Self-care

Let's Play Pretend - Part II

A little while back, I wrote the first part to this article of Let’s Play Pretend. In this particular article, I want to take a closer look at how we prevent living divided lives as leaders. Revisit Let’s Play Pretend - Part I.

It’s never our desire to harm others. Rarely does a leader intentionally hurt or offend. It can often be attributed to any of the following:

  1. Overworked schedules, and striving for success.

  2. Unending conflict within the church.

  3. Over-identifying with the needs of those they lead.

  4. Lack of accountability or unwillingness to admit failure.

  5. Pride and an unwillingness to submit to regular self-examination led by the Spirit.

  6. Unawareness of the impact of family of origin.

  7. Lack of boundaries and healthy stewardship of power.

  8. Doing more for God than being with God.

  9. Self-protection in the form of severely private lives and lack of close community.

  10. Need to please others, unwilling to deal with conflict, etc.

  11. Misunderstanding of temperament and self-care accordingly.

This list is truly not exhaustive. It’s symptoms I have seen in my own life, in others, and in research as I have studied what it means to lead wholeheartedly.

Whatever the cause, the result remains in a harm that is extended to self and others.

Behavior modification would never be enough - simply because we are powerless to lead with integrity and wholeness on our own. We must have the Spirit of God within that leads us to inward transformation - the overflow of life that truly bears lasting fruit. The fullness of the Spirit in the life of a believer calls for regular self-examination as the Psalmist cried - Search me Oh God, and see if there be any anxious way in me. It calls for transformation from the inside out, a willingness to consistently allow Christ all the way in and invite the Spirit of God into the deepest recesses of our soul.

For example, take the spiritual and religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Divided lives were the way of the Pharisee’s, the religious leaders in Christ’s day. And the harm they did to those around them in their communities was devastating. Christ never held back from calling them out. In one common occurrence when Jesus is teaching to the crowds, - Jesus states directly to the religious leaders and those speaking out against him:

“Jesus replied, “I did one miracle on the Sabbath, and you were amazed. But you work on the Sabbath, too, when you obey Moses’ law of circumcision. (Actually, this tradition of circumcision began with the patriarchs, long before the law of Moses.) For if the correct time for circumcising your son falls on the Sabbath, you go ahead and do it so as not to break the law of Moses. So why should you be angry with me for healing a man on the Sabbath? Look beneath the surface so you can judge correctly.”” John 7:21-24 NLT

In essence, Jesus is saying “check your own actions, motives, and heart”. You look good on the outside but it’s not lining up with what’s beneath the surface on the inside”. 

As leaders, we often spend more time dealing with the external rather than the internal. We deal with others behavior, we call out others motives, and we fix systems and activities. Rarely taking the extended time to examine, call out and hear from God for ourselves.

“Do right” all you want, but if your motives and heart is not pure or in alignment-it falls flat and harms.

We see this again in Matthew 23:25-27 - Jesus is rebuking the spiritual leaders for the divided lives the lead. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.”

Dr. Alicia Britt Chole posted this thought just a few days ago, and it speaks so much to the harm of a divided leader.

“Positional authority without personal integrity will inevitably become abusive.”

In Part I of this post, we used Peter Scazzero’s definition of integrity…“Integrity is when who I am on-stage is the same as who I am backstage. It is when there is no separation between what is going on inside of me and what I am expressing outside of me. There is no separation of my inner and outer life.”

This includes hidden and secret sin, but it goes much deeper than that. It’s becoming aware of who we are in Christ, and allowing ourselves to express that fully. It’s realizing that it’s okay not to be okay, and we surround ourselves with a community that we can be vulnerable and transparent with in the ups and downs of this life. We reach beyond ourselves to counselors, coaches, mentors, and pastors. We allow those that we lead to see that we are not perfect, and that we are just as human and in need of grace as they are.
We seek to discover the impact of our family origin, and the ways we self-protect to keep people out.

There is no true perfect solution to this - but there is grace-filled surrender. As we surrender wholeheartedly to Christ, we invite Him all the way in to full transform us from the inside out.

