The Significance of Insignificance

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The Significance of Insignificance

Written by Sarah Vanek.

 

We're drilled as children. As teenagers. As college students. As adults. And It’s always the same question—albeit different forms to match the occasion. You know it most simply as this:

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

If you’re an indecisive person plagued with a starving need for purpose and meaning, this question likely haunts you, or at least has at some point. Perhaps you ask it every day as you hunt constantly for the answer, though it always seems to elude you.

I’ll confess right now to being one of these haunted people. For years, I’ve asked myself what I want to do with my life. And sometimes, I come up with a solid answer, simply because it feels good to have one. It’s nice to have something to say to everyone who asks. And frankly, it’s nice to have something to say to myself when I ask.

But as I sift through my heart, I’ve found that my true answer is vague—often more vague than I’d like it to be. I can’t put a name to it, but I know it when I see it. I see it in my mind’s eye when I remember the night someone took time to listen with eagerness to my crying heart. I see it as I look back on the many times someone stayed up late just to talk to me and answer my constant flow of questions about life and faith. I see it when I recollect a moment when someone saw straight through the façade I’d kept up for years—straight to the heart underneath that was always trying to be good enough.

That’s it. I want to create those moments for someone else. I want to be the someone who will listen with eagerness. The someone who will stay up late into the night answering questions and giving advice. I want to be the someone who sees through the façades to the starving hearts searching desperately for worth.

It sounds glorious, doesn’t it? Sounds significant—life changing.

But the reality that’s hit me lately is simply that it’s not. It’s not glorious at all. In fact, it’s the opposite. It’s awful. Because those memories are birthed out of sacrifice. And sacrifice hurts.

You see, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to treasure any of those memories if the someones in my life hadn’t chosen to give up their time, their sleep, and their pride to offer something to me. Put another way, the moments that are the most significant to me—the ones that bring tears to my eyes when I remember them—are all because someone else was willing to be insignificant. Because someone else was willing to take a temporary position at a tiny church in the middle of nowhere, and serve my heart there. Because someone else pushed aside work that needed to be done just to ask me about my life, when there was nothing in it for them. Because someone else opened up their home and ministered to my heart, when there was no one around to praise the incredible impact they were making.

These are real stories from my life—real moments with real people. But it would be wrong of me to sit here and give them glory for how they have stepped willingly into painful insignificance for me without pointing to the ultimate act of insignificance. So, let’s ponder it together, you and I.

Over 2,000 years ago now, the God of the Universe descended to our level. He was born, not in a palace, but in a stable. Not to wealthy parents, but to a teenage girl and a carpenter. He grew up working, spending the majority of His life as a carpenter, Himself. And then, at His human prime, He poured His life and all of His time into the people no one else would touch or take a second look at. He chose a rag-tag bunch of young people—among them, fishermen and despised tax-collectors—to carry out His work. Because—let us not forget—He came to die. And when the time came, a carpenter turned Rabbi was belittled into insignificance by the very people who should have caught onto His true identity first. He was brought lower than we can imagine. And, with the dried remnants of someone else’s sticky spit on His face, thorn punctures in His scalp, deep bruises, mangled flesh, and shaking muscles, amidst layers of caked blood, sweat and dust, He drug a piece of wood to the top of a rocky hill. A hill He created.

And there, His nerves were crushed by nails, sending unbelievable pain up his arms as He was hung on a tree. His shoulders, pulled out of joint. His mangled back scratched repeatedly as He had to push up on nailed feet, ripping through the flesh just to breathe. And breathe for what? So that He could say: “Father, forgive them.”

That’s the Savior of the world right there. The personal Savior of you and I, if we choose to accept Him. The most significant Person ever to live, made the most insignificant one for us.

Arguably, what seemed to be an insignificant moment in history at the time, turned out to be the most significant of all time. And that rag-tag bunch of young adults went on to do seemingly insignificant things. They planted churches. Wrote letters to encourage others. And, eventually died brutal deaths. Yet, the significance of what they did lasts to this day, over two thousand years later.

So, don’t underestimate the power of insignificance, my friends. Because, if you look closely, I think you’ll find that life is found in losing it. Joy is found in sacrifice. And significance is found in insignificance.

Don’t believe me? Take Jesus’ Word for it.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” – Matthew 16:25

Don’t spend your life searching for significance. If you do, you’re sure to miss it. Instead, step into painful insignificance with joy. Those moments just might be the most significant of all.

 

Photo by Jenna Hamra from Pexels

 

 

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Shame's Greatest Enemy

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Shame's Greatest Enemy

Written by Hannah Schneider.

 

Shame... 

is something we all experience. Dr. Brene Brown, a psychologist who has studied shame intensively for years, defined shame like this in an interview entitled “Shame is Lethal”: Shame is the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging. She also insists that the less you talk about it, the more you’ve got it. In other words, shame thrives off secrecy and self preservation. Fighting our shame and ongoing struggles with temptation is a daily thing. So how do we do it? How do we combat shame? What is shame’s number one enemy?

In a word, vulnerability.

What does it mean to make ourselves vulnerable and how does it have the power to bring you into a place of freedom and intimacy? While everyone has a different journey when it comes to healing, there are three general phases to practicing vulnerability and combating shame.  

