92. Are you lonely as a leader?

I was caring for my 94 year old mother in Wales at the end of last year for a month.  My Dad died some thirteen years ago and since that time, I have often heard my mum say that she is ‘lonely’.  After 55 years of marriage with hardly any separation during all those years, you get used to having a companion with you all the time. So becoming a widow brought loneliness into her life.

Bob Bennett wrote a song called, ‘Together all alone’ that caught my attention years ago when I was commuting into London on the tube (underground train) at rush hour.  Everyone was crushed into the carriages, pressed up against one another, and even feeling one another’s breath on their faces.  In fact I wondered some days, if I lifted my feet, would I remain in the same position?  Packed was the word.  But with people in such close proximity, not one word was spoken.  That summed up the song for me – ‘Together all alone’. We can be busy people, involved in great projects, enjoying the platform and speaking here there and everywhere and yet… we are alone.

Sometimes as leaders we have to make decisions that don’t go with the flow of everyone’s expectations.  It goes with the territory and it doesn’t always feel great.  We can even consult with lots of people, get input and advice but finally it comes down to the leader making a decision and he or she has to do it on their own.  And they then carry the consequences for that decision.

There are many lonely people in the world.  I see them everyday.  I sometime think that pastors are some of the loneliest people – sure they have their congregations and spend time with lots of people, but who do they have that they can relax with, be real with, say it like it is with….?

In YWAM, is it any different? I have been saddened at times when a relationship that I thought had longevity, turned out to be a ‘working relationship’.  We may have shared deeply in the meeting context and may have prayed our hearts out for one another, but change role and suddenly that relationship has dissolved. And it can make us feel very alone.

We have just had the privilege of speaking in a large conference of 500+ people, enjoying much affirmation and being blessed with interaction with so many people.  What a joy to connect with people we haven’t seen for a while and make new friends. Then it comes to an end and we move on to the next assignment – looking after our grandson.

From major speaker to Grandpa.  No deep conversations about leadership development now, just pointing out pictures on the flip up bible and playing on the swings in the park. Delightful, but the experience also has its moments of loneliness.

I read the following quote by Dr Edwin Friedman with interest:

“Any leader who cannot endure profound levels of loneliness will not last long.”

Moses was a man who understood loneliness – taken from his own family as a boy, growing up in Pharaoh’s court, and feeling a little out of place.  After reconnecting with his roots, he had to escape into the wilderness after killing an Egyptian.  Wandering the desert with his sheep for 40 years, he met loneliness. Then he received a call from God. A call no one really understood. A calling he had to persevere in as Pharaoh continually agreed to let the people go and then refused his request. Finally he led the Israelites out of Egypt but the people grumbled and complained. Moses speaks to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people;’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.   And God responded, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” But Moses was not completely convinced. “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here…”. Exodus 33:12, 14

Have you ever come to a place where you wondered – have I got here using my own gifts and through sheer perseverance?  Where is God in my circumstances?  I received a call, but is God really with me now?  In this phase of our lives, God’s presence with us becomes a whole lot more important than the destination.  This is a pivotal point in the life of a leader. Our promised land will differ – planting a church among the unreached, establishing a centre for street kids in the city, becoming an expert in this or that or a thousand and one other visions. But it all becomes nothing in comparison with knowing the presence of God in our lives.  Our deep desire is to know God right now, right here.  Moses was looking for some encouragement – not just words but experiencing God’s presence with him.

None of us wants to move into the future without God going with us!  However it takes courage to stop and talk with the Lord as Moses did.  He is not a push button God.  Not a slot machine God.  Not someone we can demand anything of.  We wait for him.  We take time with him. Otherwise it’s so easy to miss him – rushing on into the next thing, or taking the wrong turn because we haven’t waited for his guidance.

Transition is always a key time to ensure that God’s presence is with us before we move forward. It’s a time to evaluate the past, then look to the future asking our questions, sharing our concerns and doubts and knowing his presence is with us no matter what is in store for us on the journey. Only then can we make those difficult decisions, that may affect others’ lives too but made with the knowledge that God is asking us to step into this journey with him.  We can feel very alone – especially when the road we choose isn’t obvious, or may seem to go against the flow or others criticise us in the process.

Coming back to my 94 year old mum.  Last time I spoke with her on the phone, she told me – “I have to be thankful that in my loneliness I have met the Lord in a much deeper way than ever before.”

So as leaders, don’t be afraid of those lonely moments, or lonely seasons – the Lord is there to transform those times into the most meaningful times that you will know.  He is interested in the process and not just the destination.

Until next month


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