Here are a few simple steps to begin giving space to this transformation: 

1. Lead self-aware. You gain self awareness by hearing the voice of the Spirit through intentional times of self examination and repentance. Here are just a few ways to practice this regularly: receive insight from assessments, invite in a counselor to help you unpack your past and family of origin, learn from skilled authors and teachers that can guide you, find a coach or spiritual director, etc.

2. Establishing regular spiritual practices of silence, solitude, and slowing down to be with Jesus so that you can discern His voice in the midst of daily life. 

3. Invite accountability and a close community that you will allow to know you inside and out-failures, temptations, and all. Make an intentional choice to be vulnerable.  

4. Invite Jesus beyond the surface and into the depths. Challenge your own perceptions of Scripture and the world around you - and then invite the Spirit to speak.  

5. Journal the process.

These are just a few steps! I am learning regularly that this process is an ongoing journey of transformation that we must acknowledge and intentionally invite into our lives as people, but especially as leaders. If we want to love and live wholeheartedly - loving God and others with all of our heart, soul, strength, and mind - we must make intentional effort to seek after integrity and wholeness. The Spirit of God will empower the transformation if we give the invitation!

 …written by Christan Causey

…written by Christan Causey

Let’s Play Pretend - Part I

As a child, I loved to create stories in my mind. I was typically the main character running the plot, the story always ending on my side as the heroine. 

They say pretend play is one of the best ways a child can learn. After having three children go through different preschool environments, I would have to say that the play-based classroom had the most long-term impact.

My children create the most elaborate pretend games and stories. Anything from superheroes, puppies, family, cops and robbers, “city” (not sure what that is), and more. In fact, they pretend play more than they ever play with actual “hands-on” toys.

As a child, it is cute, a sign of intelligence and creativity. There is a point, though, when pretend play is no longer cute and it’s time to grow up.

We live in a world of pretenders. We all can find ourselves at fault of pretending. In a world where social media has become a prominent way of communicating and connecting, editing out what we would rather not others see - it seems to make a bit of sense that we would become so good at pretending.

The truth is, we can blame social media, but the desire to wear a mask, live a divided life of pretense started at the fall when this broken world was created. We have been battling the lure of division since the beginning of time.

As leaders, we are terribly susceptible. I believe the enemy specializes in the deceptive nature of pretense and divided leaders. For it is in the division of a leaders life that integrity is most at stake and usually broken.

We talk a lot about integrity in leadership. I often hear it referenced or defined in relation to external behavior or honorable actions. Making good behavioral choices, avoiding temptation, and making effort to live honest lives are all incredibly important to our integrity as a leader. And, yet, I think we are still missing it when we talk integrity as a leader.

I have adopted and began studying this concept of integrity defined by Peter Scazzero- “Integrity is when who I am on-stage is the same as who I am backstage. It is when there is no separation between what is going on inside of me and what I am expressing outside of me. There is no separation of my inner and outer life.”

Ouch. That is much easier said than done. And we have to truly reflect on what that really means. I think it means that it goes much farther than behavior modification or external action. It goes farther than simply how we act or perform on stage, in relationships with others, and in ministry.

You and I both know that there can be a war going on in our soul, a fight for survival - and we will continue along with a smile on our face - preaching joy all the while. And, if that is the case, is what’s happening on the outside congruent with what’s inside?

Parker Palmer says it like this: “As we become more obsessed with succeeding, or at least surviving, in that world, we lose touch with our souls and disappear into our roles.”

We focus our efforts on the external both personally and in leadership activity so much that we ignore we might be losing our souls in the process. If we are burnt out, harboring unforgiveness and resentment, if we are angry and scared, wrestling with doubt and confusion...if we pretend to go along to get along...if we keep believing the end justifies the means...if we harm and hurt others through manipulation and passive aggression because we don’t want to face what’s hard and uncomfortable...if we avoid and ignore...if we talk about Jesus and never spend time with Jesus...when we preach things that don’t even align with our own beliefs or expression of faith...the list goes on.

