I’m reading a book of poems called Leading from Within: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Lead. This is a stretch for me. Reading poetry to reflect on leadership! I’d like to share two poems that really struck me. I’ve just finished part one of the book, which has poems related to being called to leadership. I invite you to reflect on how they touch you based on your experience and present circumstances.

The Way It Is by William Stafford

There’s a thread that you follow.  It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

I’ve often said that there are threads of continuity woven through the fabric of time that is your life. You may not see while you are travelling how all the points you visit connect together, but the continuity is obvious in hindsight. In the midst of God’s work in your life, preparing you for leadership, you may feel everything is disjointed and there is no forward momentum as you stumble from here to there. You wander from one experience to another, never feeling like you are building towards anything, and then when you are ready, God gives you your leadership assignment. And you stand there amazed and look back over the landscape traversed and you realize you weren’t staggering at all. You were at all times on a direct course to your leadership role. It only looked like you were staggering because you didn’t know the destination, the leadership role God had for you. Every time you thought you were lurching into a new rabbit trail, you were actually being groomed for the leadership position you now have. I like that. That’s the excitement of letting the Lord lead. All good leaders are first and foremost followers, and God will use all of our learning experiences because they were part of his custom training plan for us.

A person’s steps are directed by the LORD. How then can anyone understand their own way?
Proverbs 20:24

This poem also calls on us to keep our eyes on what God has called us to do. I have said many times that when you are surrounded by uncertainty and all the things that you do not know, hold fast to the one thing that you do know, the last call God gave you, and stay true to that one thing until you hear differently. Keep doing the one thing you do know and don’t worry about all the things you don’t know. At Tyndale Seminary I had no idea where God was leading me to, but that God was leading me was never in doubt. God told me to prepare for ministry, and as I feared for the future and worried about the present, the one thing I hung on to was the fact that I knew God wanted me in the MDiv program at Tyndale. That one fact kept me  going through all the hard times. What will sustain you? It may be that the one thing you know is that God loves you, so you cling to that.

One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see.
John 9:25

Don’t you ever lose sight of your call!

Here’s another poem that rang bells for me. I love this poem. It says exactly what I think! Enjoy!

To Be Of Use by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump  into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like the water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

This poem speaks of the value and sanctity of work. The last stanza says that people were made to work, and more importantly, that they want to do good work, real work. I like the passion and enthusiasm for work that this poem talks about. I can resonate with that and my fervent prayer is that all of the staff members would experience the same joys that I get from work. 

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters,
Colossians 3:22

If you think I am crazy for enjoying my work, then read Genesis 2:15 – “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” God gave work to humanity before the Fall. Work is not cursed, it is part of our creation mandate. The Fall just made work more difficult by introducing thorns and other hardships. I believe I have been redeemed by God and therefore the work that he has given me has been redeemed as well (and it would not matter if it was ministry work or secular work).

Comments?  Thoughts?  You know what to do.  Use the comment box below.

Blessings to you!

Thoughts on Poetic Reflections on “Calling”

  1. Jeremy Feser

    John – thanks so much for this post. I love the range of thought you bring to leadership practices. I love the poem by Marge Piercy – it meshes so well with concepts we’ve been discussing here for a couple of months!


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