Healing to Lead, Part 2

If you’re familiar with the work of the Allender Center, you’ve probably heard us say: “You cannot take anyone further than you have gone.”

Whether you’re in a leadership position at work, at church, or within your family, if you hope to lead and help others along their journey, you have to also embark on your own healing journey. This is not something you can observe from the sidelines and coach someone through without doing the work yourself.

So what’s involved in that healing process for leaders? What stops us from healing? And are we ever “done” healing? 

Join Dan Allender, Rachael Clinton Chen, and Linda Royster as they continue their conversation around the need to heal to lead.

Related Resources:

  • Listen to the previous episode in this series, “Healing to Lead, Part 1.”
  • Check out the book Leading with a Limp by Dr. Dan Allender to learn how to lean into your weakness to become the kind of person God uses to accomplish amazing things.
  • Enroll in the 2-part Story Sage Series Online Course from the Allender Center to learn the frameworks and tools you need to care for others that guide them towards true healing and lasting change.
  • Consider applying for the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care, Level 1. Our unique approach emboldens practitioners and leaders to facilitate healing by engaging individuals’ stories with courage, compassion, and skill. Click here to learn more and connect with our Admissions team.


Episode Transcript:

Dan: Well, what a pleasure to be joined by two dear friends and colleagues, Rachael Clinton Chen and Linda Royster, and the introductions we could do again, but I’m just going to assume that people know our voices and to say, welcome back to a conversation about, yeah leadership sucks and then you die. But that’s only if you take the view from Ecclesiastes, kohelet, underneath the sun. The reality is, yeah, it’s very difficult. And yes, there is resurrection. And so we actually believe we’ve got to look at leadership, not just from below the sun but above the sun. That is from the perspective that God holds with regard. We’ve talked about the difficulties, but what we also hold as a premise is that the more of your own engagement with your life, your story, your heartache, your trauma, the more you’ll be able not just to endure and survive, but actually lead in a way that opens the door. Linda, I love how you have spoken over many iterations about the connection between shalom and flourishing. So as we begin, I just want to open up the door to invite the two of you to say what, what’s involved, what keeps us from healing? What do we need healing of and where does it lead us as healing is not an event that finishes, but as a process that captures our heart.

Linda: It’s such a reminder that we were made for shalom and so many moments, seasons of life where we don’t experience it and shalom meaning that it’s this perpetual ongoing experience of wholeness, of goodness, of a sense of prosperity, a sense of being well, not only within ourselves, but our community as well. So the sense of shalom is that I, in my personal sense or state am not only, well, it is my community and even that which is beyond my community is whole, whole and how honoring and good it is for us to hold desire to want our community to be well because we can get our own healing. We can do our own thing that’s right. And move forward with what just kind of get ours and leave the rest of the world behind. But that’s such an empty, incomplete sense of wholeness, but it matters. I think that’s what keeps me, yes, moving forward in this work and in leadership, is that I am fully convinced that that I am meant to bring the community along with me. I am meant to participate in the co-creation of Shalom, not just for myself, but for those within my circle and those beyond my circle. That is really what it’s like for me, what I imagine the kingdom of God, how it operates.

Dan: And you’ve said it so well, but just to underscore, this isn’t just your personal shalom, this is shalom that may begin with you and your body, but holds your arms wide enough to go beyond, but certainly your family, your friends, your neighborhood, but your category of shalom is… it is collective. It is within systems. It is beyond any narrow individualistic, capitalistic just my own benefit. And I think that’s where as you ended our last podcast, the idea of comfort we receive is also a comfort we begin to extend well beyond us.