The greatest ways we pretend can often be found in our temperament. I remember in my early years as a young leader. I thought my introverted and melancholy ways would be unacceptable, so I insisted on creating an extroverted self which would please others. Unfortunately, this created more anxiety within me. Something as simple as a church potluck could set me on edge and leave me feeling shame if I spoke with just a few people rather than hopping around the crowd - connecting with every individual. That anxiety and shame would then turn to resentment or even anger towards those under my leadership. It was misdirected and misguided and yet, it influenced my attitude and decisions as a leader. It took multiple years of counseling and self-discovery to learn who I was - was not only acceptable but purposeful in how God called me. It was necessary that I no longer pretend for God to use me the way He desired.

It’s not simply temperament or personality, though. We can be experiencing struggles in mental or physical health, grief, loss, pain of any kind and when we refuse to share even a bit of that vulnerability - we lose a beautiful moment where our community sees us as human and in need of grace and love just as they are. And, when that occurs, Jesus moves beautifully to bind community together.

We are living divided lives. Our efforts to pretend, whether intentional or unintentional, not only disrupts Christ work in us - we inevitably harm others in our leadership.

Countless individuals are harmed and even abused by leaders who live divided lives. The reality is all that lies within us that doesn’t align with what’s on the outside, in whatever way it exposes itself, it will push through our carefully planned portrayal of something else. What lies beneath will lurk around, leak out and potentially - at any point - completely boil over.

Another complexity and severely harmful occurrence that is prevalent today is a lack of vulnerability and transparency as a leader and it not only disrupts accountability. It sets leaders up as heroes, saviors of the world. Inadvertently, a hero complex is developed and we have somehow found ourselves first when we're meant to be second.

Leaders (pastors included) were never meant to be the total authority in a person’s life and we were never meant to save. When we don’t allow others to see our humanity, we set up an environment of pretense for the communities we lead in.

Living with intentional Christ-like vulnerability becomes so important as a leader and in community. Yes, it takes risk and intentionality, but it is vital for healthy leadership and communities.

Living a whole life, undivided, real and authentic is countercultural in many ways due to the risks present. I believe this is what Jesus calls us to as leaders and this is what creates a healthy and safe community. 

Living an undivided life as a leader creates accountability. It tells others this is a safe place, one where you can true to who you are and I will true to who I am and we will experience Christ’s transformation together. It encourages truth and honesty. It builds true community. It is one of the best representations and expressions of Christ’s vulnerable and sacrificial love.

It takes work, risk, effort, and sacrifice. Are we willing as leaders? And, if so, what steps will we take to intentionally seek an undivided life?

 ...written by Christan Causey

...written by Christan Causey

Finding Quiet

Ahh...Spring. We thought you were here. But, alas, not quite yet. 

Can you believe this weather we are experiencing in New England? This Oklahoma girl certainly cannot, and as anxious as I am to get into the beautiful spring and summer days - I remember something.

The sleepy days of winter often turn into crazy, busy days of Spring. Finishing the school year, starting spring sports, running errands, fun activities, church calendar amps up, and things can quickly turn very hectic.

Take a moment and prepare yourself. If we work preventably, maybe it won't catch us by surprise and run us down. 

Learning the art of regular silence and solitude can help us regulate our schedules, move towards wholeness and peace. 

So try this. Close your eyes. Turn off all noise and set the phone aside. Be alone. Then make a guess how long you sat there. 2 minutes, 5 minutes? I can guarantee you it was more like 30 seconds that felt like 2 minutes.

Silence and solitude are two spiritual disciplines that bring vitality and life to our relationship with God. Much fruit can be born from these disciplines, yet they are probably some of the most neglected in Christian faith.

Our spirits are suffering from too much noise and not enough rest, moreover, our souls are literally crushed under the weight of our inability to stop and be silent.

We don’t like to be still and what do they say about silence? Right, it’s deafening.

There is a definition of silence and solitude found in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero that fits the context of these two things as spiritual disciplines.

Solitude is the practice of being absent from people and things to attend to God.

Silence is the practice of quieting every inner and outer voice to attend to God.

I began awhile back  incorporating these disciplines into my week and schedule, and I am still working to incorporate them regularly into each of days. I am getting better. However, it is super hard. I sat at the park this morning and had such a difficulty focusing. My thoughts kept leading me astray. I finally turned my music off, closed my eyes, and finally a few minutes later I  was able to shut everything out. And I began to find my way. The way to Him - my God who offers sweet peace to our frazzled minds.

