Have you come to realize that who you are at work or at church is not who you actually know you are? Do you notice yourself changing your answers, or tone or demeanor in order to fit into certain expectations or roles? Lesa Engelthaler struggled for years to find who her “true self” was, and now she’s on a mission to help others discover who they really are, too.
Interested in finding your True Self but aren’t sure where to start? Consider partnering with a mentor! Click here for more information.
4word: How would you define “true self?
Lesa: The first book of the Bible says an amazing truth about God and us, “God patterned us after Himself.” (Genesis 1:27). Simply put, living from your True Self is not something you need to construct through self-improvement. It is the Genesis One message of getting comfortable with the truth that you were created, just as you are, in the image of God. CS Lewis defines it well, “The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us.“
I love how Catherine of Sienna says it, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.”
If you are your true self, then it almost gets you out of the way of yourself. When I give a “true self” answers instead of a managed answer, it’s remarkable how the room seems to breathe collectively. Everyone just relaxes and the atmosphere in the room becomes more genuine and purposeful.
4word: What are some warning signs that might indicate you’ve lost your true self?
Lesa: Let me tell you a story from my life about coming back to true self because I had nearly lost who I was. If you journal or write, you can relate: I write to think things out. I wrote about coming back to true self when I was about to be lost altogether.
Here’s an excerpt of what I wrote:
“About six years ago, right smack dab in the middle of an extremely long desert time spiritually, a friend and I were having coffee and — for some reason I don’t remember why — swapping rebellious-youth stories, and a long lost memory popped into my head and so I shared it.
In the 7th grade, I remember sitting on my friend Kathy’s bedroom floor, my lap filled with jean cutoffs and a bundle of embroidery thread. For hours we’d create sunflowers, peace signs (it was the 70s!), and butterflies on those old cut offs.
Around dinner, I’d head home with art projects in hand and oh yes — also high!
I’d walk through the kitchen door, to my family seated at the dinner table, “Leave It to Beaver” style, with my empty chair waiting. As I sat down, I hoped against hope that my friends were right, when they insisted that, unlike cigarettes, marijuana smoke was undetectable.”
As my friend and I sipped our coffee, it hit me! I realized that when I stopped smoking pot, I stopped embroidering my jeans. Creativity was a huge part of my childhood. Yet in my 13-year-old mind, when I came back to Jesus, I reasoned that I needed to flush my “artistic bent” down the toilet — along with the drugs.
That day in Starbucks, I saw that the loss had taken a toll on “true self” Lesa. And yet, that hard time had brought good to me. I had no choice other than to be my true self.
For a variety of reasons, one being the squeeze of life in the Bible-Belt for a hippie girl who would rather go barefoot with no make up than don high heels and fancy clothes, I came to believe the lie that being my True Self did not work well with serving God, and it especially didn’t work for being the Preacher’s Wife. And so I wasn’t myself. I had simply changed and adapted to what, I thought, was expected of me.
And I don’t know for sure, but I think that my loving Heavenly Father could see where this path was leading, and felt that the only way to get “her” to stop — was to stop talking, Himself! Trust me, the silence got my attention. In fact, the silence lasted for three years. It was an excruciating experience. I had no choice but to stop and take a look at my so-called leader image, which had moved far away from True Self Lesa.
4word: Is it selfish or too self focused to spend time trying to be your True Self?
Lesa: I get asked this a lot. So let’s talk about it!
For Christians, a lot of our faith is self-sacrificing behavior. That’s why it feels selfish to us as believers to focus on ourselves. I get it! I was raised to think of others before myself. But I think that being your True Self frees us to be less self-focused. Actually, self-forgetfulness is how I would describe the ones’ I’ve met who are truly themselves. You know this kind of person, right? They are so comfortable being themselves that it is not about them at all and you feel comfortable being yourself. You say thoughts or dreams that you would have never said. You are drawn to them.
4word: How important is it for professionals to know their true self?
Lesa: Of utmost importance. At least for me, when I am comfortable leading (or writing) from my True Self it frees me to lead with an undivided soul. I am more at peace with myself and that can only help others to thrive and work much stronger. In this world of “shoulds,” especially if you were or are the good girl, seen as all together, always appropriate (I hate that word!), there are so many expectations.
We need to always be asking is this for me to do, for me to become? Shauna Niequist says, “We need you: your voice, your uniqueness, your magic. Don’t be the next anybody. Be deeply, weirdly, completely, totally you.”
4word: Once you’ve discovered who your true self is, what internal changes need to be made?