Racheal: Well, I just also will say, just to back up Linda here and Dan, and it’s also a completely biblical view of Shalom. And I think in some ways we’ve been given bad theology and that’s why Linda has to bring a definition of shalom so clearly, which by the way, if you use it where you got it, cite your sources. But it is biblical. It’s part of the biblical story, this God who creates out of abundance and there is brokenness that enters and this pursuit of restoring what has been shattered. And then we have Jesus come and really make a way for shalom to be restored in the here and now as it is in heaven, on earth as it is in heaven. And it pushes against what so many of us kind of grew up with this. Oh, well, the real end goal is you die someday and you go to this perfect place that is really somewhere else.And so it doesn’t really matter what happens here as long as you, if you’re in right relationship with God. And of course there is needing to be in right relationship with God so that you can be empowered and have all the access to the resources of the kingdom of God to be about bringing this work of restoring shalom or as we’ve talked a lot about in the Allender Center, Micah 6:8 and this sense of doing justice, loving mercy and walking humbly with God. And so I think when you ask this question, Dan, it’s like I do, one of the things we’ve talked a lot at the Allender Center about this is so core to our mission, it’s why we do healing work. And it’s exactly that sense of if our own healing is the end goal, well, first of all, how boring is that? I don’t actually think that works either because when you start to get healing, you actually disrupt the unwell systems and you can’t help but want to give that on again. It’s also biblical that to God gives us restores so that we can be a blessing to many and those resources can push against the lie of scarcity, push against… I mean that’s the nature that kingdom is upside down. It turns power structures on its head, it shames the strong it all these things. So I mean, for me, I have to say that in the sense of what does healing to lead look like for me, it is first and foremost undergoing the grace of God that brings a kind of humility that reminds me how much I have been given, therefore how much I’m meant to bring people with me to give it away, to stay close to Jesus. And I think with an openness, because I think part of what happens with healing and leadership in general is we’re given communities or context or places or role or something to steward. And especially when we’re initially getting a kind of infusion of healing, maybe in our story we’re understanding things we can hold onto those communities, to those places, to those things really tightly. And I think we’re also meant to steward with open hands that sense that what we have been given, we are given for such a time as this, and it’s not meant to replace God as our source of life. It’s meant to be a table that we’re with others at. And I say that more because I think there was a season even for me at the Allender Center, because I was experiencing so much healing in this context that was changing my life, bringing transformation, I started to hold on to the Allender Center with this sense of this is my family, this is my calling for life. I will… Don’t you take this from me, God. I had such an iron grip. And I remember going through a season where I was being pursued for a pastoral role in another context. And I think really for me that was the Spirit’s way of kind of gently, so tenderly, so graciously it inviting me to put everything back on the table in a way that acknowledged who I belong to and who all these things that I was claiming as mine actually belonged to. And could I trust God? Could I trust God? So playing a little bit with calling, and I’m so grateful for that because it allowed me to step further into leadership, not within a sense of entitlement or demand, but a sense or over identifying, but with a sense of I am… there is a grace for such a time as this to steward these things and I need to steward them well with the time that I have. And I don’t know what that time is, and it might be many seasons and decades and it might not. So for me, I think part of this healing to lead that we have to come to is a sense of humility and openness, which leads to a deeper curiosity of our story because all of that was so in-storied for me. Of course, if I’m tasting goodness, I’m being known, I’m experiencing transformation. I’m like, these are my people forever. I’m so loyal. I long for, I’m Italian, I want a rich big table and people that never leave and stay forever. And so it leads to this sense, and I’ll turn it back over to both of you because I’m talking too much, but to the sense of knowing our story, because our story is going to play out in how we relate to the world around us and how we lead into the choices we make, the kind of people we have called to lead. And there is a beauty in that and there is a brokenness in that. And if we think we can find the perfect context where we’re never triggered, where we’re never caught, where we’re never caught, we have to know something of our story and engage with healing in our story in ways that we can stay humble, we can stay open and we have more choice. And that my friends is an ongoing never ending work.

Dan: I will say. Amen. Well, look, the reality is interacting with a leader not long ago. And in this man’s story, there were three words that kept coming up that I think are useful. He was naming that he felt like he could not bear the ambivalence of being in a place that was so highly polarized with people on one side, people on the other. He wanted to resolve that. And we came to say that part of leadership is learning to bear, to hold ambivalence, not resolve it, not create a way to, in one sense, mitigate or minimize, but just by holding it well, one begins to take away the bitterness that’s often in the midst of that. Second word was he just felt so many of the demands of the leaders in his church, other parishioners, particularly people who were funders of the church, the demands of, if I don’t do what you expect, I’m going to lose everything that’s going on. And so ambivalence demands. And then the third word he kept bringing up is how he felt like he was disappointing people that somehow even when he did his best. Strive to create, as you put it, containment and honor and holding different views, that there was always somebody disappointed. So I want to go back to that notion of we have to learn how to hold ambivalence. We have to be able to find a way to disrupt without shaming, disrupt demands and in some sense to enter the depths of disappointment, to be able to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice. So if we can begin to say, if those are, those aren’t the end all, be all categories, but they’re very important, how does healing open the door and what healing is necessary to begin to be able to hold ambivalence, to be able to disrupt demands and to be able to enter, to truly step in embodied with your heart and presence into other people’s disappointment?

