The Fourfold Journey: Know, Control, Give, Live

The metaphor of journey is especially helpful in times of exile. Attentiveness to four paths, in particular, help to nurture and nourish the leader as poet  and prophet:

– The Inward Journey in the formation of Core Identity;

– The Upward Journey in the shaping of Character;

– The Outward Journey in the discernment of Call; and

– The Forward Journey in the development of Competencies.

Wisdom from the ancients informs the first three paths, while the development of functional competencies through specialized training and other forms of credentialing becomes the focus of the forward path.

Socrates said: Know yourself.  Cicero said: Control  yourself.  Jesus said: Give yourself. Taken together,  these three aspects of development  become the means by which leaders are shaped to live and serve as poet and prophet in the context of exile.  Indeed, they are inter-dependent, for one cannot give of oneself without first knowing and thereby controlling oneself. See the box below for the path, task, and focus, as well  as an invitation to journey, and means by which to go deeper. The task of the inward path is to know ourselves. Through the upward journey, we learn to control ourselves. With  the outward journey we are set free to give ourselves. With  the forward journey, we come to live not just for ourselves, but also for the Shalom of the communities to which we have been sent in exile.

The Inward Journey: Know

Dag Hammarskjöld once said that, “The longest journey is the journey inward.”   Perhaps that is why so few make the journey.   All too often, the development of leaders is focused on the acquisition  of functional  competences, rather than the shaping of the person.  The heresy of the urgent  would  have us believe that we don’t  have time for the inward journey, for knowing ourselves. Yet we will not be able to endure the pain of exile, let alone lead, apart from knowing ourselves.

Knowing ourselves involves looking at our lives from a developmental (mental), systemic. (emotional), and socio-religious  (spiritual)  perspective.  Imagine a pair of trifocals in which one is able to view (and thereby understand) one’s life from three different horizons: distant, intermediate,  and near. On the near horizon,  we attend to our development through the intentional living of key questions: Who am I? What relationships have shaped my understanding  of self? What are my gifts?  What is my legacy? Moving to the intermediate horizon,  we come to understand ourselves through the lens of our relationships.  The distant horizon of the socio-religious  lens allows meaning to emerge as Meta narratives inform our understanding of self and help to shape meaning out of our existence.  The vehicle by which to understand these three horizons of the inward journey is that of story.

Jim Loehr  speaks to the importance of leaders knowing their stories, especially in times of exile: “Stories  impose meaning on the chaos; they organize and give context to our sensory experiences,  which otherwise  might  seem like  no more  than a fairly colorless sequence of fact. Facts are meaningless until you create a story around them.”11 Narrative knowing is different from analytic knowing.  Narrative knowing helps us to deal with the complexities of human experience that cannot be understood by the rational mind alone. Stories provide the means by which to live with contradiction, compromise, conflict and even crisis.  Leaders cannot help others to make sense of the present chaos, unless they have done so themselves.  We are what we remember. But our remembering requires a willingness  to engage the whole of our stories.  In a society that shuns weakness and rejects failure,  this is risky work.  Yet it is essential work for those called to lead others through the wilderness.

The challenge, of course, is that all of us carry within  ourselves false stories.  Unless we take the time to name our false narratives, we will likely impose our biases, blindness,  and fears upon others.  Jim Loehr underscores this: “Unhealthy storytelling  is characterized by a diet  of faulty thinking and, ultimately, long-term negative consequences… hardening of categories, narrowing of the possibilities, calcification of perception.”  False stories literally reconfigure our neural pathways.  One cannot serve as poet and prophet when one’s beliefs are rooted in a flawed understanding of self and world. Intimacy, generativity, and integrity  are all born of claiming the whole of one’s story. Only as we engage  our shadows, will we come to accept the reality that we carry within  us both weakness and. strength, good and bad, are we able to nurture compassion for both self and others.

Key practices by which leaders come to make the inward journey include:

Journaling: William Faulkner once wrote: “I never know what I think about something until I read what I’ve written on it.” Journaling is a way of paying attention to our lives. It can help us claim the truth  of our feelings, name our struggles, and live our dreams.

Genogram work can help leaders identify patterns  of behavior passed from one generation to the next, as well  as explain relational patterns learned from our families. Often, understanding leads to the ability  to control our emotions rather than continue to react in patterned ways.

Spiritual Direction can be a wonderful gift for those who seek to understand their journey through the lens of faith.  Not to be confused with therapy, spiritual direction helps us attend to our spiritual lives.

Together we are poets and prophets!

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