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” But you were unwilling, Is. 30:15

I know there have been many times I was simply unwillingly. And it wasn't too long ago that I could barely stand to sit still or quiet unless I was sleeping or reading. To sit completely still with nothing in my hands, it's difficult. To turn off all noise until the "silence is deafening" is not a simple task. Yet, I don't want to miss out on the salvation and strength of my God.

There are a great many benefits in these disciplines of silence and solitude.

John Piper states: One benefit of silence is simply searching the depths of our own souls, asking what our blind spots have become in the rush of everyday life. In the busyness, is there anything important I’m neglecting or repressing? How am I doing in my various roles? What needs refocusing?

Yet, these are the very questions that tend to be the reason we don’t. It is quite difficult for many of us to be still, let alone be silent. If and when we finally do stop and sit still, we need music, we even need the noise of our racing thoughts.

There was a time in my life long ago (much before kids), I would turn on the TV simply for the noise of it. I think sometimes we are afraid if it is too silent then we will no longer be able to drown out our fears, disappointments, and worries. Those things we most want to avoid will become a deafening noise to our ears. Our instinctive response is to protect ourselves by shutting it out and shutting it down. And how best to do this by avoiding solitude and silence? Yet, we need to run headlong into these difficult things. Acknowledge them and bring them to Christ, because that is where healing begins.

Before I begin to implement this discipline, I was often never alone. I had three children, a husband, ministry responsibilities and more. And, although, it can be wonderful to be surrounded by people all of the time - it is not healthy and does nothing to help you grow. We all need moments, several moments, throughout our days where we - like Christ - pull away from the crowd and pray.

But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray. Luke 5:16

Many of us are not willing to stop long enough for God to speak. He longs to cut through the noise of our lives. We need to just stop. Put the phones down, set the laptops aside, let the home projects be for a bit, walk away from the people, and STOP. Step away, be replenished and find rest.

After many years of working to implement this discipline, I suffer greatly if I neglect it. I have been in a longer season of recent months where I neglected this time, and I saw an increase in my anxiety and ongoing feelings of disconnect and chaos. I am working to get back in this rhythm. 

Most importantly, when silence and solitude are incorporated disciplines that are centered on our Father - deep intimacy is formed with Christ and our lives bear much fruit when regularly abiding in Him. We become rooted, established in Him. Which offers the sustaining grace we so desperately need to love God and others well.

We should approach the disciplines of silence and solitude as rhythms in our day, rather a specific formulaic moment we carve out. These rhythms should be a soft balance of intentionality paired with creativity. A rhythm insinuates a depth of feeling, pattern, and consistency. In the rhythms of silence and solitude, the intentionality offers consistency and discipline - while creativity allows us to approach God in regular moments throughout our day rather than “getting our fill” at one time - just hoping it will last through the day. If we are walking deeply in Christ, we have intentional and planned moments with Christ - then there are these beautiful spontaneous moments throughout the day when we stop and feel the rhythm of His heartbeat. We sense we just need a moment with our Creator. We rest and we are quiet.

The disciplines of silence and solitude cannot and should not replace our regular times of focused and centered prayer. Or the regular study and meditation of His Word. They act in supplement to these ever important disciplines that should be a regular part of our week.

May it become a natural rhythm that flows out of a deep desire to know God more, to hear more from Him, and to bare more of our soul to Him. 

It cannot be a matter of adding another item on our to do list or a ritual we factor into our schedules. The very act of solitude and silence speaks to surrender. It declares a longing to abide with the Father, to stop all actions and noise and listen and be WITH God. Therefore, it must be an overflow of the inner work of Christ in one’s life. The more He works in me, the more space he fills in my heart, and the more I want and need to be with Him.

How do we practically implement this into our day? Peter Scazzero in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality discusses these disciplines, and offers great suggestions. Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline is another good one. There are many resources out there, but ultimately you must pray and ask God to give you wisdom in how He will lead you. He made you, created you - He knows what will speak most to you, what will be the most life-giving. It will change with the seasons, it will founded in who you are and what God knows is best for you. But, He will be faithful to give you your own road map.

And remember, as Scazzero states, “The purpose of these disciplines is to remember God and commune with him all through our days.”

