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Six Words We Must Be Able to Say to Love or to Lead

I was so focused on the image of who I thought I was supposed to be that I forgot who I am.

Last week I was traveling with my husband’s family. It was a lot of fun and we made some great memories. It was also completely exhausting. I have to admit, I didn’t do a very good job of keeping up with my non-negotiables.

Now that I’m home again, it seems like I should be able to get right back to work. The truth is…I’m still tired.

Part of me wants to pretend I never get tired or cranky. Part of me wants you to think I can be completely removed from my normal routine for more than a week without missing a beat. Part of me really wants to pretend I’m perfect.

I don’t think all that pretending would serve either of us well.

It keeps me hiding and unapproachable. It puts too much pressure on me and, in turn, on you to just push through and pretend everything is great, instead of acknowledging when we’re a little tired or when life is especially hard.

Times like this can be frustrating, but they can also remind me that I don’t have to be perfect to be the kind of person I want to be. I don’t have a new post for you today, but I want to re-share some words from a few years ago about about what happens when we try to pretend we have it all together and what it really means to love and to lead.

I need your help. I’m hurting.

He leaned heavily on the podium in front of his congregation without a trace of his usual energy and enthusiasm. His normally animated eyes were downcast. It was the weekend before the grand opening of the addition to our church building—a time for celebration.

Instead he was sharing the depression that shredded his soul in the drive to realize the church’s vision. The pain had been nearly enough to throw in the towel on ministry…on life.

He’d hidden it well. Without those six words I’d never have known.

Thankfully he’d already built a community around himself. People he trusted to support him through his deepest hurts. People who didn’t expect him to be perfect. When he whispered those six words, they were there—long before the rest of us ever suspected.

He spoke of getting so caught up in the vision, in the mission. It’s easy to forget it’s not just accomplishing the plan that matters. How we lead matters.

We can use all our gifts, but if we don’t bring love into the mix it’s all for naught. Hard work, perseverance, and standing for truth are all things we can do without love. But without love they are empty. To love each other deeply is to have the courageous humility to say those words that will transform your life…

I need your help.

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I was a student leader in my high school youth group. I led a discussion group on Wednesday nights and discipled younger girls. I co-founded a Bible Club in my school and helped organize See You at the Pole. I knew where to find every book of the Bible and the words to all the praise songs.

But I didn’t know it was ok to hurt or struggle. I didn’t know I could ask for help.

I’d always been a perfectionist, but the pressure became unbearable once Christ was supposed to have made me perfect. I believed God could only work through me if I was living as an image of an ideal Christian. I thought that meant following all the rules, knowing all the answers, and never having doubts or fears or needing anyone.

If I felt broken and empty inside, it was because I wasn’t good enough.

I tried so hard to prop up the illusion that I was a strong leader and a model Christian. If I could just maintain the image long enough, maybe God would use me for something amazing. I glossed over my hurt and emphasized that everything is great because God is good. I talked about all the beautiful parts of being a Christian—the very parts I felt missing in my soul.

But my strength was failing.

I couldn’t hold out forever, but to let anyone see my weakness, my doubt, and my pain would be to fail God, humanity, and myself. A true leader didn’t feel those things. A strong Christian didn’t need help. I felt like a failure and a fraud.

What I couldn’t see was that by setting the bar impossibly high for myself, I was also making it unattainable for everyone else. I was more likely to drive people away than to lead them. I couldn’t see that I was believing lies and trying under my own power to hold myself to standards God had never asked of me.

I needed help—but I didn’t know I could ask for it.

My attempts to numb my pain consumed all my energy. I was so focused on the image of who I thought I was supposed to be that I forgot who I am. I lost sight of who God is, who we are, and how we’re meant to love each other.

We don’t love by being untouchable and better than. We love by sharing our hurts and our stories, asking our questions, telling truth and doubts, and listening deeply. Love is being with another in her darkest hour without trying to fix her or cover over her pain. Love is inviting others to sit with us in our own times of need.

I thought the way to love people was to never need anything from them so they could see that Christ was all I needed. All they needed.

I was wrong.

Until I was able to speak the truth—I needed help, I was hurting—I couldn’t be a leader and I couldn’t act in love. I could manage discussions. I could give answers. I could serve meals.

But I couldn’t love deeply while I was lying about my pain. I couldn’t commit to others while hiding myself from them.

All I could do was burden the ones I was trying to help with the same lies that held me trapped and hurting. I could model that being good enough meant they could never need help and never show hurt or doubt.

Instead of inviting someone into my dark hour with me, I cowered alone in my darkness.

I didn’t know I could stop pretending it was light.

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When I really think about it, the leaders I most want to follow, the ones who help me grow, aren’t the ones who are shiny and perfect. I can’t relate to that—either they’re actually so much better than me they’ll never understand or they’re caught up in the hiding and pretending too.

Instead, the people I trust, whether they see themselves as leaders or not, are the ones who know what it’s like to be where I am. The ones who notice when I’m struggling and turn around to take my hand and say, I see you. I’ve been there too. I know how much it hurts. Let’s help each other. We can get through this together.

That’s why I’m showing up here. These days I don’t really care so much whether I’m a leader or a follower. I think I’m at my best when I’m both—clinging to the hands of those a few steps ahead of me while reaching back to help someone else along. I’m here because we need each other. I want to create a space where any of us can say I need your help. I’m hurting and know that we will be seen.

I’d love to know…when have your attempts to be who you think you’re supposed to be kept you from being the best of who you are? What helps you be honest about how you’re really doing? Leave a comment below or send me an email to share your thoughts.