LeadershipPain1400Last week I shared the ‘pop-up’ for me in the first part of the book, Leadership Pain. At the end of each chapter is the line, “And remember: you’ll grow only to the threshold of your pain.” Finishing the book this week there were several areas that further resonated with me.

A testimony from a pastor of a church in Nashville wrote, “Pain is unavoidable, but I’ve learned it isn’t eternal.” Another testimonial shared, “We can’t stop what happens to us, but we can certainly stop what happens in us.” If you are in the midst of a season of leadership pain, it is difficult to look out 3 months, 6 months, a year from now, but it helped me tremendously to think the situation could not go on forever. The line from Steel Magnolias comes to mind, “That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.” But what if the professional pain feels like it’s killing you? I would go to page 182.

It’s on page 182 that I found the life preserver I’d been looking for, “Be certain of this: when you suffer the pains of leadership, God is trusting you to weather the storm and represent him to a watching world.” What? God is trusting me? My world is watching me?  “God has put you in a position to display His kindness, wisdom, and power in the midst of your heartache.”  Whew! The author continues, “When we’re in pain, it may not seem like much of a privilege to represent God at that moment and at that place, but God himself has appointed us, empowered us, and placed us ‘for such a time as this.’ He trusts us to endure with grace. The moment of pain, then, is a point of high honor earned by faithfulness, effectiveness, reputation, and proven character. It’s an honor and a challenge to be God’s representative in a time of heartache.” What a statement!  When I naturally respond by fight or flight, I am invited to yield. My heart is hurting and God knows. This is my chance to display not blame, not vengeance, not anger, but His kindness, His wisdom, and His power in the midst of my heartache.

The author closes the book in chapter 10 with the challenge to find and build pain partners. In a terrible time of King David’s life, he had his mighty men.  David’s mighty men were totally loyal to him, loved him, knew him well enough to notice when he was in need. We also need mighty men/women. The challenge: Friendships such as these take time and have to be in place before the crisis hits.  Like the friends who dropped the paralytic in through the roof, when our faith falters, we all need friends who share a similar call into leadership who can carry us, and whom we can carry along for a season. The author warns us to be selective though. Jesus took a chosen three when He went into the Garden of Gethsemane to come closer…Peter, James, and John…they were His pain partners. They didn’t get it right all the time, but they were invited to come closer.

Characteristics to build these pain partner friendships?

(1) Listen…really listen…to hearts, not just words. Plan to listen for the long haul. What is your question-to-statement ratio? Are you engaging in conversation…tossing the convo ball back and forth…or just offering statements, announcements, info.

(2) Revealing…”relationships deepen gradually through a slow dance of self-disclosure.” Will I continue to wear the mask, or be ‘on’, or does our shared faith permit us to be honest without judgment? And here’s the hard part: do we invite others to be revealing without offering advice or judgment? Lord, help this naturally ENTJ gal to check my J at the door!

(3) Finding common ground…others who share your call, your position, your profession, not to give advice, but to ‘listen and love without strings attached.’ Without expectation…no strings attached.

I have pain partners – professional friendships who will speak truth into my life and who invite me to speak into theirs or just sit and share sacred space.  It seems we don’t have enough margin in our lives to make the time for such gatherings, but I would die without them.

The testimonials throughout the book were shared by men and women in pastoral, para-church, non-profits who further the cause of Christ in our world. Many were from outside the US.  Most were on the other side of their leadership pain. Sheryl Brady from Plano, Texas offered precious insight, “I thought my painful position would destroy me, but it was really just a place for my personal preparation. It was never meant to work there because it was simply a training ground. I fasted there, but it wasn’t for there. I served there, but it wasn’t for there. I prayed there, but it wasn’t for there…I couldn’t see where all the pain would lead, but He could…This is when you must keep going, step by step, day by day. This is when your hungry heart must follow the daily bread crumbs God always gives and accept that you have enough hope for today.”

Looking back on that painful season through this book, the daily bread crumbs God offered by the hands of my family (my children were the world that watched me and they still love the local church as I do), my pain friends (children’s ministry colleagues and mentors who helped me laugh through tears), and remaining in the written word of God (I’ll never forget the day I turned the page and discovered John 12:7a) grew my trust muscle like nothing else.

Today I serve in a healthy, ‘Spirit of Yes’, and kind local church.  Today I even get to serve outside my local church pouring into the lives of others answering the call into professional ministry with children and families. Today I get phone calls and emails from others who are living through painful leadership seasons. Some have persevered to find their emotional legs and continue to follow their calling into professional ministry. One suggested this book make my reading list and I am so glad she did. One is no longer in ministry…no longer even an active part of a local church. I will call her this week and offer what I have: some daily crumbs. Because that’s what pain friends are for.

“Sometimes you have to walk with Him for a while to realize just how good He is.” Sheryl Brady