I have been walking through a bit of personal grief recently. I’ve found that nothing seems to intrigue or engage me in the same ways while I’m carrying such deep emotions. My senses are more detached, like I’m eating bland foods or hearing constant white noise. Things just… are, until they’re so inundating I feel I’ll be overtaken. Grief often makes us teeter between numbness and overwhelm, not knowing when either will attack.
When I first read the topic of this week’s course–spiritual leadership–honestly I felt neither excitement nor any emotional ties to the subject. As I said, everything seems too much or like it doesn’t apply to what I’m going through. But I didn’t know how deeply I would be impacted by the content.
Lately I have found it extremely difficult to continue walking in leadership, spiritual or otherwise, when I feel I can barely go through life’s motions on my own. How do I lead someone else when I can barely lead myself? To be at my job amidst inexplicable tears, or to go through life with a constricting, heavy anxious feeling in my chest; to continue having to produce in school, with or without extended deadlines, still expected to put forth work in order to be evaluated and given a degree soon enough. Living is hard on its own these days so that leadership can seem like an extreme burden.
I carried these thoughts into the readings for this week’s class, when I came upon Henri Nouwen’s The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom. I began reading the introduction and immediately I found myself in his words. I felt so much of the honesty and vulnerability, the mixture of acknowleding he should be feeling grateful for his positive circumstances, but when a relationship has gone amiss, he finds himself knocked backwards to be unsure which way is up. I appreciated his suggestion to bounce between sections to find what one needs, as this coincides with my brain’s inability to focus on anything for too long. Though he writes that the book shouldn’t be read all at once, while I was going through it, I couldn’t help but absorb many of his words at a time because each section applies in multidimensional ways.
In reflecting on spiritual leadership in regards to grief and Henri Nouwen’s book, I think so much of leadership is knowing one’s limitations. I used to think leadership was being an expert on a topic, having everything together and being prepared. Being the one people looked to while they stumbled but never stumbling oneself. But I’ve found that sometimes it’s learning to lead myself first, finding solidarity in others who have felt similar pangs of grief, and being raw with my circumstances and emotions. Leadership is first learning to be fully present and vulnerable. It is an unfortunate reality that when something happens that stops us in our tracks, life must go on. But this shouldn’t stop us from feeling like we have something to offer. Nouwen’s grief allowed him to continue writing, to process his grief and create content that can lead people like me through life’s great difficulties. I hope that I may do the same.