John O’Leary has an incredible amount of experience working with professional leaders of every industry, but his story shares an intensely personal experience from when he was a child. Often in our faith, we like to keep our religious life separate from our professional life. Particularly as a leader, what is the relationship between your personal or religious life and your professional life like?
I try not to allow different parts of my life to become compartmentalized. So, integrity, to me, means integrating my faith relevantly into all dimensions of my life, including my professional life. Sometimes I have to catch myself, and be more intentional about this. I start that process by reflecting on whether I’m being honest about whether I really believe what I profess to believe. Unbelief, for me, is at the root of keeping my faith compartmentalized. In other words, if my faith isn’t shaping every area of my life, then it’s probably not as relevant as I want to believe it is.
For O’Leary, the fire that burned him and destroyed his house became what he refers to as an inflection point, a moment in time that changed everything after it. We have these moments in our faith life as well. What is one of the biggest inflection points you’ve experienced in your faith, and how has that impacted your life as a whole?
I’ve had a few of those. The greatest, was the tragic death of my husband of 25 years, in 2008. It prompted a paradigm shift for me in my faith. Was God responsible for answering to me? Or would I, like Job, continue yielding in faith and trust to a good God, even when I could not understand the full picture? This kind of faith calls for both humility and a recognition of my powerlessness. I’m not great at either of those.
In Chapter 2, O’Leary talks about how crucial it is for us to take off the masks we wear. He says, “I’ve discovered that in lowering my mask and letting others into the deepest corners of my heart, that far from pushing me away, they’ll frequently respond with the beautiful words, ‘You too?’” When have you found that letting your mask down allowed you to connect with others, either by offering them comfort, or being comforted yourself?
Almost always. It takes too much energy to construct and keep up the many masks I wear to stay safe. We can’t be completely transparent and vulnerable with everybody, but it’s essential that we have the wisdom to know when and with whom to drop our masks, and allow ourselves to be authentic and exposed. This is where real growth and love is experienced – both ways.
O’Leary describes how crucial it is to stay motivated and focused on your “why” during the difficult times in life, as well as during the everyday, mundane times. Can you describe a time in your life when you’ve had to overcome a loss of purpose, or a loss of your “why,” and what helped you rediscover it?
Once again, I would have to say I experienced a loss of my “why” after the loss of my life partner. It took several years of grief and depression for me to rediscover my purpose and meaning in life. My healing began with one book (although I read many) that re-ignited my “why” and gave me a reason to get up every morning. It was theologian N.T. Wright’s, “Surprised by Hope.” In it, I found the most powerful theological answer to the reason why it’s worth living. The truths I discovered in my faith, through this book, continue to shape my reason for living with daily hope and meaning.
In his book, O’Leary references Brene Brown’s work and reminds us that joy and gratitude are connected. What are some things that you are most thankful for in your life, both from a professional and personal perspective?
Too many to list. Suffice it to say, that we are wired to always be comparing ourselves, our things, our performance, to others. I cannot be grateful if my eyes are focused on where I am lacking and not measuring up to someone else. Gratefulness for all the ways God is present in my life is a critical key for me to experiencing joy. I like the line in the Westminster catechism, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” If we are maintaining a healthy relationship with God, thanking and praising Him for His grace and goodness, all the comparisons fall to the wayside, and the result is a joy that cannot be shaken.
In your life, what has been the difference between times you’ve stayed safe and comfortable, and times when you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone, and perhaps even experienced the pain of new growth? How has your faith informed your willingness to do so?
I’d rather stay safe and comfortable, and I usually do. But I rarely grow in that place. If my goal is to become more like Christ and to glorify God, then I have no choice but to get out of my comfort zone and grow. It means I have to be self-aware and name the places where I am stuck in my unhealthy patterns. Sometimes I can do that. Marriage is usually the place where we are offered those opportunities. It’s not easy to hide in a marriage. So, in this primary relationship, I am given the opportunity to confront the things about me that keep me from growing into a whole person, a loving partner, and a trustworthy colleague.
Often, we fail to realize how a small act of kindness or a word of encouragement can lead to life-changing opportunities for others. What is something seemingly small that someone else did for you in your life that changed it for the better?
Not too long ago, I was feeling some shame as I described to a friend the details of a failed relationship. I was rehearsing how God must have thought about it, by describing God as saying, “OK, Peggy, you blew that one, but now you need to get back on your feet and get it together.” My friend interrupted me and boldly countered, “No, that’s not what I think God is saying. I think He’d say, ‘That’s my girl! I sure do love her.’” It reoriented my distorted view of God, and helped me lift my head a little higher.
O’Leary quotes C. S. Lewis, writing, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken.” What has your life, work, and faith taught you about letting go of fear and being willing to open yourself up to unconditional love?
Life has taught me that letting go of fear and opening myself up to love provides the most exhilarating experience of joy and passion in life and at the same time, the greatest risk of heartbreak and disappointment. For me, it’s been worth the risk. Life without it is like living on autopilot in sepia tones rather than on an adventure in technicolor.
What is one thing you do to keep yourself “awake” to the goodness, the joy, and God-given opportunity you have to live fully every day?
The one thing I do is to set aside a little time shortly after I wake up each morning to read and reflect on some truth that helps me to reconnect with the transcendent power of God, that keeps me thinking clearly, and often counter-instinctually, and helps me stay tethered to a joy that cannot be shaken.
The category didn’t even exist when Peter Jennings hired Peggy Wehmeyer to cover religion for “ABC World News Tonight,” but within a year, Jennings said her work as the first religion correspondent for network news “elicits a greater response from both audience and colleagues than anything we have done in recent years.”
Peggy Wehmeyer covered religion and culture for ABC for 8 years, with award-winning stories appearing on World News Tonight, 20/20 and Good Morning America. Before that, she broke ground as the first religion reporter in local television, anchoring and covering the news for 13 years at the ABC affiliate in Dallas, WFAA-TV.For more than 20 years, Wehmeyer crossed the country, analyzing how faith intersects with American life. Through her groundbreaking reporting, Americans gained a greater understanding of everything from Islam in America, to gay marriage and the church, to the impact of faith on health, to controversies surrounding church and state. Her exclusive interviews with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush brought faith in the Oval Office to public attention. In 2003, Peggy Wehmeyer became host and managing editor of The World Vision Report, an award-winning public radio newsmagazine, focusing on justice and poverty in the developing world. She served in that capacity with World Vision for eight years.
Peggy Wehmeyer graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She is currently a writer, residing in Dallas.She is married to Robin Blakeley and has two married daughters who live in Dallas. Peggy’s youngest daughter, Hannah Buchanan, is Director of Contemporary Worship at HPUMC.