Linda: Yeah, Dan, I often think of what I’ve heard you say so many times over the season is that you can only take someone as far as we’ve gone in our own story. But what I’ve heard you say more recently within the past week is the add-on to that which was, and I think I heard you clearly, and we need to have gone even further in our own stories than where we would go in someone else’s story. And that for me that that’s such a foundation to what it means to be a leader who’s leading from a place of health and wholeness is that since it we’re constantly… not that healing is ever finished, right? Well, not on this side of heaven, but that we’re in this ongoing process, ever-engaging, ever-open to where we are being led to what we are seeing in our own selves that may limit us and that may hinder our ability to serve, in other words, lead well. And as Rachel was talking a moment ago, talking about how she defines healing, I would venture to say that each of us have our own definitions of what we mean when we say healing. And there may be some things that are common in that connective tissue that might be present. But in this healing work, as we’re asking people to think about what does healing look like, I think we have to be clear about how we define healing. What does it look like for us personally, collectively, how does our community define healing? And that becomes really important because if you are defining something that’s different from what I value in my own being or in my own community, then that will be problematic because I will be moving towards something that’s not germane or it’s something that’s not valued for me. So healing as I think about it, is a change that moves in the direction of flourishing. It is change that moves in the direction of flourishing, not death, not despair, but toward hope and toward flourishing. And in that sense, I think of it as freedom and access, freedom from being governed by the debris of trauma. And full access to oneself and perhaps full access to oneself again. Cause there may be places we knew it and then lost.

Dan: See, I would describe that as the core to being able to hold ambivalence, that ability to, in one sense know that the tensions of life are inevitable and then engaging that is realistic, but not cynical. Being able to say the reality of the already not yet is the core ambivalence were meant to enter. So that again, leaders who can’t bear ambivalence are going to demand on themselves and others to resolve that tension instead of being able to say, I have the ability in my interior to hold the complexity that my parents did me great harm, and I still love them, forgive them and want to bring honor that reality of I can name death, but I also believe in the resurrection. And I believe the resurrection allows me to say death doesn’t have the final word that holds the tension in a way that we know it can’t be taken. I, I’m curious as to what you do with the category demand, how healing opens the door to a kind, but still disruption of demands.

Linda: I’ll just say this one thing and then I will, I’ll pass it to Rachel. What’s really important for me to name is that a healing of our own story in our own wounds allows us to have more self-agency that we’re not governed and we’re not ruled by the debris or the unhealed trauma that might remain. But when we move more toward healing, more toward flourishing, then I have more agency to choose to not be governed by someone’s demand because there has been more healing in my own story.

Dan: And again, go back to the fact that ambivalence creates for most people a heightened degree of anxiety. We talk about that as hyper arousal outside of what’s called the window of tolerance. The other side to it is when people make demands, they’re not usually made warmly. They’re not made without some degree of threat. And that demand, be it from a church, be it from a group, be it even implicit, often has that angry edge of you better do this or you’re going to pay. So we go back to what’s the story of the anxiety you felt in your own story of ambivalence? What demands have, in one sense, imprisoned, you created bondage or created on your part rage to what you perceive to be other people’s anger, in which case you’re still locked in the same process that’s going to keep you from being able to, in some sense kindly, but prophetically disrupt the demands that are something of a gun to your head. So healing actually gives us access to changing the power of anxiety. Again, not to resolve it, but opens up the possibility I’m not going to be as shaped and controlled. Same with regard to anger. Rachael, you were about to speak.

