Leading Out of Healing
In my previous two blogs, I touched on some of the cultural messages and internalized beliefs within my own story that hindered me from being able to lead out of my own wounds. My invitation was to investigate how toxic masculinity binds many leaders to structures of self-righteousness, rather than allowing us to lead from our wounds.
Those structures ultimately bring more harm to those we desire to serve. My premise was that in order to prevent this harm for ourselves and others, we must be willing to lead authentically from our story—a story that holds both goodness and woundedness. In this blog, my desire is to give a little more specificity to what it meant for me to give up those toxic structures of masculinity and to then pursue a masculinity that has felt more whole and freeing.
One of the things I have learned on this journey is the importance of allowing others to join us in our investigation of our stories. I have come to firmly believe that our stories belong in community and not in isolation. We must have a community—for me, it was colleagues and a few dear family and friends—that we will allow to see and know us. In finding that community, I believe one of the first tasks is to no longer hold our stories prisoner, but to allow trusted others to hold our stories with us. I needed to welcome other eyes, voices, and engagement in a way that often brought discomfort, but ultimately brought insight that I myself had not seen. Giving others permission to be curious, speak, name, and hold our stories may leave us feeling a bit out of control. Ultimately, it is about learning to trust. I’d always considered myself a trusting person, but this process exposed that I had only trusted others with what I felt they would accept. It turns out that I didn’t trust much at all. I needed faces, eyes, and voices that could approach my story from a different lens. This actually feels very much like the gospel, and probably a bit like bungee jumping.
The second important part of my journey was giving up the structures that I had committed to and lived in before. When I speak of structures, I’m referring to my relational experiences of the cultural messages about what it means to be a man in leadership. One of my commitments was to never expose any cracks. In order to preserve my dignity, heart, and face, I was to never expose too much about who I was. Another commitment was to safety. I was committed to protection and preservation. And rightly so—in certain contexts, I clearly do honor how these constructs come to be in place in our lives. However, in this specific realm, I eventually came to the place of acknowledging that this commitment was keeping me bound to isolation and fraudulence, and preventing me from ever feeling like I could come fully to the table.
I believe this work requires the willingness to take an honest look at how our structures are no longer useful, even if they once were. An honest look at how they have actually proven to be shackles around our wrists, not allowing the freedom to lead in the way we desire. This is not work we can do alone.
We will need others to help us identify some of the structures we are committed to—some obvious and some not so obvious—and the ways they are binding us.
Even though I was with my trusted community, this was often uncomfortable and humbling, but pertinent. It involved allowing others to see me well while not expecting or demanding that they see me perfectly. For many of us, this is a journey of discovery and learning to trust again.
Lastly, I had to learn that even on my best day, I still had the ability to fail those I long to serve. I so often felt the fear of failing or disappointing people under my care. Much of my story involved me working hard to keep that from happening. This often led me to defensiveness and not wanting to admit my failure, even when grace was being offered. I recall the first time I was told, “You will fail your friends and your clients.” The professor who said that actually meant for me to receive a sense of freedom, but internally that was painful to hear because I attributed failure to my value. That reality, that my value was measured only by my failures, only led me to more shame and resignation, and it fostered a leadership style that was defensive, shaming, and possibly spiritually abusive. In my experience, that fear of failure is often the centerpiece of harm by leaders. My commitment to being right (which I shared about in my previous blog) caused me to often not admit when I failed or lacked the ability to do something. Many pastors that I’ve loved and enjoyed have fallen into this same trap.
Coming to own our ability to fail those we love, serve, and do life with—and the certainty that we will fail—can actually bring life to those very relationships. I believe this opens the door for us to do ministry and live our relationships with much less hypervigilance and much more freedom. This will require that we learn relational repair after inevitable ruptures occur. The most respected leaders in my life have been those who have not only owned their failure, but have allowed me (and others) into their restoration process.
As you’ve journeyed with me through these last few blogs, my hope is that you are encouraged to consider what has shaped how you lead others, and how you might be led by cultural messages, shame, and other structures. Many of us have committed to others never seeing us limping or wounded in our leadership of others. The price of this often leads to not being able to receive grace in a way that I believe Jesus longs for us to receive. I believe that, leading out of our story, with grace, and in authenticity, we actually get to see ourselves transformed as well as seeing those we love transformed.