BY CHARLOTTE O
We stood in the circle, 50 plus people. I grasped the microphone and, with no more hesitation than an intake of breath, spoke loudly and clearly, words to encourage, words to lift those surrounding me to God, and his still, small voice transported me back to a similar moment that made this one possible.
“I’m shy.” I tell people all the time, and I’m often met with disbelief. Indeed, my career as a teacher and public speaker hardly seems befitting of an introvert who once ran and hid from unfamiliar situations, who counted sentences in class, stomach clenching into a knot as my turn to read aloud drew near.
As the oldest of four, would I call myself a natural leader? Bossy? Yes. But a leader? That seemed to require so much more strength, confidence, and knowledge than I possessed. But somewhere along the way, God showed me that being a leader wasn’t so much in gaining qualities that would qualify me, but in equal part, becoming myself and getting over myself.
So many times in my life, I’ve found myself wanting to push away leadership while simultaneously stepping toward it. And yet, there have always been people who saw something in me that I didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t see in myself.
Rewind to 2002. The breakthrough moment that I referred to above. I was a newly minted spiritual leader in the dorm during welcome week in my second year of college. It must have been a day of prayer, as I found myself assigned to help lead a prayer walk. We were outdoors, holding hands, surrounding the dorm, when suddenly I realized I would have to begin the prayers. There was no one else. I don’t know why it hadn’t occurred to me earlier, maybe self-protection. But I was there, and there was no one else, so I opened my mouth and I prayed, hoping my voice would carry through the fall prairie wind. And it did. And I didn’t die. And no one but me knew that was my first time praying out loud in such a large group.
Now, I know people, even as adults, who feel very uncomfortable or self-conscious praying aloud in a group, or even giving a speech at a wedding. I know public speaking isn’t for everyone. I can understand, because I have been there. But one of the things that helped me overcome that fear was learning to grow into who I was created to be. As I came to see myself, my worth, my value, and my daughter-ship through God’s eyes, the fear slowly started to melt away. At first during episodic times aided by the adrenaline of the moment, and in increasing measure as I continued to allow God to work in my life. When I live in the knowledge of who I am in God, I live daily with a quiet confidence that I am becoming who I was created to be. But that is only half of the battle. The other is being aware of my weaknesses and limitations while not allowing them to control me.
GETTING OVER MYSELF
I’ve been leading a monthly baking group in my community for over a year now, and it’s a place where we hope to reach out to those with an interest in learning to cook. During the cooking time, I’ll lead a short devotional and people can receive prayer. I remember a time last December when we were making gingerbread cookies. Or we were supposed to be. But the dough was too sticky. The icing was too runny. The red was too pink. I was stressing out. I was mentally beating myself up for not doing a trial run of the recipe and working out all the kinks. I was frantically running through options about how to somehow salvage things when time suddenly seemed to stop. I looked up at the kids and adults around the table. They were forming intricate sculptures out of dough. They were painting their cookies, decorating them, and having a great time. In fact, I was the only one who was worried that things weren’t perfect.
I believe that moment of revelation was from God. It gave me the push I needed to get over myself: by which I mean my desire for perfection, and to be perceived in a certain way. It challenged me to remember the goal of the group: to invite people in to have fun and experience hospitality and begin friendships with people who don’t yet know God. Were these things happening? Absolutely. And I could have so easily hindered them with my desire for perfection and control.
That day I also learned that sometimes finding your voice as a leader is knowing when to be silent. It’s learning how to control the voices in your own head that are telling you to give up, to despair, or to get started on image-control before someone realizes how unqualified you really are. I would suggest that you can’t be a leader until you stop putting the leaders around you on a pedestal and realize that each and every one of them is as human as you are. I think there would be a lot fewer church scandals if pastors truly felt that could be honest and open about their personal struggles, and if there wasn’t such an emphasis on image and perfection in the Christian community.
These are lessons that I’m still learning, and probably will be for the rest of my life. I still have so much to learn about leadership, but I’m glad God has given me the grace to learn these lessons in the field. Even though I mess up all the time, he still somehow entrusts me with his mission to bring the Kingdom of Heaven here to earth. And that’s a mission I hope to always be a part of. In the most recent event I held for the baking group, we were attempting to make cream puffs, a delicious cream-filled French pastry that puffs up in the oven. Only, ours didn’t puff. Someone quipped that we could call them “humble puffs”. How appropriate for the lessons about leadership I’ve been learning. As it says in First Corinthians, “Knowledge puffs up but love builds up.” I don’t need to learn more about being a leader as much as I need to lead from a place of genuine love for those around me.
I'm Charlotte O. I'm currently working with a non-profit organization in Taiwan where I teach, lead English Bible studies, write educational materials, train teachers, pose for pictures, and a bunch of other stuff too. I'm originally from Canada, spending significant amounts of time in all three westernmost provinces. I don't really know where to call home anymore, but that's ok, because I'm a citizen of heaven. I've learned that life overseas is not as exotic as people may think, but life with God is a daily adventure. I'm excited to join Bold Cup as a 'foreign correspondent.' I’ll try to keep my posts in English though.
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