Phase One: Get a new perspective.

Most of us are afraid of being vulnerable because our whole lives, we are taught either by family members or the culture that being vulnerable is the equivalent of being weak. I know especially in the United States, this is a serious misconception that is widely held. The reason it’s so important to understand that vulnerability is not a weakness, is because it is something you absolutely have to walk through in order to know courage.

The dictionary defines courage as “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” And let’s face it, opening yourself up to possible scrutiny and judgement can be devastating. Sadly, most of the time in this life, the things that are valuable and worth it can’t be attained without a great deal of pain and endurance. Emotional and spiritual wellness takes battering, bruising, and resilience to acheive.To be held under the light can be a great and terrifying grace.

The grace of God over our lives manifests itself magnanimously when we make ourselves vulnerable. When we feel the emotional strain and fear of exposing our hearts to God and to others, God is in the midst of our pain. Our weakness allows His strength to take center stage when we come out on the other side, better and more whole because of it. Because of His goodness and what He accomplished on the cross, we share in His strength. Paul puts it this way in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Phase Two: Create transparency in your relationship with God.

God already knows our hearts and souls. He knows our motivations, our hidden sins, our fears and our deepest shame. But, when you willingly confess those things to Christ, it is the act of laying your burdens at His feet. It’s saying “Jesus, I believe you when you said it is finished, so here you go. Please take this guilt from me. “

The second part to that, however, is learning to receive God’s grace. Often times, we hold grudges against ourselves even though God has already forgiven us. Self hatred and pity ultimately stem from pride. It stems from the desire to be independent of God’s mercy. We are uncomfortable with the fact that we bring nothing to the table. And so sometimes, asking for forgiveness is the easy part, and accepting His forgiveness is the difficult part.

If we only knew the depth of His love for us, perhaps we would be compelled otherwise. The Bible repeatedly talks about the loving and kind nature of our God. He has an incomprehensibly profound compassion for our suffering. He is so invested in our emotional health that He takes the time to address His role in it several times in the Bible. These are just a few examples from the Psalms and Revelations.

Psalm 34:18 

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Revelation 21:4 

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Understanding and actively believing in the goodness of our merciful Lord, and being willing to open ourselves up to Him because of that faith, transforms our hearts and grows our intimacy with God.

Phase 3: Share vulnerability with others.

The final and often most difficult step to combating shame, is to confess to one another. Dr. Brene Brown, whom I mentioned earlier, makes a compelling statement when she says, “Shame cannot survive being spoken. It cannot survive empathy. Shame depends on us buying in to the belief that we’re alone.” The Bible also has many verses that speak about this.

James 5:16

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

1 John 1:7

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

God doesn’t command us to confess our sins to one another because He wants us to be humiliated. Quite the opposite, God commands us to confess to one another to bring us into the freedom of walking in the light. He wants to bring healing into our lives, and one of the ways He’s able to do that is by holding our hand when we confess our shame to others. God knows we’re scared, but He also knows what’s best. You can have assurance that everything God commands us to do is for our good and not for harm. This is the hope we hold onto that transforms us. This is the hope that gives us the courage to live out transparency, and to embrace the light.

Walking in the light takes courage and resolve. It forces you to face yourself, your past and your present. But it sows spiritual joy and freedom for the future. Walking into the light is what compels us to bring the light, to be vessels for God’s glory and artful craftsmanship. It compels us to dance in it, to rest in it, and to bring others with us into it. Vulnerability is the first step towards the light, and that’s how it begins. Just one step at a time. Every step bringing you closer to the living out freedom in fullness, and taking off the shackles shame puts us in. You can’t stay locked up down there forever. You don’t have to beat yourself against the bars of life apart from God, because Jesus already gave you the keys to Heaven.

Now get up and walk out.

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The Elephant in the Sky

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The Elephant in the Sky

Written by Hannah Schneider.

 

In a time...

where topics that are tough to swallow are everywhere, religion is often a sore subject. It is often considered impolite to inquire about other people’s religious beliefs, and it’s especially bold to share yours without being asked to. And yet, religion is still everywhere. As the times continue to change at an increasingly rapid pace in the United States, people are beginning to talk more and more about it. What role does it play in our socioeconomic systems? Our politics? Our schools? Where is the line between separation of church and state, and the freedom of religion? And what is our response in the middle of all this tension?

Our natural response as Christians might be to become defensive and cynical, isolating ourselves from the secular population. Perhaps the repsonse of some is to become silent, and keep personal matters, such as faith, private. Or, if you’re anything like me, maybe your response is to gain clarity through more knowledge. It can feel good to stuff your head with information, to dig for compelling arguments, to assess the situation at hand not as a devoted believer, but as a cunning analyst. And when the moment arises and you get into a conversation with an unbeliever, to bring forth your facts and hard winning arguments, to convince the other you are not just some brainwashed Christian who thought they could ride into heaven on the back of their parents’ cloud chariot, but rather, an intelligent, thoughtful, human being who is worthy of a listening ear. And do you know what happens in those moments? Somewhere in the middle of your tornado of reason and strategy, God gets lost. We can, and we will, lose Him in the midst of our intellectual pursuits if we’re not careful.

That’s why I’m calling God, in this instance, The Elephant In the Sky. We all know that phrase, the elephant in the room, and it’s like that but with a twist. If we’re not constantly checking in with His Spirit and pursuing intimacy with God, we can easily forget why it is we fell in love with Jesus in the first place. We can forget Him entirely. Oh so easily, He can become that big elephant that we talk around, but refuse to directly acknowledge, allowing Him to become more and more distant as He floats into the abyss, forever lost among the stars.

Mathew 15:8 - These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

We are living in turbulent times. There’s a lot to think about, and questions we need to seriously ask ourselves. But why did we become Christians in the first place? Was it because God wrote us a persuasive essay on why He is the way, the truth, and the life from His lofty throne on high? Or, is it because He came to us. He walked among us, suffered with us, died for us. He was merciful when we deserved judgement. He extended grace when we deserved none of it, and He is a person. The Godhead, three in one, has thoughts, emotions, and plans. He seeks relationship with us.

He is not just a historical topic. He is not some sociological institution. He is not up for debate. He is a person, whether we approach Him as one or not. We can talk about religion and our faith, and dance around Him all we want, He is still always right there...listening, observing, moving, and speaking.

Let me ask you this, if someone wanted you to describe your dearest friend, or father, or your spouse, what would be your approach? Would you go off on a fifteen minute rant as to why they’re good for America, how the benefits of their presence in your life outweigh the costs, or why it makes logical sense to love them and stand by them? You could, but it would be strange. You would probably approach the subject in a more personal way. You might talk about what they’re like, what kind of things you like to do together, how you met, and what they truly mean to you. So, if Christianity is a relationship, why do we so often cut God out of it altogether? He is not some concept. He is living and breathing and desiring a true connection with you and the others around you.

Don’t lose God in the middle of your scheming and well thought-out arguments. It’s important to understand why we believe what we believe and to seek knowledge, but don’t let it distract you so much that you miss the point altogether. Be brave enough to make yourself vulnerable to other people. When talking about your faith, don’t skip around Him and approach the conversation mechanically. Just be open and honest about who He is and what He’s done for you. We need the guidance of the Spirit and the courage to let our defenses down to really make an impact in somebody’s life. And above all, we need to not treat God as the elephant in the room, or the elephant that’s just sitting up there in the sky, lost among the details. We need to allow Him to hold our hand, to walk us through things, and to let Him be close to our thoughts.

We need to let Him speak.  


 

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The Power of Life and Death

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The Power of Life and Death

Written by Hannah Schneider.

 

Inside of us all is a powerful instrument...

It can be wielded for utter destruction and deception, or forgiveness and healing. It is something we all possess-something we have all felt and experienced the profound effects of. From it, nations are inspired to pull together and accomplish feats previously thought impossible. Groups rise to power and influence. Wars are waged. Individuals heal. Families are reconciled or torn apart, and from it we show the world what we are made of, what lies deep inside of us. It is an expression of the intangible things about us, like thoughts and emotions. And every time you wield this instrument, you cannot take it back. You cannot make the notes produced from it disappear or reverse.

You probably have already guessed what I’m talking about. One of the most powerful instruments we possess as human beings made in God’s image, is our tongue and the words it produces. In the book of James, we get a vivid picture of how one, tiny body part could have tremendous effects.

Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell. - James 3:3-6

In order to understand the power we hold in our speech, we need to first understand how God created us as human beings. Genesis tells us that after God created the heavens and the earth, He created us, the human race, in His image. Think about it. God created the entire universe. Everything you see on this planet, every person that ever lived, every tree and shrub, every species of animal, every star or planet you see in the sky and the trillions of others you can’t see with the naked eye...was created with a word. Our words have power because God’s words have power, and He created us like Him.

The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit. - Proverbs 18:21

I began to understand this the hard way from a young age. As a fifteen-year-old girl who desperately wanted to be accepted and praised, careless words cut into me mercilessly and etched out distorted images of myself into my heart. As someone who has always been fascinated with words, I let my love and idolization of them become my own demise.

I accepted whatever was spoken over me as my true identity...bipolar, “crazy girl”, stoner, loser, flighty, lazy, stupid, irresponsible, thoughtless and many others are labels I took on and wore around brazenly as an adolescent. In the same way, my own words, which were twinged with bitterness and the pain of rejection, wreaked havoc on my family members and the people who deeply cared about me, burning bridges and creating emotional rifts in the process.

Years later, God has restored the false identities and broken relationships that resulted from the hurtful words of my past, with much patience. Even now, there are times where I feel the consequences and weight of verbal shots fired from years ago. But God is constantly using His word, the ultimate truth about myself and others, to bring healing once again. The unfortunate reality is that we can’t take back the words we’ve said, but we can change our course and take steps forward to hold ourselves accountable.  Through our words, we can inspire and build up others, move people into action, extend forgiveness and bring healing. Words can be beautiful and empowering, and our tongues can be instruments of grace through which God carries out His purposes and spreads the gospel. To proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ and the message of reconciliation, is to wield the power of life. The choice is simply ours.

Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. - Proverbs 16:24

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The Unmet Expectations of a Perpetual Dreamer

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The Unmet Expectations of a Perpetual Dreamer

Written by Hannah Schneider. 

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

   neither are your ways my ways,”

declares the Lord.

“As the heavens are higher than the earth,

   so are my ways higher than your ways

   and my thoughts than your thoughts. -Isaiah 55:8-9

 

Since the day I could remember, I was a dreamer, constantly thinking up and acting out fanciful stories that gleamed with good intentions and idealistic principles. And as with any true dreamer, there sooner or later came the stark realization that reality just never seemed to measure up to the way that I perceived the world should be, leaving me in a constant state of slight disappointment. The truth is we live in a fallen world, and to put it bluntly, no matter who you are, reality bites.

Us dreamers tend to get caught up in our own inner fantasies, imagining what it will be like when we are finally at the university or career of our dreams, or when we will at last meet the guy or girl of our dreams. We dream of the kind of students, citizens, spouses, and parents we will be, how fulfilling our careers will be, and what it will feel like when our dreams finally come to fruition. But I want you to think back to a time when you felt disillusioned because of unmet expectations. Married life wasn’t as romantic as you thought it should be...your dream career wasn’t as fulfilling or flexible as you’d imagined...or you didn’t turn out to be the brilliant student you’d hoped to be. It can be challenging when wrestling with the let down of unmet expectations. But as with any challenge, there is a unique opportunity to grow your perspective and understanding of God’s ways. And God’s ways can be rather mysterious ways indeed.

There will come a day when you realize that God’s number one agenda at the moment isn’t for you to be happy or acquire worldly success...sorry. God cares about our wellbeing, but His dream for us is ultimately to become more Christ-like, and sometimes that looks like God letting us be frustrated or held back for the sake of character growth. Paul says in Romans 5 that we should rejoice in our sufferings, not because suffering is pleasant but because it produces endurance, character, and finally hope.

So when does this blog get to the encouraging part? My encouragement is not that following Christ will be easy. My encouragement is not that living according to your God given purpose will be comfortable or convenient. My encouragement is not that your future endeavors will always be grandiose or glamorous. My encouragement is not that you are 100% equipped or even emotionally ready for what God has for you next. My encouragement is this:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,

who have been called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28

When things don’t go as planned or God isn’t getting stuff done on the timeline you think He should abide by, remember that God’s ways are higher than ours. Let your dreams be that God would use you, in whatever way He sees necessary and right for that stage of life. Dream big and dream because it feels marvelous, but also surrender your dreams to the one who has called you according to His purpose. When reality bites, or the actuality of living out your dreams falls painfully flat, put your hope in the only one who has the power to redeem and create a reality more perfect than even you can imagine.

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A Letter to the Overcommitted Leader

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A Letter to the Overcommitted Leader

Written by Sarah Vanek.

 

Dear, Overcommitted Leader:

Your passion is contagious. Your devotion, admirable. Your work ethic, what everyone desires to imitate. Those around you respect you for always giving more. For showing up early, and staying late. For taking on the extra work that no one else is willing to do. And for doing it all with a smile.

But I know you. I know you’re tired. Weak. Exhausted. I know that you wish someone would come and take just a little responsibility off your shoulders. I know you yearn for rest—true rest—but that you’re afraid of it. You’re afraid of what will happen if you stop for a short while. You’re afraid of what will happen around you, and of what will happen in you.

You work hard to maintain your role by day. But when you’re alone, you lament being so busy. You grieve the things you used to love. You wish that somehow, you could hit pause for an hour. Just an hour. But you can’t. Because you have to rush to the next thing. Your daughter’s recital. Your work meeting. Your night class. Even your Bible study. Maybe even all of them in one night.

Everything is a blur. You’re just going through the motions. Wake up. Coffee. Bible. Work. School. Meeting. Project. Volunteer. Drive. Kids. Supper. Dishes. Sleep. Wake up. And you’re wondering when it all ends. Because, even though you’re proud of yourself for handling it all, you know what it’s really doing. It’s destroying you. It’s destroying your life. It’s keeping you from being who God’s called you to be. And you can keep letting it if you want to. Or, you can step up to the plate and be the leader that He’s made you.

It’s time for you to make a choice, Overcommitted Christian Leader. You can keep going like this, and burnout. (Trust me, you’re not the exception to the rule.) Or, you can make some changes. You can decide that after you finish what you’ve already committed to, you’re going to cut where cuts can be made. Even if it’s small.

Don’t know where to start? Pray. Ask God where He wants you to cut. And ask yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing. Chances are, there are some things that you do simply because you feel obligated to. Or, because it’s what you’ve done for years. Or, because someone else told you to. Or, because you’re trying to maintain an image. Because you want everyone else to see you as that man or woman who has it all together. Because you’re trying to convince everyone that you’re good enough. Maybe even because you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re good enough.

Well, good news. God has already made you good enough. He knew you couldn’t make it on your own, so he made it for you. So, you can stop killing yourself trying now. Just sink into His arms. He’s been waiting for you. He’s crazy about you. And it hurts Him to see you like this. Yes, He made you to work, but He didn’t make you to work so much that you’d stop enjoying Him. He wants to give you rest—rest that you can only find in Him. Remember what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28? “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Will you loosen your grip enough to let Him offer that rest? Or, will you continue to go through life strung-out and bitter? It is up to you.

