By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.
Director, Yeshua Institute
When I was a kid, Lent was all about giving up things. Initially, I competed with my classmates to come up with the most awe-inspiring sacrifice. it was especially important to do better than the girls, who seemed to have more of a gift for such things.
If someone gave up one thing, I would give up two. If someone gave up something really big and essential to a happy life — like candy — I would give up watching TV. If someone else gave up going to the movies, I would give up having any fun at all.
It was a good formula for saintly perfection except for one thing: Lent lasted 40 days instead of 40 minutes.
Fortunately, my classmates weren't any more zealous than I was. So we either fell off the self-denial wagon soon after patting ourselves on the back a lot, or we persisted as resentful little urchins, plotting to give up cabbage and sauerkraut next year.
On those occasions where we did remain faithful to our promises of self-denial through the Lenten season — taking Sundays off, of course — we felt so superior we scarcely paid any attention to Jesus' unfolding agony on Good Friday. Instead, we focused on enduring our own suffering for just one more day. And any thoughts of Jesus imagined him not in agony, but in ecstasy over our moral perfection.
More recently I have learned that the real purpose of Lent was to try to move closer to adopting the consciousness of Jesus. The purpose of our sacrifices was not to pat ourselves on the back, but to let our self-centeredness pour out as we filled our minds and hearts with a single-minded focus to do as Jesus did — give his life over to doing the will of his father.
As a bishop friend of mine likes to say: "Lent is about surrender, not achievement."
As it turns out, the most effective leaders are people who, like Jesus, do not live or lead for themselves but who focus selflessly on mission — and part of that mission is always developing the talent of others on the team.
But mission-centered selflessness does not come naturally to us. It takes a lot of work. We have to constantly refocus, recalibrate and recommit. That's why when we share the Catholic Vision for Leading Like Jesus with people, we begin by addressing matters of the heart. Then we move to the head and share knowledge. Next we move to the hands and discuss skills.
Finally we get to the issue of habits. Consistently effective leaders cultivate good habits. That's what makes it possible for them to perform consistently and avoid burnout. With good physical, mental and spiritual habits, we can say to the Father again and again, in good times and in bad, what Jesus said during his agony in the garden: "Not my will but yours be done" (Lk 33:42)
Phil Hodges, co-founder of the Lead Like Jesus Movement, says when we subordinate our self-centeredness to God's will, we offer ourselves as sacrifices. But we immediately encounter a challenge: "Human sacrifices like to crawl off the altar," he notes.
Among the habits we recommend are solitude, daily prayer, frequent worship, service to others, conscious acts of love and building community. All are consistent with Lent's three legs: prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
If we want to lead like Jesus, we have got to try to live and serve as Jesus did. Lent helps us do that for 40 days a year. Good habits, often sown during Lent, help us do that year round.
Before Lent ends try to adopt a practice that helps sustain your spiritual focus and can become a lifelong habit. The more you cultivate habits that help you live and think as Jesus did, the better your leadership — and the world — will be.
Copyright © 2011 Yeshua Catholic International Leadership Institute, 208 E. North St., Durand, IL 61024. Any part of this newsletter may be reproduced so long as there is full attribution, our web site is listed, and any electronic reproduction includes a link to our site: http://www.yeshualeader.com.