I love going on road trips with friends. You learn a lot about your friends when you’re in the car with them for hours at a time. I have learned that Jill should never be given more than one Biggie Iced Tea during a trip, if you don’t want the ETA to change dramatically. I have learned Eness, Johanna, and I should never play card games with each other if we want to keep our friendship intact. And Lynn helped me learn that singing along with Billy Joel at the top of your lungs while driving is a great way to stay awake during the last leg of a road trip.
I have also learned, through the feedback of dear friends, that I am very focused on getting to our destination. Don’t ask me to stop at a restaurant to have a leisurely lunch in the middle of a road trip — that’s what a drive-thru is for. Taking a leisurely lunch in the middle of the road trip seems like a waste of time. Those are valuable minutes, better used for driving on.
But what would happen if I were to release control of the schedule, experience a great lunch with my road trip buddies, and enjoy the moment? Who else might we meet and learn from? What memories might we create? What fabulous food could we experience? These opportunities might be missed if I’m laser-focused on getting from point A to point B. Perhaps there is value in being present in the journey between point A and point B in our lives. Perhaps choosing to be present to this process allows us to have eyes to see the beauty God is creating around us and in us.
In leadership, choosing to be present in the journey can be challenging for me. I am a visionary leader and have the opportunity to mobilize people to accomplish meaningful goals. I enjoy dreaming with God and others about what could be, setting goals to accomplish this, and then embarking on a journey of faith, strategy, and skill that helps bring these dreams to reality.
But in the midst of the excitement and push to achieve goals and dreams, there is also the need for a discipline of slowing down in order to be present to the journey God has us on. In InterVarsity, we call this The Debriefing Moment. It’s where we slow down in the midst of all the “doing” that is wonderful and important, in order to ask, “What am I learning about myself? What am I learning about God?” It’s in these moments of choosing to be present and learn from God that I gain a deeper awareness of him, myself, and others. It’s where I see another set of goals God has for me, but these goals are more of the inner-soul sort — less tangible, but incredibly crucial.
In this journey of leadership and life, I continue to see that God gives us dreams and goals to move toward, but he is also mindful of developing our character and deepening our relationship with him and others along the way. Often this spiritual formation process doesn’t happen via the “drive-thru,” but needs the leisurely lunch. It requires us to be present to the process that God is unfolding in our midst and to catch all the beautiful gems he is revealing in these moments. These gems will be valuable — even essential — in future moments down the road.
I remember a season in ministry when I experienced some exciting times in my leadership with InterVarsity. It was a season of developing young leaders who were eager to grow. We saw many students come to Christ, and there was evidence of growth and transformation in students’ lives on campus. In the midst of this vibrant time, God was bubbling up to the surface some soul issues in me that needed to be addressed. I began to notice my identity getting enmeshed with the success of the ministry. And I began to realize that fear of failure was lurking in the shadows of my heart. What if this ends up tanking? What if I choose the wrong strategies for the team,? What if I don’t make the right hiring decisions? I found it interesting that as success rose, so did fear. I felt God’s nudging to spend some time in the debrief moment with him — to go deeper into this looming fear failure, to push into my definition of success, to get under the reasons I strive so much not only in leadership, but in all relationships in my life.
Clearly, I didn’t have time for this. I was en-route to achieving something amazing for God! I was trying to get from point A to point B. If I had my way, I would go through the “drive-thru,” give a nod to the issues bubbling up, pray that God heal my soul, and move on with growing the fruit of ministry.
But God asked me to be present to another type of fruit in ministry. This fruit required me to be present to his process — to continue to lead toward the vision he gave me, while also unpacking the deep work he was doing in my soul. It would require me to reallocate some of the time that was meant for “getting things done” and pay attention to my soul and what God was doing in my character.
God was inviting me to a leisurely lunch. He was not asking me to give up my goals and dreams, but was asking me to not be so focused on them that I missed the very important soul work that needed to happen in me. This inner work in my soul was fruit of the ministry, just as the growth and transformation in staff and students was fruit of ministry. It was painful at times, but worth it. Little did I know that being present and learning all I could from this journey would yield the important lessons of leadership and life that would anchor me in the years to come.
Getting from point A to point B is good. Having goals is helpful. Being present to God in the process is invaluable. May we practice being present in the journey of our leadership and life to the glory of God and his kingdom.