Leading From the Inside Out: Part 1

20 May

facing_our_inner_world.jpg

Removing the Covers

The childhood fear of the dark or of monsters under the bed is iconic. Perhaps you were afflicted by your own version of this, or perhaps you’re one who still sleeps with the light on. There is something in us as humans that fears the unknown, the unseen. We sense that in hidden places lurk scary, unwanted things, things that could threaten our well-being.

One of those hidden places for many of us is our internal world. And unlike children who ask to turn on the light, when it comes to those hidden places inside, we have a tendency to prefer the dark. It’s dangerous to look at what’s going on in there. Instead of switching on the light, we pull the covers over our heads. The covers that help us hide from the darkness take many forms, but often they look like good or fruitful activities — ministry, service, study, or even leadership.

In an interview with CRM staff Travis Collins, he shared how God used a recent sabbatical to turn on the light. In confronting his monsters, Travis came closer to Christ and stepped more fully into his calling. Today his challenge to everyone who wants to follow God with a whole heart is to have the courage to do the same.

THE INTERIOR LIFE: FRIEND OR FOE?

When he served as a leader in the church, Travis started to notice a significant disconnect between his internal and external world. “My interior life,” he said, “did not come close to representing what I was visually and on stage.” He felt an unspoken expectation to look like he had it all together. Travis found himself putting on a good act, ignoring the warning signs within.

But ignoring internal realities can have a high price-tag. Travis shared that “after living with that internal divide for so long, it made sense why the statistics are what they are for burn-out and people leaving ministry, the number of moral failures in ministry and leaders, and the corruption that we find in leadership. I believe it’s directly related to the interior life, and that was my own story.”

Living disconnected from the heart, or center, of his being made it increasingly difficult for Travis to show up in life authentically and even know himself.

While ignoring internal realities is like playing with fire, it still goes against the grain to honestly deal with what’s there. Travis believes that generally in the church, “the systems we’ve created [focusing on outward behaviors and results] challenge and crowd out the interior life time and time again.” The emphasis in Christian circles on doing the right stuff and having the right answers make it a fearful thing to acknowledge what’s not right within. After all, if you are falling apart inside, how will you show up honestly with words of faith on Sunday morning? There’s a sense that the church collectively wants believers, and especially leaders, to keep the covers on.

At the same time, this generation is clamoring for more honesty and authenticity from leaders, creating a catch 22. Travis claims that honesty can feel like a powerful threat to ministry. “It all comes down to this: Will I be accepted, and will I be followed, if I am actually honest? Or will they see who I am and run?” There’s fear for many that the result of revealing internal doubts or failings will be a loss of respect and influence. With so many reasons to hide, it takes both intentionality and courage, and even a willingness to risk reputation and effectiveness, to pursue inner-outer congruence and honesty.

PULLING OFF THE COVERS

Unfortunately for those who would choose the easier path of avoidance, internal realities tend to show up in the outer world eventually. You can run, but you can’t hide. This was the case for Travis, spurring him into a sabbatical, a time of stopping from activity to deal with what was really there.

“The moment you rest and slow down, you’re going to actually begin to see what’s deep inside of you. So [sabbatical] was a forced time when I couldn’t hide with my activity, I couldn’t hide with my doing, and I couldn’t hide behind my leadership. I had to face what was actually inside of me.”

In the forced stop of sabbatical, Travis discovered how exhausted he had become in the process of covering up his internal struggles. He found that he had been letting the expectations of others define his sense of self and sense of purpose.

“I was no longer looking to Jesus or to myself to ask who I needed to become but instead looking at my boss, or other people around me...all these external things were telling me who I needed to become.”

In taking time away from expectations and doing, creating space to face his interior life, he could start to see who he really was more clearly, and also what really mattered. He had taken the first step towards facing his monsters and reclaiming a whole-hearted, authentic life.

TAKE THE NEXT STEP

The world is crying out for more courageous and authentic people who are facing their internal monsters. There is a need for more leaders whose outer lives are connected to their interior worlds.

Are you ready to be one of them?

1. Get quiet. Stepping into times of silence and inactivity has a way of bringing us face to face with ourselves, which is also where we are invited to come face to face with God. Find a time this week to turn off the TV, step away from social media, and allow yourself some space. Invite Jesus to be near and take the courageous step to face some of the monsters within.

2. Get real. Silence and space often bring up layers of shame or guilt that have been covered up for a long time. There can be a temptation to run away from what we’ve discovered instead of facing it with Jesus at our side. Rather than hiding, name what’s there. Express it to God. Be willing to accept it as you trust that he already has.

3. Get connected. Here’s one final piece of advice from Travis: “Shame has said, ‘Walk alone.’ But don’t listen.” Find companions for the interior journey. Connect with a spiritual director. Let trusted friends in. The darkness is always less scary when we face it with others.


Read Part 2

--

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Megan Beehler lives in Long Beach, California, where she recently completed an apprenticeship with :Beta: Communities.