Short-term missions trips always seem to be a comical combination of poor planning and God’s grace. One time, my husband and I spent a month with a group of 45 other people serving a ministry in South America. As part of the leadership team, we spent quite a bit of time around the ministry host (we’ll call him Joe). There were the usual frustrations and miscommunications, but one that became a joke among our fellow missionaries was the fact that Joe (who was American) seemed determined not to remember my name – I was “Derek’s wife” for a whole month, despite the fact that he managed to remember everyone else’s name on the leadership team.
It was a hard month. And it was hard not only because I felt some of this treatment had to do with this particular person’s view on women in ministry, but on a much deeper level, because I felt so incredibly unknown.
Maya Angelou famously wrote,
“I’ve learned that people forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
I don’t remember much of what Joe said, and even most of his planning blunders have faded from memory. But what I do remember, very distinctly, is how he made me feel.
I’m sure if you and I were to sit down and compare notes, you’ve probably had similar experiences. Maybe it’s a dear friend who forgets your birthday or a spouse who does the thing you’ve told them time and again hurts your feelings. Or maybe it’s a leader who repeats a question, clearly not recalling the vulnerable answer you shared to the same question last time you talked. Regardless of the specific situation, you’ve been there.
The revelation is that each and every one of us is longing to be known – to truly be seen, heard, and valued for exactly who we are – not what we have to offer.
In the years since my encounter with Joe, I’ve begun taking careful note of the people who do this well. It’s an art form, really, and something that I’ve started to prioritize developing. I don’t claim at all to have it figured out, but I do know it starts very simply: with relationship. As a leader, the question I ask myself is,
How do I communicate with my words and actions that I truly see and value those around me?
The flip side of my experience with Joe are the other people, the ones who somehow communicate love, acceptance, and knowing without really even having to say many words. They are the people who permeate every inch of their sphere of influence with genuine empathy, love, and grace.
Each and every one of us has been given a sphere of influence – a space in which we have the opportunity to bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth each and every day. The way I see it, the relationships and interactions we have with people are the primary way we are able to accomplish this.
Sometimes knowing the nuts-and-bolts how to bring Heaven to Earth is a challenge. Relationships are all about exchanges, about giving and receiving. And quite honestly, there are a lot of people in life who approach relationships with an expectation to receive.
How do we, as Jesus followers, give those people a taste of Heaven – the ones who are exhausting, draining, and depleting?
Peter and John encountered a lame man begging outside the temple, and Peter’s response famously speaks to this:
“I don’t have any silver or gold for you. But I’ll give you what I have…” (Acts 3:6).
I have to admit, there are days when all I want to do is go about my business and not be interrupted by someone’s need. It’s terrible, but it’s also honest. There are days it’s hard to feel the pressure of filling a need in someone else’s life, especially when I don’t feel like I can give them what they’re asking for.
But this is why I love Peter’s response. He doesn’t fall into a people-pleasing mode of figuring out how to give the lame man what he wanted. Instead, he accurately assesses his resources and, I think, lets Holy Spirit guide him in choosing how to meet the lame man’s need.
Peter gave this man the greatest gift any of us have to offer: time.
Time is our most precious resource. It’s the one resource each of us are given in absolutely equal measure and there’s nothing we can do to change the quantity. All we can do is choose how to steward it.
Constant interruptions are hard for me. I’m sure you don’t care for them much, either. Being an available leader doesn’t come naturally to me; I can honestly be pretty selfish with my time. But often the thing people need most from me isn’t my advice, my talent, or even my money. The real need they have is for my time, because
unselfishly giving of our time is one of the most powerful ways we can communicate worth and value to those around us.
As a passionate advocate of self-care, let me be quite clear here that I am a firm supporter of having healthy boundaries. The clarification here is the attitude of your heart: I’m talking about emotional availability as much as physical availability. Giving someone your time doesn’t mean giving them unrestricted access to your schedule; it means being fully engaged with them at strategic moments.
Bob Goff once wrote,
“People don’t follow vision; they follow availability. I’m rarely the smartest guy in the room, but I’m usually the most available one…Loving people well means living with constant interruptions.”
Availability is the secret of truly great leadership.
It’s not really that complicated to show people they’re a priority. Practicing things like eye contact (not constantly scanning the room to see who else is there), asking questions and listening rather than talking, keeping your phone out of sight, devising a strategy for remembering names, following up on details of previous conversations… these are all simple, practical ways of being an available leader.
Remember this: people over projects. At the end of the day, I think Jesus will always be more impressed by the hearts we impacted than the projects we ticked off the to-do list. Projects and productivity are great, but they aren’t something we take with us to heaven any more than money or possessions. Being an available leader may not always be convenient or easy, but it will create opportunities to bring Heaven to Earth. It’s the kind of leader Jesus was, and moments of interruption were most often the times and places He chose to do the most miracles, change the most lives, and ultimately let people encounter the Father.
Bob Goff quote taken from issue no. 4 of The Magnolia Journal