a man wearing a red beanie and glasses stares out a window
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Human personality is a complex phenomenon. Each of us becomes who we are over many, many years. Like diamonds, we are formed by time and pressure. We are each shaped by our family of origin, our faith, our habits and our environment. Some parts of ourselves are “hard-wired” into our personality. For everyone, especially leaders, it is crucial to know who we are because who we are — perhaps more than what we know — will influence what we do in times of distress and conflict.

We all know some version of ourselves. But as Thomas Merton writes, it’s important to discern between the true self and the false self. This is about self-discovery and self-understanding. The true self is the self God created us to be in God. The false self represents the parts of us that are fearful, possessive and self-centered. Lent is the ideal time for self-examination.

As a leader, it is not enough for me to know how I respond in high-stress situations. I also need to know why I respond the way I do. What are the internal impulses that motivate me? Knowing who I am has implications beyond congregational leadership. Knowing ourselves affects everything from our parenting to our emotional well-being and our intimacy with God. Moreover, when we don’t know who we are apart from what we do  —  that is, when we cannot differentiate between our soul and our role — this keeps us from forming a healthy identity apart from our professional life.

Socrates is credited with saying “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Philosophers before and after him have echoed this sentiment. As we lead the people whom God has called us to serve, let’s remember to examine ourselves.


zoom-in on a statue of Judas and Jesus

How to manage the Judas in all of us

All Christian leaders are vulnerable to the discontent and disillusionment that plagued Judas. There are ways to check that, especially during Lent, writes the associate program director for Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

By James Wesley Dennis III

3 women sitting at a table

Lessons from pastors who have left parish ministry

Though the number of pastors leaving parish ministry hasn’t amounted to a “great resignation,” those who have left still offer insight into the current state of the American church.

By G. Jeffrey MacDonald

A person sits beside a pond with a Bible open

Individuals and institutions need intentional rest and reflection

Jesus modeled the requirement to step away in order to sustain his ministry, writes a director of programs and grants with Leadership Education at Duke Divinity.

By Mycal X. Brickhouse

An abstract painting of a mother kissing a baby's forehead

Lent is a time to rest in God’s unrelenting love

Language that stresses humanity’s distance from God can be deeply hurtful. I prefer to dwell on our belovedness and God’s unwavering maternal heart, writes an author.

By Jean Neely

Before you go…

What do you do to get to know yourself? Do you journal? Do you practice mindful meditation? Do you have an ongoing relationship with a therapist or spiritual director? Any or all of these practices can be helpful in our journey toward getting to know ourselves. In our culture, and I must say even in our churches, self-understanding is not an automatic process. The pace of life and ministry can move so rapidly that all we can do is try to keep up. Who has time to examine themselves? Before we dismiss this as a quest for the economically privileged: we don’t need money or fancy diaries to know who we are. We do, however, need a few honest friends and the courage to confront our weaknesses and claim our strengths. Wherever you are on the journey, I pray that you become more of God’s beloved.

As always, you can reach me and the Alban Weekly team at alban@duke.edu. Until next week, keep leading!

Prince Rivers

Editor, Alban at Duke Divinity