Love,

A Former Overcommitted Leader

 

 

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What is Leadership?

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What is Leadership?

Written by Sarah Vanek.

 

"LEADERSHIP"

 

It’s there in the person who

Makes you feel safe.

 

It’s there in the one who

Does the right thing.

 

It’s there in the heart

That puts others first.

 

It’s there in the life

That’s lived with a purpose.

 

It’s within those who give up,

so that others may gain.

 

It’s within ones who live life

 Self-sacrificially.

 

It’s within people who

Are willing to serve with their all.

 

It’s within those who

Aren’t afraid to be small.

 

It’s taught to the person

Who is willing to learn.

 

It’s taught to the ones

Who are willing to serve.

 

It’s taught to the people

who will work hard.

 

It’s taught to those

Willing to give of their heart.

 

It’s not about status,

Or personal gain.

 

It’s not about money,

Or being on the big stage.

 

It’s not about barking orders,

Or bringing others down.

 

It’s not about flattery,

Or being the best around.

 

It’s about loving,

And giving of yourself.

 

It’s about helping others

To reach their goals.

 

It’s about honesty,

And gentle admonition.

 

It’s about constantly

Living life on a mission.

 

 

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3 Reasons Why You Need to Prioritize Your Priorities

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3 Reasons Why You Need to Prioritize Your Priorities

Written by Sarah Vanek.

 

86,400 seconds. 1,440 minutes. 24 hours. This is your day, whether you like it or not. And if you’re anything like me, there are many days you don’t like it—many days that you wish you could stretch the concept of time … maybe just fudge a few of the numbers. But the stark reality is that no matter how much we try, we can’t stop time. And oddly enough, we can’t stop using it either. So, we must learn to prioritize our priorities. Why? Three reasons.

Priorities are lived, whether intentionally or not.

Humor me. Take a few moments to think through how you spend a typical day. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up?  Where do you spend the majority of your 24 hours? What’s the one thing that you must do before you go to bed?  What keeps you up late at night? What gets you out of bed before the crack of dawn? What are the things that you’ve been meaning to do forever, but can never actually seem to get done?

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve just outlined your priorities. You see, the ways you spend your time (or don’t) reflect what you value. I don’t know about you, but that hits me hard.  Why? Because if I wrote down what I truly value in life, the way I spend my time—my current priorities—would not match up. And the truth is that I’m not alone. Most of us face this disconnect.

Think about it. We claim to value our families, yet we put in more than 50 hours a week. We say that we value our health, yet you couldn’t catch us at the gym if you tried. Even worse, we claim to value our relationship with God, but do our lives reflect that?

Here’s the deal. Time doesn’t stop, and if we don’t actively prioritize the things we say we value, they’ll end up getting pushed to the bottom of the list. Not because we don’t care, but because priorities are lived—and choosing not to prioritize your priorities is an act of prioritizing in itself.

Your days are numbered.

That’s right, before you were even born, God set a number for your days. Take a moment to really let that soak in. Scripture says: “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16 NIV).

You see, whether we like it or not, we only have so much time on this earth. As this time is passing, it often seems like a bunch of meaningless moments. A moment that you took a snooze. A moment that you smiled. A moment that you cried. But as you know, these moments add up quickly. Before you know it, moments—for good or bad—have become days, months, and years. And soon, you’ve lived a lifetime. 

If we don’t learn to prioritize our priorities, we will end up living necessitated ones. And when it’s too late, we’ll look back and notice that we wasted our days—the days God never had to give us, but chose to anyway.

Think about it this way. What if, the moment you were born, you were given a watch set to count down from the number of days you had on this earth? Each time you went to sleep, one more day was taken away. Personally, I believe the tangibility of this example would make death seem much more concrete in our minds. You see, though we are all acutely aware that there is a watch set on our lives—one that only the Master of the Universe has access to—we often fail to recognize the reality of that time. We know that sometime we’ll die, but we put that event so far into the future of our minds, that it doesn’t regularly impact the here and now. So, we must work to remember that our days are numbered. We must work to hide James 4:14 in our hearts, which says “Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.”

We are not promised tomorrow, so why do we live like it?

Lack of prioritizing leads to burnout.

One of the last most important reasons why it is essential for you to learn to prioritize your priorities, is because if you don’t learn to decide what is the most important, you will naturally end up trying to do everything. You will live priorities that are unintentional, all while simultaneously attempting to shove in everything you claim to value. Though you’ll feel like the master of your life for a while—proud of your ability to do everything—you WILL burnout.

Why? Because you were not designed to do everything. God created you with specific interests, talents, and opportunities, and has given you the chance to play a part in His plan. Just let that truth sit on your heart for a bit.

God doesn’t need any of us. He wants us. And He has given us gifts to accomplish His own purposes. But when we try to do everything—when we don’t prioritize our priorities—we get in our own way. We hinder our ability to maximize the gifts God has given, and that is a shame. And beyond that, we find ourselves at the point of burnout, because we end up wasting our time doing things that don’t really matter. When the Master’s watch ticks to zero on our lives, we find that we’ve spent our precious, numbered days on things that we don’t even hold at a high value.

