Those of you who know me know that I have a certain kind of spark. I feel passionately about a number of things, and I feel called to do something about that. This means I end up trying to teach, which also means that I end up talking a lot. This has good and bad effects, one of the bad ones being that I can come across as arrogant. Now, I’ve always realized this perception while also resenting its existence. “But I’m not!” I would always say. I don’t think I’m always right. I don’t think I have all of the answers.
But I have thought in the past that I had all of the questions.
Basically, I never would have been so crass as to think that I knew it all, but I did think that I was the only one, or one of the only ones, who was asking the right questions and thinking about the right things. I was coming at it from the privileged perspective because I had theological training and I’d read a bunch of great books. And the really tricky thing is that I DO have theological training, and I HAVE read a lot of great books. And boy those books were great. If I could just unleash those babies on the world, watch out.
After a few years of living in the real world, working with other grown ups, and not instantly taking over the world, I’ve come to see a few things differently. There are a lot of different perspectives out there, and while they may be more or less valid, the most important ones are the ones that are right before you. What I mean is that the most important perspectives are the perspectives of the people in your life, in your immediate group of friends and colleagues. You or I may indeed have the best idea, but it’s more important that those people see the idea as good and embrace it. And there’s always the very real chance that those people have differing opinions or specific and unique things to add to your ideas. Coming to a place where you can accept that without feeling challenged or discouraged is essential, and it also happens to be very difficult for smart and motivated people.
You see, it doesn’t do anybody any good for you or me to feign humility. It also doesn’t do the world any good if we just sit on our hands, if we get bummed out, or if we get pouty. And so let’s not douse the fire or intensity that we have. But let’s also not let that fire and intensity blind us to the world right in front of our eyes, and let’s not let it be an excuse to run over people.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, there is a chapter were the demons are very confused by the fact that God isn’t eventually devouring His people. They know that He claims to love them, but for the demons, loving someone is just the means by which they become your food. For some strange reason, God doesn’t work that way. Instead, God loves them, trains them, and then lets them go, free to be their own persons and to do their own things. This is incomprehensible to the demonic mindset.
And there’s something very real about that with potential and power. Teachers and leaders do want to teach and lead, and they should. But they cannot assume that this means dominating or taking over other people. Instead, they need to be good listeners, to learn from their students as they are teaching them, and to impart a vision of love and joy, all along with freedom and the idea that different people have different gifts. And they need to believe that that’s all good.
But here’s a problem. How can smart, talented, and energetic people trust others to bring something different to the table? Isn’t that a bit of a gamble? Can effective leaders really take their hand off the wheel?
The only answer here is faith. Do you believe that God is ultimately the One in control, and that He’s working through His Spirit and the Way to bring about the best things possible? Do you believe that all things work together for the good? Do you believe that this happens even beyond your efforts? If not, then you’re really just swimming upstream, against reality. Better to understand the big picture, the biggest picture actually, and to go with God.
This all sounds pretty simple, in a Sunday School booklet sort of way. But the smarter and more effective you are, the harder it becomes. Rich men have trouble getting into the Kingdom of Heaven for a reason. Strong people don’t want help. But true wisdom is seeing the world outside of yourself and the potential of other people. Faithful wisdom is knowing that you don’t actually call the shots.
It’s not just that I don’t have all of the answers. I have some of them. But I only have some of the questions as well. And that’s ok. It’s right where God wants us all.