Gebroken met een gouden randje

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Vulnerable leadership: being the first to show your scars

We all have scars. Some stem from childhood playfulness, or scratching those itchy mosquito bites. Some are a bit more serious. Like the one on my belly, reminding me of a pretty scary day involving an emergency c-section. Or the scars covering the face of my friend’s little boy, after their house burnt to the ground. And those are just the visible ones. I haven’t even mentioned broken relationships, bullying, depression or racism.

All scars tell a story. But not all stories are easily told. It might not be that hard (and maybe even slightly cool) to talk about that one time you hurt your knee while showing off your skateboard tricks. But when it comes to opening up about postpartum depression, suddenly there is a sense of shame. “What will people think?” Suddenly, the scars become part of who we are, rather than remaining marks of hurts that happened to us. We believe they define and therefore disqualify us. Maybe not from being part of community, but certainly from having some form of influence, let alone leadership. Because ‘hurt people hurt people’, right?

Why is it, that ever so subtly, we believe that leadership is reserved for those who have overcome. For people slightly more spiritual and more, well, more perfect than we are?

A good pastor doesn’t just teach, but actually lives the message. I think that for many pastors, that is where things get difficult. Because how can you preach about victory in Christ and about faith, about healing, and about ‘living your full potential’ if that life is not as great of an example as you’d have hoped? We see the smiling faces of TV pastors, and read books with a miracle on every page. The pressure is on. They may want to cheer us on in our walk with God, but for me, the effect is usually opposite. I get discouraged because I know I can’t live up to this. And I’m not sure if they themselves can.

Leaders with scars

I have come to believe that good leadership sometimes means being the first to show your scars. And not just the cool ones. Not just the battle wounds that make you look heroic and tough. But that is hard. Because it is a challenge to be vulnerable when you don’t know how people will respond to it. Or when your scars are so intimately linked to your self image that you can’t seem to separate story from identity.

Leaders with scars are in good company. The Bible is packed with examples of people that would be disqualified, had they applied for a job as worship leader or youth pastor. But still, their stories are in the book. God chose not to leave their imperfections unmentioned, to polish up the Big Picture. This gives me great hope. And it’s not just people like David, or Paul. Jesus Himself may be our greatest example of courageous, vulnerable leadership. He also chose to show His scars.

We know the scene so well. Often the chapter is titled ‘Doubting Thomas’. It is a story of how, after our Lord was raised from the dead, Thomas finds it hard to believe it is really Him. I can’t blame him, because it is not every day you see a loved one walk around as if he wasn’t just crucified and buried a few days ago. Instead of focusing on Thomas and point the finger at him for not believing, I’d much rather look at the initiative Jesus takes. Jesus shows the scars on His hands and His side. Even invites Thomas to touch them!

There is a bit of theological debate on why Jesus, in His resurrected body, still has scars. I find it beautiful though, and loaded with truth. To me it seems that Jesus is not afraid to show His wounds, because they make up an incredibly important part of His story. And by allowing Thomas to touch them, He invites intimacy, and encourages faith. To Jesus, His scars are not a sign of weakness or failure. They are a mark of the miracle of resurrection.

Cracks filled with gold

Nothing illustrates the beauty of showing your scars more beautifully than the Japanse art of
kintsukuroi (keen-tsoo-koo-roy). In Japan, cracks in precious bowls are often filled with gold.  The Japanese believe that when something has suffered damage and has a history, it becomes more beautiful. I love looking at it that way. Because, applied to my own brokenness, it challenges me to see how my scars, both visible and invisible, could actually help me be more beautiful. To add meaning to my life. I’m still here, and I have a story to tell.

To tell that story, I need to invite a certain level of intimacy. I need to choose to be honest and approachable. And I’m blessed to have some wonderful examples in my life. My own pastor and good friend has almost turned this into an art form. In teaching, but also in being present. In sharing awful birth stories from the pulpit, and in countless cups of tea and conversations.
Even if our struggles are different, she chooses be vulnerable. To say ‘ me too’ and send a message saying ‘you are not alone’. And in that, she is living the message she wants to get across. I’m inspired to do the same.

In kintsukuroi, the repaired bowl becomes more beautiful than the original. There is added meaning and beauty. My hope and prayer for the church is that our leaders will follow Jesus in taking the initiative. To be, as Henri Nouwen put it ‘wounded healers’. I pray that we can be a community of broken, hurting and healing, messed up and stitched up, beautiful people. I dream that our leaders will have both the vulnerability and the courage to point us in the direction of the nail pierced, scarred hands of our great Wounded Healer.

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