***

Time is always ticking. We can’t stop it, and we can’t save it for later. We can’t stretch it out, and we can’t fudge the numbers. What we have is what we get. That’s why it’s so important for us to prioritize our priorities. Because priorities are lived, whether intentionally or not. Because our days are numbered. And because a lack of prioritization leads to burnout.

86,400. That’s how many seconds you have today. What you do with them is your choice. But they’ll be gone tomorrow, and you can’t have them back. So, choose wisely.

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4 Crucial Leadership Lessons from "Sully" Sullenberger

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4 Crucial Leadership Lessons from "Sully" Sullenberger

Written by Sarah Vanek.

 

Sometimes the biggest displays of leadership occur within a split second.  The decision to run into live fire to save a fellow soldier.  The choice to jump in-between a child and her drunken father.  Or, the conscious decision to respond in love when the individual on the receiving end really deserves the product of revenge.

For Captain Chesley Sullenberger, it was the call to land a plane in the middle of the Hudson River on January 15, 2009.  As the leader of US Airways flight 1549, Chesley was responsible for the 155 lives in his hands.  The moment the engines stopped, he had a decision to make. With no time to spare, he had to figure out where he was going to land that plane.

There were 208 seconds between the time the plane’s engines were ruined by a flock of geese, and the moment the plane glided to a historic stop on the Hudson—that’s less than three-and-a-half minutes.  Yet, it was during those short moments, and the ones that came after, that we find four crucial leadership lessons to hang on to.

        1.  Stay calm in chaos.

In the theatrical rendition of what many have labeled a miraculous landing, one of the outstanding characteristics portrayed in Captain Sully was his ability to stay calm in the midst of chaos and massive responsibility.  

When he knew the engines had stopped, he immediately began assessing the situation to understand what the best action was.  His voice didn’t waver.  He remained stoic and calm.  It is these characteristics that enabled him to make a wise, informed decision while everything was literally falling apart around him.  Clearly, staying calm no matter the circumstance is a critical lesson for any leader.

        2. Remember what you know.

How in the world was Sully able to stay so calm when 155 lives were in his hands and the logical chance for all of their survival was slim to none?  Simple—he remembered what he knew.  Instead of letting the chaos engulf him, he chose to focus on all of the knowledge he had gained through his time in flight school and years in the cockpit.  

Focusing on this knowledge enabled him to keep his mind on the problem and situation at hand, instead of on the awful potential outcome that had the chance to become a stark reality. This focus is what allowed him to make the best decision he could in the short amount of time that was available to him.  So, whenever you find yourself in the midst of a tough situation, hold tightly to what you already know.  Chances are, you’re more prepared than you think.

        3.  Do what’s best for those you lead.

The decision that Sully had to make in just a few seconds was a product of his leadership.  Just like any good leader, he chose to do what was best for the people whose lives were in his hands.  For him, that meant landing the plane on the Hudson.

Sully had realized that there was no way he would be able to make it back to the airport to land on the tarmac.  After filtering his options, he concluded that the best way to keep the lives on board safe, was to perform a water landing that he’d never done before.  Was this a dangerous decision?  You bet it was.  Did he believe he was doing his best for the people he was serving?  You bet he did.  And we should strive to do the same.

        4.  Put yourself second.

Now, it would have been easy for Captain Sully to bask in his own success after doing something previously unprecedented, but that is nowhere near what he did.  While bystanders were in awe over what had happened and praising him for his piloting abilities, Sully could be found searching the plane for trapped passengers.  

More than that, when everyone was picked up by the Coast Guard, Sully was asking how many had gotten off.  Why?  The one thing he cared about was that the lives he was responsible for were safe—that everyone was accounted for.  The moment he was informed that everyone was, in fact, alive he breathed a sigh of relief and was able to move on.  You see, good leaders always strive to put their people first, and themselves second.  Why?  Because good leaders realize that it’s ultimately not about them.

***

Captain Sullenberger had 208 seconds to land his plane ... 208 seconds to make the best leadership decision he could and then act on it.  Within those moments, and the ones that came after, we find four crucial leadership lessons: learning to stay calm in the chaos, remember what we know, do what is best for those we lead, and put ourselves second to our people.  No matter what our leadership context is, we should strive to make these lessons a core part of both what we do, and who we are.

Sometimes the most powerful leadership decisions are made in a split second.  What will the outcome of yours be?



Sully.  Dir.  Clint Eastwood.  Warner Bros., 2016.  Film.

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How to Make Your Team Rise Above the Rest

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How to Make Your Team Rise Above the Rest

Written by Sarah Vanek.

 

“When I die, I want my group project members to lower me into the grave, so they can let me down one last time.”   

This is one of the funniest jokes I’ve heard that refers to working in a team environment.  But why do we laugh?  Sadly, it’s because we’ve all had bad experiences.  We can relate.  We’ve been in situations where we were responsible for leading a group or team, and we ended up feeling let down—like we were stuck doing all of the work by ourselves.  And because of it, we cringe and want to run away any time someone mentions anything remotely close to leading a group.