Lesa: In his book, “Scary Close,” Donald Miller writes, “Remarkably, the most common regret of the dying was this: they wish they’d had the courage to live a life true to themselves and not the life others expected of them.”
How did I make internal changes? First, I had to look inside myself, my soul. For me as a Christ follower, it meant looking at God. Get to know Him, perhaps in a fresh way. Maybe not the God of your youth, or the God you’ve made Him into. He will be with you; in fact He is probably prompting this longing, this feeling that something is not right in yourself.
After three long years of practically stopping all forms of ministry leadership and of having a hard time even going to church, I heard from God. Early one morning, driving to work, I heard the word “Immanuel” whispered. And I am not the kind that hears from God, even in the good times, so it was shocking – to say the least. But I knew the meaning of that word – Immanuel – since childhood. It meant: “God with us.” God was with even me — Lesa.
You see, I needed a makeover of who I thought God was. I had Him as a rule keeper whose goal was to keep me in a box, tame me, and tell me to behave. He is not like that. (If you are in a hard place with God, I wrote an article online for Christianity Today titled: “Growing in The Dark” about my experience.)
Here’s some good news about God from the Bible. In the book of Romans it says this awesome truth, “God is for us.” Just let that sink in. Four words but with so much power: God. Is. For. Us. Not against us, as I had wrongly thought.
And that’s not all: God is for us living from our truest self. What is it for you?
4word: What external changes need to be made?
Lesa: In my case, it included some silly small steps but they were huge to me.
I started on the outside (easiest), sneaking in a little bit of hippie tie-dyed under my suits. It made me smile in business meetings. In high fashion, new clothes were required every season in Dallas — this was hard. But try it. Be your flair, your self!
Secondly, I needed outside help, some “True Self” community to come alongside me. They are not the “love me only when I look good or am on my game” kind. You cannot do it without authentic community.
I know it is difficult to find women you can trust. And while most of us probably have lots of “go out with us” friends, I know when I was struggling, I longed for the sisterhood-kind of friends. I am sure it was not easy or fun to stick with me during the years of the dark times. I screwed up a ton, and I doubted my faith a lot. But they did! I remember one time, after I had vomited out some dark confession, my friends said, “That’s it?” That’s all you got?” And we busted out laughing.
I also had to shed a few relationships that required me to be “perfect.” Then I learned to prize and be there for the ones that loved me “just the way I am.” You might be asking, but how’d you find the safe ones, Lesa? I started small. I braved beginning conversations with what was in my heart, not what was the “appropriate” thing to say. It was wild to watch women respond back with authentic True Self responses.
And they don’t have to look just like you. For example, I met for years with three women who had, as Brene Brown says, “earned the right” for me to be my true artsy intense self. We were different ages, views and professions, but it worked.
An author I like a lot, Dallas Willard says, “Discipleship is the process of becoming who Jesus would be if He were you.” Discipleship is just a churchy word for learning how to love God. I like that idea: Living out the Jesus version of Lesa.
What if we were not afraid to be ourselves where we are, as we are? What would that look like for you? As a real friend? On your job? For 4word, as a community of women?
Where are you on your journey to find your true self? Are you at the beginning, wondering where to even start? Or are you in the middle, avidly seeking and adjusting? Lesa’s words of wisdom are sure to be a shining light for you, no matter where you are on your true self mission!
Connecting with a mentor is a great step in finding your True Self. The 4word Mentor Program is accepting applications until Friday for the summer session. Seize this unique opportunity to partner with a fellow professional Christian woman and discover your True Self, both professionally and spiritually! Click here to apply.
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Lesa Engelthaler is a Senior Associate for Victory Search Group, assisting nonprofits to recruit executive leaders. Lesa is also a writer for such publications as The Dallas Morning News, Christianity Today, Relevant, and Prism. Lesa is a founding member of Ink and proud to be a part of the Redbud Writers Guild.
Her friends would say that Lesa is passionate about empowering women. Lesa serves on the board of Missio Alliance and the Economic Security Grants Review Committee for the Dallas Women’s Foundation. For the past several years, she has lead an annual trip to partner with the House of Hope a nonprofit in Nicaragua helping women escape prostitution.
A native Texan and current resident of Dallas, Lesa earned a Bachelor of Science in Biblical Studies from Columbia International University where she met and married Mark, Executive Pastor at Woodcreek Church. Lesa has a chronic case of wanderlust, is wild about reading (favorite book, Jane Eyre), live music and anything from the seventies hippie era.
Connect with Lesa on Twitter.