Meditation: "The Problem with Self-Leadership" or "There's More than One Way to Get Drunk."

In the movie Little Miss Sunshine, Greg Kinnear played the role of Richard Hoover, a wannabe self-help guru of the Tony Robbins stripe. Richard has a book manuscript and a lecture script completed, each filled with motivating slogans designed to inspire and coach his audience members to unlock their buried potential.

Richard has two problems. He doesn’t have an audience. No one is waiting for his book and lecture series. This is probably the result of his second problem. Richard has yet to help himself. The Hoover household is dangling on a frayed financial thread. The eldest son, Dwayne, is immersed in Neitchze and refuses to talk to the family. Richard’s father lives in the home and snorts heroin in the bathroom. The audience senses the lack of continuity between Richard's slogans and his life and instinctively views him as as tragic and comedic figure.

I hate to admit this, but I identified with Richard more than any other character in the movie. I love the idea of self-leadership more than I like the idea of leading myself. I relate to Richard’s ambitions. He wants more out of life. He understands that attitude matters and that there’s a disciplined way to approach the world that gets more out of life. Richard seemed to view that wisdom more like a commodity to be sold to his customers, and less like the way the Book of Proverbs views Wisdom—a woman worth getting to know.

I have to admit that I fall into Richard’s trap often. I pastor and I write. I wrote a leadership book was recently translated into Korean. I get invitations to speak at large churches in rooms filled with leaders. Like Richard, I can treat wisdom like a product instead of a person.

I can’t tell you why Richard fell into his trap. But I know why I fall into mine. Ruthless self-evaluation is hard for me to sustain for any length of time. I have a friend who is an alcoholic. He explained to me that one of the early steps of recovery is “ruthless moral self-evaluation.” The drunk has to break the power of denial by telling himself the truth about who he or she is. The drunk needs to admit past offenses and moral shortcomings. Only then does the alcoholic get to the point that he is willing to receive grace from God and the community of fellow alcoholics.

The Apostle Paul once wrote “don’t become drunk with wine for that is dissipation.” I used to think that Paul was being redundant when he said “drunk with wine.” He could have simply said “don’t get drunk” and we would have all completely understood what he meant. I've come to understand that Paul knew that alcohol is simply just one way to lose your sobriety. I can let my insecurities, my people pleasing, and my ambitions, my desire for comfort, and my reluctance to look at my faults to alter my state of consciousness.

I “dissipate” myself to the point where I stop seeing myself as an image bear of God, broken by sin, in need of Jesus to direct my next steps. I stop seeing myself as someone who needs God’s mercy in very real ways. I can get drunk on my own press until I stop seeing the flagrant ways that I disappoint my wife and children.

My friend informs me that he will always be a drunk, but he can be a sober drunk, able to receive the grace of others and God. Pastors, or at least this pastor, are a lot like drunks.

King David had a moment in his career when he was forced into moral sobriety by the prophet Nathan. Nathan cut through David’s layers of denial and forced him to confront his sin and his incongruous life. I’ll leave you and with David’s response to God’s forgiveness and grace. It’s my hope that you and I experience the relief of having a God who sees our failures and who doesn’t reject us. It’s only after we experience this grace that we can truly lead ourselves and anyone around us.


  1. ditto

    (to Larry, not so much goooood girl)

  2. Added this to the comments section of a recent post on Little Miss Sunshine over at Asphalt Eden: