Who (or What) Defines Who You Are?
Reflecting the image of God alone
“I want to be a more effective leader but I’m just not sure how, and it feels like I’m failing.”
“I want my organization to succeed, for us to fulfill our mission but sometimes I wonder if we’ll ever get there with me as the leader.”
“I want to get out from underneath this stress and pressure, I want to lead without fear and be more secure but it’s so easy to get discouraged.”
“I feel like the responsibility for my organization is all on me, and I don’t know if I have the ability to carry this weight and lead us to the next level.”
“I never knew Christian leadership could be such a lonely place.”
These comments have been said to me by leaders searching for confidence to continue on. Can you affirm any of these statements for yourself? At the heart of these laments is a search for identity, or perhaps more accurately, a desire to know who or what shapes our identity as leaders.
There are many competitors for that role. Our pride can shape our identity. Our fear can shape it, as can our ambition. Our desire to please people is a major identity shaper for many leaders, especially in the body of Christ. After all, if we are leading like Jesus, shouldn’t everyone like us? Isn’t conflict and disagreement a sign of leadership failure?
For many leaders – most all leaders if we are honest – a mirror is a painful object for us. When we live with some sense of self-doubt and wonder at our ability to meet the daily demands of leadership, we shrink back from careful self-reflection. And when we do dare to peer into the looking glass, we do so with apprehension. It is here that the distortion of the enemy finds a playground.
Consider this excerpt from The Four Gifts of the King, where Steward is faced with just such a distortion as he gazes into his Reflector.
Steward reached down to his satchel and pulled out the mirror. “I was told that this was very important here. But I must say that the image it shows is somehow distorted. I don’t look like the image I see in the mirror. What’s its purpose?”
They looked around at each other, uneasy. Had he misspoken and offended his hosts?
Troy spoke first. “That’s a Reflector. We all have one…have since we were five years old. It shows us who we are. Whatever your reflection, that’s who you are. Reflectors don’t lie.”
Steward put his hands up in protest. “Oh, but this one does. Surely you can see that I don’t look as hideous as this mirror…Reflector…makes me look.”
Steward held it up to show his face in its smooth surface. They all looked at Steward and looked at the reflection coming back at them.
“Well, Steward, how can I say this?” Edith was searching for words. “It is actually what you look like.”
“What? No! I don’t look like this at all. Why would you say that?”
What’s wrong with these people?
Without saying a word, all five of his hosts went and brought back to the table their own Reflectors. Some were square and some were round, but all were scratched and dirty. Each of the Abner family held up his or her own Reflector, first to see in it for themselves and then to turn it so Steward could see.
No, that’s impossible!
Steward didn’t know what to say. The Reflectors returned images that bore little resemblance to the five members of the Abner family.
When he just looked at them, Trek and Troy had rugged, handsome features, and Edith, despite her plumpness, had a lovely round, soft face. Even Abner had a strong jaw and thick, curly hair. And yet none of those features were caught in the images displayed by their Reflectors.
The most shocking was Claire’s image. Her Reflector turned her stunning beauty into a disfigured, sullen woman with sunken eyes and dull, thin brown hair.
Steward was frantic. Someone had to declare the deception.
“Claire, that’s not you! Not even close. These aren’t accurate reflections of any of you! What’s wrong with these things?”
Abner’s stern voice caught Steward off guard. “These Reflectors only give back what they see, Steward. There is nothing wrong with them. This is what we see in each other and, frankly, what we see in you. From the time we are young, these Reflectors show us who we are, and our lives are patterned accordingly. The beautiful, the graceful, and the strong live their lives in the Light District. The rest of us are simple servants who live on the edges of town and do our work quietly. It is our place, our lot in life, and we accept that.” (The Four Gifts of the King, Morgan James Publishing, 2019)
What image is reflected back to you in the mirrors in your life? As followers of Jesus, and as steward leaders, we must be confident in only one image – we are children of the God whose image we bear. The enemy will tempt us to tie our identity to anything other than this truth. If we oblige and find our identity in our work, our title, our successes, our ability to please people, our own wisdom or even our kingdom accomplishments, we are standing on shifting sand.
Steward leaders stand firm on the solid foundation of an identity tied solely to who they are in Jesus Christ. From such a footing, they can endure the slings and arrows of the enemy and rest in the assurance of the love and provision of the God whose image they bear.
Are you such a leader?