We all have books that pop up in our lives that in one way or another change us irreversibly. One of the first books I read that had that effect on me, and changed the way I see things forever, was a little semi-autobiography called “Let Your Life Speak,” by Parker Palmer.

Over the years, Parker Palmer has remained an influential voice of wisdom for me, having read many of his books and attended some retreats he has led. But this first little book was the one that turned my view of myself inside-out, and taught me that if I just happened to be looking for the light of God, I might want to look inside myself, rather than all around myself.

I have used “Let Your Life Speak” as a guide for many different small groups and retreats, and there is one part of the book that continuously makes a deep impression on its readers. The section of the book Palmer subtitles “Shadows and Spirituality” begins with a definition of leadership.

We are all called to play “leadership roles” in our lives. Almost always they come with some kind of title that we consider routine, boring, or even blasé. And yet, these are the very roles that God has called us to in this world. Roles like parent, grandparent, teacher, sibling, best friend, coach, and many others. These are some of the most important roles that one can play in the life of another. Here is how Palmer defines “leadership” for all of us who understand that the truth of who we are makes leaders of us all.

Palmer says, “A leader is someone with the power to project either shadow or light onto some part of the world and onto the lives of the people who dwell there. A leader shapes the ethos in which others must live, an ethos as light-filled as heaven or as shadowy as hell. A good leader is intensely aware of the interplay of inner shadow and light, lest the act of leadership do more harm than good.”

Take a role that many in our church play every day: parent, teacher, coach, grandparent, etc. Think of all the “training” hours that went in to being a “leader” in that role. Think of a teacher or coach who spends so many hours each week with our most precious young people. Simply put, any leader can have a huge positive or negative impact on any one child or person by either being a leader who shines light on others, that “allows new growth to flourish,” or being a leader that employs the tactics of darkness, “casting a shadow under which seedlings die.”

Whether we know it or not, we all play leadership roles in our daily lives that either cast light on others, or brings shadows and darkness to them. Think about it. Can you think of a teacher, coach, or other adult in your early life that impacted you because of their light or their darkness. Leadership styles become pretty clear when you think of them simply as providing light or bringing shadows to your life. Interestingly for me, some of my toughest and gruffest coaches and teachers have been ones that shined a great light of my life, and helped me see myself in new ways.

When we as “leaders” ignore what’s going on inside ourselves because our whole leadership focus is external, then the dark shadows we carry within tend to grow unchecked and we become leaders into darkness, not into light. The point is, that good leaders – and we’re all leaders – need the spiritual skills to look inward and journey to the source that is both shadow and light.

Palmer says that if we do not understand that the “enemy” is within us, we will find countless ways of making someone or something “out there” our enemy, thus becoming leaders who miss the truth about ourselves because we’re always looking to throw darkness on someone else. Good leadership, Annie Dillard says, “comes from people who have penetrated their own inner darkness and arrived at a place where we are all one with each other.”

And once we realize that we are all one with one another, then we begin to see how impactful our “leadership style” can be on all those around us … and the world for that matter. Leaders who know of this oneness, always find ways to bring light to situations with others … always finding a way to “yes” even when yes seems out of reach.

As we journey through this Advent season together, let us be mindful of what kind of leadership style we are bringing to those around us — are we leaders who always bring light to a dark world, or are we only adding to the darkness that already exists. The leaders who changed my life for the good, were all carriers and deliverers of the light. And that’s the kind of leader I always try to be.

Pointing to the light, I am…                                                                                                                                          Pastor Bob <><