Over the years, I have talked to countless women about leadership and calling, and when I do, one tension arises again and again:
Women are constantly searching their motives, wondering if their ambitions are Christ-centered, or if their reasons are pure. To some extent, this is a healthy, godly practice that Scripture itself requires of us. Psalm 139 invites God to “search us and know our hearts,” and every leader should make a habit of this.
However, many women can become paralyzed by this process, which is not surprising since we ALL have sinful motives. Even Christians who are called to the seemingly “holiest” endeavors are still broken people. With the exception of Jesus alone, no human heart is immune to the temptations of vainglory.
This truth should humble us and challenge us to have accountability in our leadership, but it should also comfort us. So long as we are sinners, we will always have sinful ambitions. This is true for every one of us, which means pride does not disqualify us from leadership, or determine the validity of our calling. If pure motives were the litmus test for stepping out in faith, none of us could go.
When Your Calling IS About You
That said, there are certainly seasons in every leader’s life when their focus drifts and their motives get distorted. This happens to even the very best leaders, so it’s important to know three of the signs, and they’re not always what you might expect:
#1. Loss of joy
This was my story. For years I loved to write and teach. It brought me joy and filled my tank. But over time, I began to strive. I began to compare. I needed affirmation and praise because my calling had become tangled up in my identity, and it absolutely squandered my joy. My contentment stood on the fragile foundation of success and self-esteem, so my satisfaction depended on the day.
Of course, leadership is hard and even agonizing at times. It’s not always fun or rewarding. But, the loss of deep, abiding joy might point to a deeper problem. Sometimes, it’s a symptom of making your calling about you instead of Christ.
#2. Skipping the Sabbath
Every leader goes through periods of rush and stress and press, and that is perfectly normal. What is not normal—or healthy—is a long-term, sustained pace of work that creates no margin for Sabbath (or family, or friends). When your ministry or organization are structured in a way that you cannot rest because “everything depends on you,” then your calling has become about you.
Remember, God does not call us to anything which violates His commands, and that includes His command to rest. If you can’t trust Him with one day of your week, then you haven’t trusted Him with control of your life.
#3. Mistreating others
The third and final sign that your calling is about you is how you treat your employees, volunteers, peers, co-workers, and family. Do you listen to them? Are you correctible? Do you demand loyalty? Are you constantly taking out your frustrations on others? Are you inappropriately angry when someone else’s mistake reflects badly on you? Do you push, pressure, manipulate, or stonewall?
When your calling is about you, you force people to be a part of managing your image. But when your eyes are truly on God, and your calling is truly about Christ, you will care for the people around you, value them, and honor them as God’s own, even at a cost to yourself.
Those are three symptoms of a focus that has drifted, and a calling that is more about you than about Christ. But what if your focus has shifted? What if your calling is more about self than God?
Reorienting your focus is not a quick fix. You cannot snap your fingers and undo months—or years—of bad habits. However, naming the problem is the first step, and prayer and repentance the second. Confess your misplaced focus to God. Ask the Holy Spirit for help. Meditate on God’s Word, study His attributes, remember His promises.
And over time, God will re-center your calling, not only because you ask Him to, but because He desires for you to flourish, and nothing in your life will thrive unless it’s oriented toward Him. When your calling is about Him—when your life is about Him—the burden is lighter, the stakes are lower, and the pressure is less. You can fall, fail, fumble, or fear, so long as people are starry-eyed for Jesus alone, because that’s really all that you are called to. And that truth is freedom.
Your calling is not about you. And that’s some of the best news on earth.
Adapted from Sharon’s brand new book Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You, which releases today!
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor's wife, PhD, and mom. She blogs at SheWorships.com, and she is the author of Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You (2017). You can connect with Sharon on Instagram.