But what if team leadership didn’t have to be the awful experience that we all have in the back of our minds?  What if it could be positive, enjoyable, and beneficial?  What if you could set up your team to rise above the rest?  The truth is, you can.  And it all starts with strategy.

To explore this concept, I reached out to a former leader of mine, Dave Struebing.  As my former track coach, he was the one who screamed at my fellow sprinters and I as we ran repeat 400-meter dashes, but he was also the one who designed our relay teams.  Because I respected him for the work he did as my coach and team-builder, I asked him what his secrets were.  So here they are … his keys to recruiting, developing, and empowering a team that stands out from the pack.

Recruiting.

When it comes to recruiting, the first thing Dave looks for is talent.  On his team in particular, he needs to know that a potential team member can run a 400-meter, and that he or she can run it fast.  But that’s just the beginning.  Simply having talent isn’t enough for Dave to recruit someone.  Instead, he recommends pairing the talent search with one for passion.

This passion hunt involves looking for individuals who will give their all for the good of the team—individuals who will buy into a common goal, and then do everything in their power to reach it.  In fact, he went so far as to say that this intangible passion is almost more important than raw talent.  Being able to run fast is important, but caring about what you’re running for—that’s a powerful catalyst.

Developing.

In the area of developing a stand-out team, Dave stressed the importance of repetition.  Yet, he was quick to mention that practice doesn’t make perfect—it makes permanent.  So, as he develops a team, it’s not only key for each member to practice his or her skills over and over again, but also to practice them correctly.

Aside from the countless hours of repetition and correct practice, though, Dave honed in on how important it is to pay attention to everything.  The team-leader must realize that everyone can’t perform well all of the time—sometimes, you need to have an alternative plan.  So, part of developing an outstanding team involves knowing what to do if one member needs a break, or can’t carry the load for a short time.

Empowering.

Just like he did with development, Dave summed up much of how he empowers an effective team into one sentence: individuals don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.  Though this is an oft-used statement, Dave stands by it and believes that it’s best to show this necessary care and concern through actions.

What kind of actions?  You might ask.  Well, he recommends not ignoring anything, but rather working hard to be honest about feelings and keep the line of communication constant.  As each of these actions is taken, it begins to impress upon team members that the leader truly cares about everyone involved.  He believes that as he does these things and keeps everything honest and in the open, it empowers his team.

***

With all of this, it is clear that Dave’s keys to recruiting, developing, and empowering a team that stands out from the pack, begin with a search for both talent and passion.  It then continues with development via repetition of the right skills, and paying attention to everything.  Finally, the empowerment that underlies it all comes from a constant level of both care, and communication. By navigating team-building with this strategy in mind, you can set your team up to rise above the rest.  And maybe—just maybe—the dread of leading a group can be diminished.

 

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Why a Mission Statement Could Change Your Life

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Why a Mission Statement Could Change Your Life

Written by Sarah Vanek.

 

Mission Statement: To convince you that you need a mission statement for your life, in order to enable you to reach your full potential.

The fact that I just told you that probably either annoys, or relieves you.  Either way, though, it illustrates the points I aim to make.  You see, having a mission statement--which includes both the objective and the intent behind it--actually has multiple benefits that extend to our personal lives and goals.  It creates clarity, it promotes passion, and it enables effectivity.  

It creates clarity.

Reading my mission statement for this blog gave both you and I one thing from the get-go--clarity.  Even if you didn’t like it or agree with it, you knew exactly what I set out to do, and why.  And so did I, for that matter.  I no longer had to sit here and stare at the blinking cursor, wondering what I was going to write.  The mission statement made everything much more clear.

Funny thing is, our lives work just like this.  All too often, we set out and just start living.  We think “someday, I’ll be successful” or “someday, I’ll reach that dream” but we leave everything just a little too vague.  By choosing not to clarify our lives with a mission statement, we essentially set ourselves up to figuratively stare at the blinking cursor for the rest of our lives--living day by day without really knowing what we’re trying to do, or why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Think about it.  Many of us are working 9-5 jobs every day, but aside from making a living, we don’t know why we’re doing it.  We don’t know the purpose we’re trying to fulfill.  And then, we age.  We age, and we start freaking out because we’re not where we envisioned we’d be.  We find ourselves looking back feeling as if we’ve wasted years of our lives.  

Good news.  Having a mission statement can partially prevent this by creating clarity.  You see, if you clearly determine what you want to do and why, you can better understand how what you're doing now enables you to fulfill that (or not).  Just like it did for you with reading, and me with writing, developing a mission statement will make your goals and personal lives much more clear.

It promotes passion.

Remember when you were a kid?  When you were free to dream?  When the idea that you could fail hadn’t even crossed your mind?  When no one had yet told you that your dreams were impossible?  When layers of sin, people-pleasing, and unaccomplished goals hadn’t left your heart buried?

In those precious moments, what did you do?  You probably did what all kids do--you dreamed up the best thing you could imagine, and then lived as if it was real.  You ran around the house with a superman cape, played school and house with your dolls, and pretended to be a firefighter or a doctor that saved the world.  You see, clearly knowing what you wanted to be ignited the fire of the passion inside you. And even though that passion didn’t always last long-term, it was definitely there.