Racheal: Oh, I, I’m actually, I’m really enjoying listening to you both and I feel like I’m experiencing more healing just listening to you, I’m like, oh, this is good. I’m like over here taking copious notes. Look, I just really appreciated your definition of healing, Linda, and that sense of freedom and access because I think it’s both about ambivalence and I think it’s about exactly what you said, this disruption of demand. Because many of us who find ourselves in helping professions of leadership or stewardship definitely have parts of our story where demand has been so core and our capacity to meet that demand at the expense of ourself has actually been a place of survival in ways we’ve coped with our worlds. And so we find ourselves often in context where that sense of demand is familiar and it can be almost a sense of pride of look at what all I can, I can meet all these needs and if I just work harder or smarter or whatever. And so I do think knowing a sense of your story, but I think it’s interesting because this disruption of demand in our current context, in the collective context, it just has a lot of frames because there’s also a demand right now of don’t disrupt me, don’t ask too much of me. And in some ways I, as we talked about, people are traumatized. It’s hard to be disrupted when you’re traumatized and you need containment because you feel out of sorts and you respond reactively, but also entitlement. It is a part of demand. And so I think there has to be that part of healing is welcoming the stranger home enough that the prophetic can move from a place of flourishing instead of demand and or that sense of urgency. If I don’t do this, I don’t have a context to survive. So in some ways, I think part of the healing of disrupting demand is getting more freedom and awareness of your own story where you are familiar with demand, where it is a trigger. But I also think it’s having a context of flourishing in which you come to leadership from, so that the places you are called that are more vocational or more community oriented aren’t the only place you’re trying to create something out of nothing to meet needs. Right? Because I think you will fill at the mercy of people to meet their demands. Yeah, I mean, again, I feel like there’s a huge demand right now to create context where there’s no complicity and I don’t know how to be a leader in building anything of worth in our world where you aren’t going to be complicit to some degree in some system that you’re also simultaneously trying to dismantle and rebuild. And so I just feel like there’s a lot of room to play here, and I’m just grateful for these categories of freedom and access. And so I would love to hear more is probably what I’m saying.

Dan: Well, the reality then of I’m thinking about this gentleman I had the privilege to work with when we were beginning to address the issue of in his own story where fear kept him from dealing with ambivalence where other people’s anger kept him from engaging both the entitlement, but underneath that, the deep fragility of people within his world, and again, not trying to resolve it, but helping people name you are making demands and they are out of so much fear on your own part, can we engage instead of the entitlement, the fears of scarcity, of blame, of shame. So that opened the door to his final category of just how when somebody was disappointed with him, it killed him and he felt so much pressure to please do the right thing, to not offend, to not cause anyone in one sense more grief. And so to step in to that category of healing has to occur so that you are not feeling pressure because you can’t love if you feel like you’ve got a gun to your head and you can’t suffer with another if what you’re doing ultimately is not entering their suffering, but wanting to escape them feeling disappointed with you. So that framing of one’s heart has to engage where we have all known both great disappointment in leaders, but also where we’ve known that people have been disappointed with us. And how has it shaped us either to one edge of a kind of cynicism of, I don’t care, it’s not my burden, I can’t carry you. You got to make your own choices, your own feelings are yours to the other side of, I just can’t bear to hear the cry of all the people in the fronts of their tents. So just to hear from both of you, how has healing opened the door to engaging the category of disappointment?

