I’ve been working toward advanced educational degrees for seven years. Life has changed in many ways. My daughter was 14 and my son was 10 when I began my seminary journey. With a large measure of God’s grace, my daughter is now 21 and in her last year of college; my son is 17 and just starting to think about college. My husband has worked for three different companies, I’ve started a spiritual direction practice, and we now have a really big dog. Whereas I once was deeply entrenched in a faith community, I am now three years in the wilderness still trying to find my way, trusting God to lead. More often than not, I barely perceive God’s presence. My theological perspectives have shifted from fundamentalist/conservative to generous/curious. I’ve spent the bulk of the past seven years in counseling and spiritual direction, examining the dark recesses of my soul and experiencing some measure of healing. I’ve awakened to, wrestled with, and am now learning to befriend my ego. The more closely I abide in Jesus, the less compelled I am to conform to the “good Christian” way of living that I once embraced. While I experience a greater degree of freedom in this open space, it comes with a large measure of disorientation, discomfort, and exhaustion. Dying to self is painful and hard.
Simon P. Walker includes all people in his leadership spectrum in The Undefended Leader trilogy. From the stay-at-home parent to the corporate CEO, Walker invites individuals to lead in an undefended way. Doing this takes intentionality and perseverance, courage and grit. It also takes a copious amount of time and patience, as transforming into an undefended way of existence doesn’t happen overnight or by checking off “to-dos” on a list.
In The Undefended Leader: Leading Out of Who You Are, Walker highlights three primary defense strategies leaders employ: front/back stage presence, power, and control. As I read through these defenses, I noted ways I have learned to lay these defenses down. When I’m in a healthy space (mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually) my backstage and front stage personas are more integrated, power is gained through relational trust and wielded with love and open hands, and control is relinquished to embrace freedom and welcome collaboration.
Over the past two months, I’ve noticed the more tired I am, the more fear creeps in, and the more I employ these defenses in my daily interactions. The saddest part is the ones I love most reap the negative effects of my defensive posturing. One particular area of concern is my son’s present and future educational endeavors. Our straight A, even-tempered, extroverted student-athlete has struggled in his virtual learning classes. His grades have declined while gaming time increases. As gaming time increases, so does tension and conflict in our home.
In my tired state, my fears surface. Will he pass his classes? Will he ever leave our home? Will he become destitute, living outside under a bridge? To counter the fears, defenses kick in. My front stage personality gets big while my backstage personality just wants to curl up in a corner. I wield power through threats of computer removal. I nag him to complete his player profile on an athlete recruiting site, research schools, and study for the SAT. I investigate colleges for him and feed him information. I take him on field trips to check out local college campuses so he can gain perspective and motivation about his next steps. I make sure to let him know the importance of reading his emails, maintain his planner, and keeping up with all the things teens need to do to eventually go off into the big world. In short, I have bound him in chains and pulled him into my little cage of exhaustion induced fear and anxiety. With introspection, my fears and anxiety actually have less to do with fears of his success, as they do with my fear of failures. For under the surface fears for him, lie deeper fears of not being a competent parent, good enough mom, or worthy human being.
Shame is the steel that forms the cage and bonds that hold me captive.
I can’t simply think my way out of shame though. I have to feel my way through it, while embracing and befriending the ego that seeks to control chaos. I do this by visiting with my spiritual director who helps bring my shame into the Light. I do this by reaching out and inviting people who love me well into my exhausted struggle. I do this by giving myself permission to get off the grid, be unproductive, and rest. I do this by taking off my mask and being honest in safe places about who I am as a leader, a student, a Christ-follower, a human. I do this so I can be increasingly undefended and free, realizing the weight of the world’s, my son’s, or even my own salvation is not on my shoulders. Thankfully, Jesus already carried that weight. And it is finished.
 Simon P. Walker. The Undefended Leader: Leading Out of Who You Are. (Carlisle, UK: Piquant Editions, Ltd., 2010) 27-52.
 I believe we all have a drug of choice (DOC) to cope in chaos. Gaming hours upon hours (even during class) with friends is my son’s DOC.