Monday, August 30, 2010

Self-Doubt and Religious Leadership

As a leader, there are days when the work has a "buzz" to it.  There is an energy that comes when things you work for pay off, when you strike the right chord for your community, when group dynamics produce generative community, and basically you feel like "you are on a roll."  You know why you've been called.

There are also days like I had today.  You feel off-step.  You work hard but it doesn't show.  Your errors set the tone.  You haven't found the pulse of a new group with whom you are working, and your contributions are "off key."  You fumble.  You stand in front of a group like I did today and miss the mark.  You lose your place.  You can't get a stride.  You start to wonder why on earth you, of all people, have been called.

Self-doubt (especially but not exclusively plaguing women).  There are, of course, all kinds of biblical examples of unexpected people being called.  Why them, of all people?  Were they really equipped?  But as a Unitarian Universalist, the calling to religious leadership ultimately must come from our faith community, so references to odd calls in the Bible aren't always comforting. 

A calling to Unitarian Universalist religious leadership is a largely a mutual exchange of trust.  I've heard folks say, along these lines, that church is "a heartbreaking institution."  We're humans, and we mess up, and we break each other's hearts.  The truth, however, is that my heart is broken less often by the church than by my own foibles as a church leader, my own stumblings, my own desire to offer my church something more than I can at any given moment in time.

What do you do to get your head back in the game when...oh, I don't know...say that overplayed song "Bad Day" runs through your head like a soundtrack? 

Lately, I tell you it's funny, but I seek any book or movie or tv show in which the characters are struggling like me, and I relish it.  I especially like comedic takes on the struggle.  It reminds me of my own humanity, and I am able to treat myself with compassion again.  I've never, ever been able to recover from a stumble by beating myself up over it (and I tend to do too much of that), so the older I get, the more I realize that I learn best when I build on my strengths.  Even on a day like today, there are strengths that I can take, and say, "So when nothing else falls into place, here is what I can draw on to get me through until my stride comes back."

It is dangerous to set ourselves up with unrealistic, inhuman expectations.  This week I wasn't able to spend a whole lot of time with my family because in the cycle of my work, this is the busiest time of my year.  So when yesterday my kids and I both melted down to tears over time lost with one another, it makes sense that I started to stumble, and that this stumbling carried over into my day today.  It is unrealistic to think that when I am missing my family, that this won't impact my work.  But I also was reminded that I have a loving community that brings its goodwill to our relationship, and I have gotten much better at providing opportunities for the community to shine...especially in those moments when I am not.  So today my strength was in my ability to invite others into leadership and to empower others to shine from their own strenths.

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