Racheal: Well, I mean, I’ve talked a lot about being a recovering codependent. And so this one feels, this is a painful one for me, and I think I will be in a lifelong journey of healing and freedom. And this, for me feels true just in interpersonal relationships. And it certainly feels true in preaching, and it feels true in bringing my community along in transformation that may feel really uncomfortable and disappointing and failing people and being human sized. So I think for me, the healing of learning that repair is possible, accountability is possible, rebuilding trust is possible, humbling and discerning the difference between where someone is actually looking to me to meet needs that will never be met by me, that are either too big for me or aren’t meant to be met in the way they long, they need a deeper healing and learning to discern where all those things collide. I am much more able to bear to learn that no is a love word sometimes too. And that’s my growth edge. Some people need to learn that yes is a love word. So this is my growth edge, but I will just say coming from a place of really being able to live out as a pastor, which is more some of the places, I would say the orientation of my leadership, that there is a way we are meant to help others walk out their own salvation with fear and trembling. And that if I try to always bring comfort, always soothe, meet every need, I’m actually often doing a disservice to people where they might be invited to a deeper healing. But it does take back to Linda’s words of freedom, and it does take a different kind of containment and grounding to stay rooted in love. To be… My husband said to me the other day, because I’m also in a season where I feel threatened by some people in some of this polarization. So I want to get off weapons of destruction that are not of God, not of the Spirit to protect, right? And he said, we are going to be lovers. We are lovers. And we, Romans 12 has been a context for us that we come back to. So we are going to be lovers. So I’m also really thinking a lot about Paul’s prayer in Ephesians, and I keep coming back to that one of, “For this reason I bow on my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name that it may grant to you according to the richness of his mercy.” This kind of encounter of love that is more than we can understand to be rooted and grounded. And then that sense of, “To him, who is able to do far more than we could ever imagine and abundantly so.” So I’m trying to stay in that. I’m trying to be a lover to enter disappointment and like you said, Dan, not just where people are disappointed with you, but to enter human heartache, to rejoice with those who rejoice and to suffer with those who suffer.

Dan: To actually have the capacity to explore what disappointments, opening the heart not only to desire, but in one sense to dream so that we literally have the category so much in front of us on earth as it is in heaven, that’s meant to shape how we are in friendships, how we are in marriages, and how we are with our children and how we are in our church, and how we are in the larger culture dealing with patriarchy and racism and anything that in some degree destroys and blanches the power and glory of shalom. So that’s where as we begin to talk about leadership, I know we’re talking to good folks in formal places, but we go back to that category of whether you’ve got a formal position or not. You’ve got to grow a ability to hold ambivalence. You, you’ve got to grow in your ability to disrupt that form of entitlement fragility that shows itself in demands. And you’ve got to, in one sense, free your heart to enter disappointment, to allow it to be the basis of exploring really what our hearts want most deeply, rather than either escaping it or worse in some sense trying to be the one to provide. So all those categories bring us back to the reality that healing is really the call of leadership. It isn’t just the preparatory process it it’s actually the very frame. I always go back to that 1st Timothy 1 where Paul says, “This is a trustworthy statement worthy of your full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom…” and I’ll use my language here, it’s certainly not what the scriptures teach quite, but what he’s ultimately saying is, and I’m the one most needing healing. I’m the one who most needs the work of Jesus at the core of my being. So the core to leadership is can you name your brokenness but not be bound to it? Name your trauma, not be bound to it, but in not being bound, not being naive that you can resolve, rise above, no longer in one sense being affected, but somehow in that process we begin to manage, well, that may not be the best word. We get to grow with others. The kind of shalom that Linda, you have spoken about so eloquently, any last thoughts before?

Linda: Yeah, I just would want to name that healing our need of it and our participation in it is quite humbling. Our need for healing is humbling and it keeps us, I think how I experience it, it just is a reminder. It helps me remember my need for the spirit, my need to remember the places that I have received comfort. And that in that remembering it helps me move and lean into compassion and empathy in a greater way because I can remember the places where I have received goodness. So it’s quite humbling in such a sweet way at times, and in a way it doesn’t feel sweet and in other times, but it’s also, it’s very necessary and necessary for me to recognize my limitations. This feels very similar to what Rachael was saying earlier, that we can’t sufficiently fully ever completely meet the needs of the people that we serve. And that helps me be human size and to be well with my humanity.

Dan: Well, to say in our conclusion, it is an immense honor to serve with the two of you as one of the leaders at the Allender Center. And the process itself over many years has been full of ambivalence, full of demands, and full of disappointment. And yet I think we all can say that there is something in that process in which we have come to know not just one another, but something of the goodness of God in the land of the living. And I think for that alone, I would say there have been many moments of despair, but not a despair that’s lasted because of the taste of both of you and others of what it means to be in the presence of goodness. So I say to you both, thank you.

Racheal: Likewise.

Linda: Thank you.