The Rising Leader Series: Week 23 - Behind the Mask
New– Song for June. Listen => See Joy, Be Joy (on finding joy in all circumstances)
No man stands alone. No woman is an island. We all exist in relationship with each other– in space (neighbor to neighbor) and in time (from present generation to future generations). Our world is in crisis; the path towards healing can only be traversed if capable, ethical leaders will rise up and lead us towards goodness. Perhaps you are such a leader. If so, it is on you to step forward, envision the fix, assemble your resources and begin to repair our most precious human systems (ecosystem, diplomacy, democracy, charity and worship). But this itself pre-requires soul work. This is why I write to you each week, good leader. I wish to support you on your journey towards goodness.
If you are good, you will do good. To be good, you must cultivate your relationship with God. This is the path to goodness. In daily communion with God, He will teach you how to remove the mask of your false self. He will help you discover the real you– your true self. Your true self is the person God created you to be– perfect in all your imperfections. You have gifts and gaps. You have loving tendencies– a big heart, a desire to serve. You have sinful tendencies– compulsions, biases, fears, things about which you are ignorant. You haven’t fully healed from past hurts. You’re a work in progress. But you try, day by day, to draw closer to God, to receive His love, to expose your soul to His inspection, to receive His grace, and to work on the things on which you need to work. When you do this, you are living out your true self.
The monk and mystic Thomas Merton describes a God-companioned journey towards the true self in this prayer:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this, You will lead me by the right road– though I may know nothing about it. Therefore, I will trust You always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me and will never leave me to face my perils alone. Amen.
At many times in my life, I have lived out my “false” self. My false self is the mask I create to disguise my selfish motives– my desire to self-aggrandize, or to hoard, or to be better than– or to hide from view my hurts and regrets. When living out my false self, I attend to camouflage. I create an exterior illusion that enables me to do my selfish work or nurse my self-centered preoccupations undetected. When I live out my false self, I’m successful if I’ve kept myself beyond God’s reach. I don’t want His light, His love, His truth, His grace. I’m the pirate captain of my own tattered soul.
We all project to the world a public persona: our job, our educational background, the neighborhood we live in, our relationship status, the things we put on our Facebook and LinkedIn pages, the things we say when someone asks, “so what do you do?”. There’s nothing wrong with that, as far as it goes– as long as we recognize how transitory it all is; how utterly it pales in comparison to the eternal.
Behind that public persona sits our soul. It is here we must decide: will we commit ourselves to the God-centered daily work to nudge our public persona and our true self back into alignment? Or will we choose to fortify our false self more and more every day, so that we can run further and further away from God’s love, truth and grace; so that we can bow down ever lower in craven idolatry to the god of our own ego?
For leaders– most especially for leaders at the pinnacle of power– this is a decision of profound worldly consequence. If we live out our true self, we find liberation. We are imperfectly authentic, imperfectly good. And we work on it with God every day. If, on the other hand, we cling to our false self, we begin a slow but steady slide away from God. Unchecked, the slide accelerates. God gave us free will, to accept Him or reject Him. If the daily fortification of the false self continues through life, if the walls of self-delusion rise high enough, a leader will ultimately succeed: he will have banished God.
Only poisoned fruit grows from the tangled vines of the false self. We have all witnessed leaders, desperate to protect their power, avoiding the tough political choices to save our planet. We have seen leaders shrink from the moment with democracy under direct assault, for fear of the base. We have seen how one power-crazed leader can destabilize the entire world.
The leader who has fallen into the trap of self-idolatry is a danger. That’s why the ethical state of our next generation of leaders is so vital. It is why I call out to you each week, rising leader, to take up the daily discipline of piety– to invite God into your soul every day– to welcome His love, truth, grace and joy– so that you can return to your true self; so that you can grow into a leader of goodness. Just as Thomas Merton did. The world needs you, servant leader. Only you and those like you.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” —Ezekiel 36:26
Next week, we will explore what happens when we move beyond ourselves.
Blessings to you!
P.S.: This poem speaks to the tug of war between the ego’s need to mask up, and the soul’s yearning to live “life authentic.”
What Mardi Gras, Halloween life you lead!
Veiled behind intricate, desperate mask
Vanity’s folly would be to succeed
In your selfward, illusion-conjuring task
For hidden beneath your fashioned facade
Is a shabby old soul, called to the dance
Called to sing beautiful music to God
Called to His splendorous, graced second chance
So fly to the true, O desperate soul!
Unfasten the bindings; loosen control
Turn your face to God, to be reshaped whole
Then dance to God’s song like a stippled foal!
Do you seek to serve, leader, in God’s employ?
Unmask into freedom. Unmask into joy!
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