Saturday, March 15, 2014

A Leader Limps

I clicked, "send" when I should have clicked, "delete."

An irretrievable e-mail  zoomed through cyberspace, it's stinging remarks hitting their target. The nasty words, typed by my own hand, revealed some of the ugliness that lives in my own heart.

The recipient thanked me for my "candor." Clearly, he's a bigger person than I. In my apology e-mail I wrote, "What you graciously called 'candor', I would call 'being snarky.' Please forgive me." And he did.

While forgiveness frees me from the guilt of my sin, I do not want to forget the deep sorrow I felt for having needed forgiveness in the first place. That sorrow reminds me of my own weakness--a tendency towards self-righteousness--and I believe the Lord can use it to rub off some of my sharp edges. The pain of having fallen leads me to be more careful in my steps.

It's no fun to blow it! But when I do, there are only two possible responses. I can admit my wrong and ask for forgiveness, or I can try to justify myself, choosing excuses over apologies. The first response flows from humility, the second from pride. Confession makes me vulnerable since it exposes my weakness. It also makes me more self-aware and more God-aware--two qualities that are essential to good leadership.

One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of Jacob wrestling with God. Jacob had spent his life tricking people to get his own way. First he stole his twin brother's inheritance and then he cheated his father-in-law out of hordes of livestock. In order to avoid the wrath of his father-in-law, Jacob flees with his wives, his children, and his flocks. But as he's running away from one adversary, he discovers that he is running towards another. Pinned between his angry father-in-law and his estranged brother, Jacob tries to get some sleep to figure out his next steps. But sleep proves evasive, as a man--the angel of the Lord--comes to him and wrestles with him throughout the night.

I believe it was a literal wresting match, but the event stands as a rich metaphor as well. Jacob's sin had finally caught up with him, bringing him into direct conflict with God. Often, when I have been made aware of sin in my life I, too, wrestle with the conviction. I struggle to find the easy way out. God, in his mercy, won't let go. He holds on until the transformation is complete.

Finally, the angel of the Lord asks Jacob, "What is your name?"  It's no coincidence that the name "Jacob" means, "dirty, rotten thief." In pronouncing his own name, Jacob confesses his own sin--for they are one in the same.

"My name is Jacob."

"My name is thief."

Genuine confession makes room for eternal transformation. In that instant, God gives Jacob a new name and a new identity. "You will no longer be called Jacob, but Israel."

Then the angel of the Lord touched his hip, and from that day forward, Jacob walked with a limp. A blessed limp. His limp reminded him that he was broken, his new name reminded him that he was being healed.

Up until this point in his life, Jacob believed in God, but he referred to him as "the God of my father" or "the God of Abraham and Isaac." But after his wrestling match, Jacob refers to God as "MY God."

That is the type of self-awareness and God-awareness that enables a leader to be both humble and hopeful. When conviction comes and says, "What is your name?" I want to be aware enough of my weaknesses to own my sins by name. I want heartfelt confession to leave me broken and limping, so that I can embrace forgiveness without forgetting the lesson from my fall. And I want transformation, so that I am free from my old identity and able to live into my new identity in Christ.

Leaders limp. They have wrestled with God and owned their mistakes, and they are changed because of it. They rarely tell their war stories, for they are not proud of their mistakes. But neither do they conceal their limp, for they know that their limp is the evidence of God's victory in their lives.

So after last week's e-mail, I'm limping a bit, and for that I'm grateful. My limp slows me down so that I think twice before I open my mouth or hit "send." It keeps me leaning hard on Jesus, keenly aware of how quickly I fall when I think I can make it on my own. It reminds me of my own fallibility, helping me have grace for others. In my weakness, he is strong. 


  1. Jennifer, I so appreciate your comments on the limping leader and this look at Jacob and Israel. Last week I read that a surrendered life is a visible life, and I was very challenged by that. Others will see us limp, but that is okay. We will feel the limp and be reminded of our private battles and God's victory in our lives. I love you, sweet sister in Jesus.

  2. Jennifer, you are so wise and your Mother loves you .