This article was written as a part of the series “Living As Contemplative Leaders” in Becky Eldredge’s Into the Deep Blog.
Let me have too deep a sense of humor ever to be proud.
Let me know my absurdity before I act absurdly.
Let me realize that when I am humble I am most human,
and most worthy of your serious consideration.
—Daniel A. Lord, SJ, in Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits
As contemplative leaders, we can find it difficult to admit when we are wrong or that we do not have the answers. As a follower, I most appreciate leaders who have been willing to learn from their peers, the people they serve, and the world around them. I feel disempowered and frustrated when a leader hands down a mandate that is uninformed or based on a lack of understanding of the situation.
Another difficulty we often face as leaders is admitting when something that once thrived has ceased to serve its purpose…. That a beloved ministry has reached its conclusion. Or that something we once believed in and built, has passed to a new generation of leaders with their own ideas and vision. A ministry or opportunity that seemed invaluable to us or our community is no longer a place where we thrive. Admitting any of these feelings requires a great deal of humility, a willingness to name our own limitations while allowing God to reveal Godself more fully.
As a recent college graduate, I worked with a team of Jesuits and lay ministers to help Jesuit colleges form Christian Life Community (CLC) programs on their campuses. CLC has a 500 year history in the Jesuit world, a 100-year history in the United States. Who was I, a 22-year-old theology grad student to make recommendations on how the program could best serve more people in the 21st century? Many older adult leaders could not hear my suggestions or could not move past “the way we have always done it.”
Yet, the members of the National Formation Team listened to me with respect, encouraged my ideas, and shared them with other groups. I recall deep conversations with elders in the Vietnamese-American community, who had themselves established young adult CLCs in their post-war diaspora. I experienced similar collaboration with CLC and Ignatian leaders from a wide range of backgrounds. Although it was not always easy, I appreciated how many people allowed me and other young adult leaders to forge our own programs within the wider context of this lay movement. I recognize now the humility it took for each one of us to bring our experiences forward and listen for what we might learn from one another.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius offers a meditation on Three Degrees of Humility, a deepening, humbling to God’s will. The first degree is simply being obedient to God’s will and desiring to follow God. In the second, a sense of freedom not to desire wealth or success over poverty and struggle. The third degree is to actually choose the struggle and pain that Christ himself experienced. The primary goal is not to suffer, but to be so near to Christ you feel all that he endured. Ignatius himself struggled with putting aside his ego and desire for honor and glory. While it is possible to receive accolades and success in the service of God, our own accomplishments should not overshadow our desire to remain faithful to God.
It can be easy to slip into the routine of crossing things off my list. I move from one task to the next, from one item on the calendar or strategic plan to the next. How often have I stopped to ask God: Where do you want to reveal yourself in this work today? Where can I make your love more known to those I encounter? Perhaps it is in the article I write, the social media content calendar I edit, or the data I compile for a grant report.
God might also be revealing love, light, and hope through an opportunity not in my strategic plan. God may be stirring something within my own heart, and it may take a great deal of humility and faith to respond to that nudge.
Review all the qualities of a Contemplative Leader