wise, I’m starting to realize the potential blindspots we create by only leading from our own perspective, our strength.

We lose a lot by not disciplining ourselves to consider the perspective of others.

How do you learn? What engages you? What is distracting to you? What do you notice? What do you value? How do you see it?

It is only natural that we gravitate to those who see things the way we do. It is perfectly understandable why we resonate with those who share our opinions and inclinations. But gravity is quite a force and before you know it, our perspective can begin to feel authoritative and superior, as it becomes the only one we acknowledge in ourselves and our like-minded company we keep. We’d never say it that way- no, we’d dress it up in some humble language and explain ourselves using our education, our degrees, our training, our experience, our position.

In the name of protecting the vision or not diluting the mission, we can easily justify our pride, our elitism and close-mindedness, our insecurities and our comfort zones.

We have to see the entire field, consider other vantage points. What is ministry if it’s not a willingness to come alongside someone and walk with them, trying to see from their perspective?

Our worship, our preaching, our programs, our art, our curriculum– all of the church must be built with all of the church in mind. 

Let me be clear: I am not advocating a myriad of ministries to cater to any and every demographic, phase of life, and interest represented in the church.  What I am saying is that the ministries we do have need to stay accessible to the very people for which they were created.

I am also not advocating a futile attempt at trying to please all of the people all of the time. But I’m begging that we are considerate and mindful of them all whenever we can be. I do think we have a responsibility, just as the Apostle Paul did, to become all things to all people in order that we might save some. (I Cor. 9.19-22)

We cannot afford to hold our own inclinations and preferences so tightly that we cannot embrace another’s.

Ministry is messy and self-sacrificing. It requires learning how to speak someone else’s language.  It is incredibly inventive, no matter the “type” of ministry being done.
People worship differently. Children learn differently. We all experience the Lord in a multitude of ways.

For that reason, it is incredibly important that we fight our own personal defaults so that we can be free to think creatively of how we can become all things to all people.  May we cultivate the discipline to pray, learn and try whatever ways we can that lead to effective ministry and the honoring of complex, diverse people made in the image of God.

Good Leaders Are…

I suppose good leaders are many things and this post is intended to just name a few… A few that simply won’t leave me alone these days.

Good leaders are good learners.

I doubt I coined the phrase, but at least around Renovatus, I’ve definitely made it my own.  Largely because I think it’s true, but moreso because I need it to be true if I have any hope of doing my job well at all.  While I firmly believe the Lord to be faithful to order my steps according to His purposes for my life and for the life of His church, I am also confident that He has surrounded me with the tools and opportunities to learn what it is to be human; to be a good wife, mother, friend, and leader.

What I like about learning as an essential for leadership is that humility is implied within.  Learning means we haven’t arrived, that we still have questions, that we are growing and maturing.  It implies a thirst and a motivation to have that thirst satiated.

I am skeptical of anyone who has all the answers, of those who can’t seem to find the courage to say “I don’t know.”  What is there to be done with someone who thinks they know enough in every category and situation?  I have no patience for that kind of arrogance or lack of self-awareness.  The best leaders are the ones who model learning in their own lives, regardless of their credentials, regardless of their platform or success.  Those who still have something to learn will always have something to teach, something to say, something to give.

Good leaders are good followers.

The most effective and influential leaders are all good followers.  And I don’t think it’s simply because they want to model that virtue for those that follow them.  I think it has more to do with the fact that you cannot lead effectively if you are unable or unwilling to sympathize with those who are now where you once were, no matter how different the context may be.  Followership could never be overrated.  In fact, I think I’ll go ahead and declare that your leadership potential is directly correlative to your commitment to faithful followership.  Leading is the fruit, the reward, the blessing of a life lived following really well.

Following who? Whoever the Lord puts in authority over you in any season or area of life.   If you acknowledge the Father’s lordship over your life, you trust Him to order your steps, including the ones that are in the footsteps of another.  I’m currently reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead. In it the main character is passing down wisdom to his son that he once received from his own father and instructs him:

“When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you.  So you must think, What is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?  If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind.  But if you think, as it were, This is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me, first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do in some small degree participate in the grace that saved me, you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate.”

Good leaders can heed that wisdom and follow well, looking for ways to honor the Lord in how we honor and respect those in authority over us.  Followership is an exercise in seeing redemptively and acting accordingly.  If that skill isn’t established early and honed along the way, what are you leading people toward anyway?

Good leaders are good at admitting fault; not finding it.

Leaders who can readily accept their mistakes and own up to them in front of their teams, those are the ones to emulate.  I think this is because admission of failure or even of a misstep is a sign of self-awareness.  And self-awareness goes a long, long way in leading well.  Conversely, those who are not self-aware are often the ones hunting down fault in others, not even a speck goes unnoticed despite the gargantuan plank in their own eye.  It’s a most unattractive quality.  Thus, one to be avoided whenever possible!

Good leaders are in touch with their teams, themselves, and the Lord enough to know when the mistake is of their own making.  And the best leaders can say as much out loud and to those who follow them.  It is refreshing and energizing to see a leader do this well.  It strengthens morale and makes people want to work harder and better.

Good leaders are good at delegating.

I had a dear friend in college, Kathy Barksdale Giles, whose mantra was: DELEGATE OR DIE!  She was pretty genius at it, too.  Wise beyond her years, she learned early on the value of multiplying herself and empowering others.  Whether that was in how she led her volunteers in our local Youth for Christ Urban Ministries or in how she discipled us Berry College girls, she employed the strategy whenever applicable.

Good leaders like Kathy know that one of their principal functions is to develop more leaders.  If what you are leading is worth people following, it’s worth entrusting to them to lead, as well.  This can be an intimidating practice at first.  Those who struggle with insecurity may have a particularly difficult time delegating.

“What if he does it better than I do?”

“What if they like her better?”

“What if I work myself out of a job?”

Good leaders are always looking ahead.  If someone does take that responsibility from you and does so with excellence, that creates more time and space for new endeavors, new growth for you as a leader and for your ministry or company.

Delegating must be done responsibly and people must be well-equipped for receiving new responsibilities and challenges.  But when done successfully, delegating is quite an achievement.  You have invested your time and talents in another individual and that investment is reaping greater dividends than it ever could have if kept to yourself.  If you raise up a new, strong, healthy leader you have no reason to be uneasy and insecure.  You have every reason to be really proud.  And you now have other things you need to go do!

Not just highly practical, delegating is a means for inspiration.  People want to be noticed.  People want to be challenged.  People want to be a part.  Give them a part!  (And if they do that well, give them more parts!)

It’s a privilege to be in a place of leadership, big or small.  It’s worth the work, the effort, the discipline to be a really good one- for your sake and for the sake of the leaders you are shaping one way or another.