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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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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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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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