How can I be filled with more of God - more of His Spirit? Simple, by making more room in my heart for Him to dwell. Centering my life around Him, regularly surrendering my soul, setting my mind upon Him, inviting Him into each part of my day - this makes room for Him to dwell in me.

 ...written by Christan Causey

...written by Christan Causey

Not Enough. Literally.

As humans, I think there is always a sense of "not enough" in us. Derived from our childhood or past, every day mistakes, lack of performance in certain areas, etc - all make us "feel" this uncomfortable feeling of not measuring up.

Then there are these seasons where you examine areas of your life, and you can clearly point to the lack. Places where you know better, and yet just don't keep up with what is necessary. The "not enough" feeling becomes more than an inadequacy battle and becomes reality. I am in this season.

In my personal health and wellness (body, soul, and spirit), in my work, in my parenting, being a wife, and probably every other area.

I am frustrated-even discouraged at my inability to keep up. I know what I need for health and wellness, and I am not implementing those things well. I need silence and solitude on a regular basis, and it is mostly nonexistent. I need water o plenty, fruits (yeah I am supposed to say veggies, but for now, I will stick with my daily banana), vitamins, way less eating out, and some form of regular light exercise. For my emotional health, I need to be writing, processing regularly, and confronting difficult feelings. Spiritually, I must have time with God, focused study, extended prayer times, and more.

Don't get me wrong, I am never fully and perfectly hitting all of those. However, in this season, my tank is empty, and my health is taking a hit. I wake up every morning with a list of things I am behind in, with personal frustration in regards to my lack.

And before you begin to offer platitudes to help me feel better, because you think - oh my goodness, we can't have Christan down in the dumps - let me stop you. 

I am all about the "He's enough for you". "You don't have to be enough, because He is enough". "You will never be enough, but He is". That's great and everything. All about that grace. 

But, let's get serious. Sometimes it's just literally not enough, because you are not making good choices or because you don't have the capacity or because you just don't have it in you. And so it's not the proverbial "I'm not enough". It's the, "no, like seriously, I know better and I'm not cutting it". Maybe it's just me who's been there? But I doubt it. 

Shame is the ugly monster that drives me to perform better, harder, and faster. Shame in its ugliness whispers you just need to do things right and then all will be well. And, yet, it never turns out that way. When we try to make things better on our own without relying on our Savior, we inevitably cycle through the failure again. 

But here is the thing, every day and many moments in the day-I hear a still small voice that gently whispers-"I've got you." So, I kick and scream and want to punch in walls because I am a hot mess in this season and I don't like it. But He says, even in the seasons of emptiness and "not enough" - I've got you. My love doesn't change and shift with the seasons of your life. It doesn't increase or decrease depending on how well you are doing or not doing. Always. In every season. I've got you. 

Thank God His love covers a multitude of sin and failure. Thank God His love is whole even when I feel so broken. 

It helps me be okay with own my brokenness. It helps me breathe deeply and say, it's okay. It's permission giving to just simply be "not enough" in the worst kind of way. 

It's His loving kindness that draws me to humble repentance. When I have faltered and failed, I know He is waiting with open arms. There may be frustration and disappointment that I can't seem to keep up, that I'm an emotional wreck, and that I'm battling a boiling temper. Yet there is no shame.

There is no shame, because I know to whom I belong. And, I am okay not being okay in this season. Why? Not because I don't care, but because He's got me and He's got this. I am not alone. 

Are you okay with not being okay sometimes? Do you believe God's love covers you every moment in every season? Does shame sit close trying desperately to drag you under?

When we hesitate to draw near to Him in these "empty" and "not enough" seasons, we can almost always point to shame as a culprit. 

Shame creates self-contempt, it causes distraction, and makes us lose perspective. Shame colors our ability to see God in His grace and mercy, and rather than draw towards Him we draw away from Him. There's no place or need for shame as children of God. 

If you are in a season where you just can't seem to keep up with the necessary, can I invite you to lean into His grace and mercy today? He's got you, friend. He will cover your multitude of faults and failures. And He will fill in the gaps until you are on your feet again. 

 ...by Christan Causey

...by Christan Causey