Leaning In During Challenging Times

The non-profit organization I work for does excellent work in hard areas of the world.  We have excellent leadership who inspires those of us serving in the trenches to press on in our work and to seek excellence in all we do.  This same leadership, however, sometimes makes quick decisions that are certainly God-ordained, but many times come unexpectedly and without noticeable research and reasoning that leaves many of us confused and wondering how to move forward.

Recently, our leadership decided to change the name of our organization.  The new name was chosen quickly and seemed to be on a whim.  There was no research, no consultation with a branding consultant.  In the midst of a regularly scheduled board meeting, our CEO announced the name change and left all of us not only questioning the decision, but also guessing how we would implement the change without damaging the work and reputation of the organization.  Our CEO had a vision, but many of us couldn’t see it and were not yet in alignment with what was happening.

When discussing this with some of my trusted advisors, and complaining to them that I wasn’t sure what forward progress we could make in our mission due to the abrupt name change, one of my advisors said I simply had to “lean in” to this new situation.  I have heard this term before and could only guess at how it might be possible.

Life in the 21st century is not easy.  Complicated at its best; traumatic at its worst.   As church leaders, we are constantly counseling people who are living life in unexpected circumstances, in ways that are completely contradictory to their high hopes and expectations.  People face difficult situations and come to us for advice.  Sometimes we have to encourage them to lean in to their trying season of life and make the best of it.   Leaning in means embracing your reality and accomplishing the seemingly impossible in less than ideal circumstances.

How can we lean in to the challenges in life with effectiveness and enthusiasm?

1) Accept reality.  Before moving forward, we have to accept the challenging circumstances as our new reality.  It is most likely that nothing we can do will change our situation.  Therefore, there is no use in complaining.  Taking time to complain will only delay the inevitable.  Accept your reality and know that God has a purpose for each and every thing we encounter.  Trying to gain a long-term or even eternal perspective will help you move past the trials of today with grace and determination.  Leaning in means creating space for your new reality and possibly even embracing it with joy.

2) Feel the pain. Challenging situations are not easy.  Many times they create trauma for us or those we lead.  This trauma is painful, difficult, and exhausting.  When facing circumstances that try us, leaning in means allowing yourself to feel the pain.  Admitting that you’re in pain and seeking help to cope with all that you’re feeling will help you accept your new reality and move you toward understanding and peace.  Feeling the pain may require you or your people to seek professional help to deal with the emotions that accompany perplexing life events.  Counselors or mental health professionals are equipped to assist you in your forward progress.  There is no shame in getting the help you need.  Feeling the pain will help you move on and survive in ways you never before thought possible.  Don’t shove those feelings aside.  Feel them, deal with them, learn from them.  Then move on.

3) Acknowledge the awkwardness.  Conflict situations are generally quite awkward.  People don’t know what to say, how to act, or what to do.  Confusion abounds and a general sense of silence and inaction occur because we don’t want to offend others, or worse, embarrass ourselves.  Leaning in, however, means taking a risk to admit that the situation is awkward and simply do our best to keep talking and working through a place in life that is unexpected or commonly unwanted.  Leaning in may require an apology.  It may mean breaking a long-endured silence.  It means taking the initiative to make forward progress when our human nature wants nothing more than to isolate ourselves and protect our own sense of pride.  Learn to love the awkward!  It will help you build relationships and will bring a sense of authenticity among those living life right alongside you.

4) Don’t make excuses. One of the biggest downfalls to progress during the challenges of life is the creation of multiple excuses when life gets tough.  We want to look good! We want people to think well of us!  We don’t want to be a failure or be seen as incompetent.  Therefore, when we stare failure in the face, we think of all the reasons seemingly out of our control that could have caused us to disappoint ourselves and others.  We seek to shift the blame from ourselves to someone or something else.  However, this is not productive behavior.  Leaning in means ridding our vocabulary from excuses.  It means owning our own situation and knowing that everyone makes mistakes sometimes.  Everyone faces trials that turn life on its head.  Realize that these things are okay.  They are normal.  They are acceptable.  We are no less worthy when we fail than when we succeed.  Made in God’s image, we were created to thrive in both the ups and the downs of life.  Eliminate excuses.  Seek solutions and a positive outlook.  Leaning in will make your future brighter than you ever though possible.

5) Think creatively.  When we face challenging situations, it is easy to lose hope.  It is easy to reach a stalemate in our professional, personal, or ministry progress.  We expected to be moving in one direction, but life has taken us on an unexpected path.  During these times it’s easy to believe that you’ll never recover.  It’s easy to give up and stop trying.  Leaning in, however, means reveling in your new reality and being able to think outside the box while seeking solutions for positive progress.  It means being creative in your brainstorming and problem solving.  It means getting input from new advisors.  Leaning in means getting those creative juices flowing and trying things you’ve never thought of trying before.  It means taking a risk on a new idea and searching for solutions that will breathe life and vitality into your ministry.  Never be afraid to lean in and take a chance.  It will show you God’s love and provision in new ways and will ultimately take you and your people to new heights where God gets all the glory, and we move forward in success.

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