You see, this is what having a mission statement does for you—it provides the clarity that enables the passion to take hold.  But as long as things are vague and unclear, you can’t count on the passion being there.  This is why you need a mission statement.

So, if you are finding yourself sitting at that 9-5 job every day without really knowing why you’re there, take some time to understand what your mission is—you just might find that it awakens passions that have been sitting dormant in your heart.

It enables effectivity.

Now, here’s the really cool part.  Once you’ve got the passion, you naturally begin to be more effective.  Suddenly, working hard for your dream hardly seems like work at all.  You can see that clear picture in the back of your mind, and it keeps you going even when things get tough.  It drives you to spend hours and hours behind the scenes.  You notice your work ethic increasing, and your overall productivity improving.  

You see, clearly understanding the end goal is essential if you want to be productive and effective, regardless of the field you’re in.  Creating that end goal—your mission statement—is what promotes motivation to come from within your heart.  You go from an individual motivated by external factors such as money or vacation time, to a person on fire for your vision, motivated intrinsically by the deep goals and dreams that you want to see become a reality.

And it all begins with a simple mission statement.

***

Mission statements begin by creating clarity, which gives way for passion to bubble up inside us, ultimately enabling us to be the most effective we can be.  It paved the way for this blog post to effectively communicate a message, and it can pave the way for you to reach your potential within your own hopes and dreams.  Though you may say you don’t have time to sit down and flesh out some cheesy mission statement, my question to you is: can you afford to pay the price of not having one?  What do you want to look back on when you’re reaching the end of your life?  What legacy do you want to leave behind?  A mission statement has the potential to change that legacy for the better.  It’s your choice.  The blank page and blinking cursor are now yours—make your decision wisely.

Mission Accomplished?  You decide.

 

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How to Get an "A" in Leadership

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How to Get an "A" in Leadership

Written by Sarah Vanek.

 

Ahh leadership... 

That’s a word so frequently tossed around these days, that we really don’t know what it means anymore.  Books have been written on it. Speeches have been given on it.  Conferences have been centered on it.  We are constantly talking about it.  But what if we have missed the point?  

Society has told us time and time again that leadership is one “A”: Ability.  We are either born with it, or we must learn how to develop it.  So, we buy all the books we can find, and listen to TED Talks galore to determine if we are a leader, and how we can become one.  But in all of this, we’ve focused so much on the ability of leadership that we’ve forgotten the more important “A” of leadership: Availability.  

Take a moment and think back to the individual whom you would consider the most influential leader in your life.  Maybe it’s a teacher, a coach, a boss, or a pastor.  Whoever it was, it probably goes without saying that this person had leadership ability.  He or she was good at his or her job and capable of leading people.  But if ability was all that was there, this person probably wouldn’t have made your list of influential people.  Why?  Because a leader’s ability often pales in comparison to his or her availability.  Ability looks good on the outside, but availability fosters influence.

You see, it means more when a leader takes time to listen.  When he is approachable.  When the door is open.  When she asks questions.  When being supportive becomes at least as important as getting the job done.  So, what do we do?

We increase our availability.

As leaders, we are most influential when we make ourselves available to our followers.  Think about it.  The teacher who stays after school to be there for her students makes more of an impact than the one who obsessively prepares for a lesson at the expense of engaging with her pupils.  Why is this? Because students get countless lessons and instructions each day, but not every teacher asks them how things are at home, how their new baby brother is doing, or if they’re enjoying their after school activities.  You see, lesson planning and teaching ability are great and essential, but influence will come from simply being there.

Don’t think this applies at the office?  Think again.  Imagine the boss who is standoffish and simply barks orders.  Week after week, all he or she does is assign tasks and ask to see your completed products.  How do you respond?  Do you feel empowered?  Safe?  Maybe, but probably not.  Chances are, you’d be more likely to do good work and let your passions shine through if he or she found a way to tie them to the vision of the team, and if he or she took time to engage you in conversations that didn’t involve the work that needed to be done.  

We enable others’ abilities.

Though each of us likes to show off our ability muscles, growing in leadership often means letting go of doing the tasks ourselves, and embracing the chance to do them through others.  This is where your increased availability comes into play.  You see, you’re not simply working to make yourself a more available leader to free up your own time; you’re freeing up your time so that you can tap into and develop the abilities of your direct reports.  Simply put, this is where you use your abilities to enable theirs.

What does this look like?  It could be as simple as  sitting down with a direct report to ask what you could do to enable them to do their job better.  It could be taking a few extra minutes to nicely show someone a more efficient way to complete a task.  Or, it could be acting as a sounding board for an employee to present ideas for their departments.  Whatever this looks like, you need to do it.  This is how leaders develop leaders.  

***

So, as you move forward in any context of leadership, stop spending all of your resources on trying to be the best at what you do, and start making yourself available to the people you lead.  It’s this availability that will create influence, and enable you to tap into and develop the abilities of others.  As you do this, you will discover that getting an “A” in leadership starts with simply being available.

 

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