Rising Leader Series: Week 47 - Growth
The Bible says God created heaven and earth in just one week. Quite a week! But what happened the week after that? God kept on going. Our Creator kept on creating. Out of the past and into our now, God’s creative power sustains– a continuous rolling thunder of love. He created you and me, sending us into the world for this time. Here we will remain, until life yields to death, then yields to new life with God forever. If we were to ask ourselves what our mission is in the meantime, on earth, I think we could agree that it is to grow towards Him. We grow towards Him by growing into our true selves. We grow towards Him by growing into our purpose.
How do we grow into our true selves?
As we rise from childhood to adulthood, we learn the world’s values. We see what yields status. We see what yields fortune. We see what the world calls normal. We sense what is expected– from parents and friends and colleagues. Accordingly, in our bid to fit in, or measure up, or rise above, or look down upon, we construct our ego– the face we wish to present to the world. It incorporates our gifts, but hides our gaps. It conveys some preferential mix of faux happiness and faux confidence. This is our false self.
But over time, it gets old. It begins to drain us. It becomes harder and harder to keep up the appearance: each day to paint the face, each day to perform the false self’s magic tricks. Until, perhaps triggered by an event, in the surprise of a deep-dive relationship with the One who loves us most, we let go. We suddenly see that we don’t need to wear this heavy mask anymore. We are good, just the way we are. We can return to our essence– to our imperfect, true selves. It takes time. It’s a journey. But whether we embark on it in our twenties, or thirties, or fifties, or seventies, no matter. Each and every step towards the truth of our being is growth.
How do we grow into our purpose?
Victor Frankl was a Viennese psychiatrist. In 1942 he was captured by the Nazis and thrown into a concentration camp for the crime of being Jewish. He suffered horrific abuse, and witnessed mankind’s worst. After the war, he wrote (over a nine-day period) a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning”, published in 1946. It became an international bestseller.
While on a book tour shortly after its publication, he was interviewed on TV in front of a live audience. The host asked him, “Mr. Frankl, you were captured by the Nazis and taken to the concentration camps, where you lived for three years, with suffering and death all around you. You witnessed the most terrible acts. You endured unspeakable maltreatment by the guards. How did you survive?”
Frankl paused and said, “I survived because I realized I was responsible.” Gasps rose audibly from the live audience. “But what do you mean?” said the host. Frankl responded, “Let me explain more clearly. I finally realized that I was ‘response-able’. In the space between every act of the guards and my reaction, I had the freedom to decide. Would I live in hope or fear? This choice was the only freedom I had. And once I realized I had that freedom, I knew I could endure.”
Frankl’s hope while in the concentration camps was to reunite with loved ones after the war. But in a larger sense, it was that someday he would have the opportunity to live out his life’s purpose– to live long enough to give something back to the world, some enlightened response to all the darkness he’d experienced. At the time, under the thumb of the Nazi guards, he may not have fully understood that his life’s meaning and purpose would be found in teaching others how to find meaning in their own lives. But he knew God had a call in store for him– and that he needed to endure the war, so he could live it out. He prayed daily and knew sacred scripture. Perhaps he was consoled by Deuteronomy 31:6: "Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
Can purpose survive hardship? We do not get to set the ratios of our lives– our mix of sickness or soundness, triumph or tragedy, suffering or sufficiency. If we center our lives solely in pleasure or fame or financial success, then our “happiness” will be tethered to the twists and turns of our fortunes. Even then, will we be happy? But if we see life as a gift to be given back to God and to others, circumstance will hold less claim over our joy. God-guided purpose will stake the better claim. Said Frankl:
“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts, comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way…
The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity – even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.”
It takes soul work. The secret to growth is not in what happens to us, but in how we respond. If we recognize that God eternal is with us every moment along our short journey upon this Earth, and that He loves us beyond all understanding, then we can handle all that life brings. In our times of suffering, we will grow in sensitivity and humility. In the surrender that occasions our failures, we will hand our egos over to our God, to do with them what He will. And in our times of success, when we have caught the wave of life at high tide, we will do our best to remember it is all for Him. He is our meaning. He is our hope. He is our joy.
The quest of our lives is to find our authentic selves and our reason for being. Together, these are the holy grail we most seek, for they are God in us. God in our being, and God in our doing. Everything that happens to us along the way– the good, the bad and the ugly– is an occasion for growth. We can learn and grow from everything: from our sins, our wounds, our broken hearts, our mistakes and failures. As Frankl said, it’s our choice.
The world counts on you to go and grow, good leader. Into our wounded world you must go, true to yourself and fueled by the fire of His call. Trust that as you do, you will grow by every experience. God will use every life event to draw you ever closer to His light. As you take up your call to leadership– as you assemble your team, as you rise from a doer, to a coach of doers, to a coach of coaches– God will be by your side. Grow with Him towards your truth and His goodness, good leader, as a flower towards the sun. Only in God is your soul at rest. Only in God will you find your truth and a meaning worthy of all you have to give.
In my letter to you next week, I will take up the topic of grace, by sharing “the rest of the story”.
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”-- 1 Corinthians 13: 11-12
Next week is Thanksgiving. May you be the gift this world needs. Praise God, from whom all blessings flow. Praise Him, all creatures here below. Praise Him above, ye heavenly host. Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!
Yours in truth and call,
P.S.: Our relationship with God, ourselves and our world is ever-changing. God calls us to our true selves, and He points us to the one need in the world that, in this moment, we are best shaped to fulfill. And our truth and our call never stay put. They are ever evolving. This poem is about that.
NO ONE MOMENT
There was no one moment when I found myself.
Just a two-forward, one-back together-walk
with God. Words from soul; book prayers off the shelf.
Peeling away, sorting meaning, taking stock.
There was no one moment when I found my call.
Just nudges, senses of invitation.
Songs caught in the wind, asking for all–
me humming along in harmonic vibration.
I keep finding new we-truths: it never ends.
I keep hearing call songs: they draw me forth.
These days I mostly pray that I might spend
what’s left of my life winding towards True North.
My God, may the roaring thunder of Your Heart
fill mine with the real; beckon me to my part.
Previous Weeks' Letters: