Tonight amid packing for a brief trip, I also want to do a little unpacking.
Wednesday’s blog post was a list of advice. As I noted, I usually avoid that format. Proverbs and pithy advice have their place. For instance the Bible and other wisdom literature love this format. However, when offered there remains the possibility of contradictions, exceptions and easy misreadings. Still there are times when a didactic offering is worth it. Not only is the advice I offered rooted biblically and theologically, it also grows out of my own experience. It is advice which bears a simplicity that lives on the far side of hard-learned lessons and the complexity of becoming a minister.
So I have decided that the list is worth unpacking with those more complex stories. I’m convinced that stories actually are better teachers than proverbs or lists of advice, although they can work together. Early in learning it is helpful to have rules, maxims and advice. And I’m not just intent on teaching in some pedantic way. Nor am I asking for imitation. My intention with this blog is both to write for my own exploration and also to offer an invitation to enter into the stories, the pictures, the poetry and music. So you’re invited to see what you find here.
Be on Time
(or Better Yet Be Early)
“You undermine your own leadership ability and the trust you want to engender every time you are late. This is at the top of the list for a reason.”
As a teenager I was late to things. A lot. I liked making a grand entrance. I liked feeling important. Typical teenage narcissism. I wasn’t even really aware of how inappropriate it was for me to waltz in late to my youth group on a Sunday evening or arrive a few minutes after a meeting had begun. It grew out of deeply buried insecurities. Those did not surface into my awareness until much later. Ignorance and self-importance are bliss.
One summer, after my junior year I think, I was awakened to the troublesome habit I had developed of being just a little late to youth events. I was given more responsibility. That’s the way my particular youth group worked. As we got older and proved ourselves, we were given more and more leadership and responsibility. Our youth minister was quite deliberate in this way of teaching leadership.
On the mission trip to Portland, Maine, I was a site leader for our week-long neighborhood Vacation Bible Schools (VBS). We taught both morning and afternoon at different sites. One of my tasks was to make sure we had everything we needed packed into the produce box each day for the next day’s activities. That meant I was to lead the other youth on my team to accomplish that task. When we returned to the church in the afternoon, I was having trouble getting others to help with this work. They were wandering off, and it was taking way too long to get everyone rounded up and do the cleaning, cutting, sorting and repacking that was needed.
After a couple of days of this, I sort of lost my cool about it on the bus as we returned from the VBS sites. I think I said they shouldn’t do anything when we got back to the church but take care of the work first – even before going to bathroom. Yikes. I knew that was wrong as soon as it was out of my mouth. “Okay, you can go to the bathroom, but then let’s just get to work and get it done. Then we can play and be silly.”
Geeze, I was bossy. It’s embarrassing to recall such poor leadership. But then I was 17. What I was beginning to understand was that being late or not showing up was a problem. It took this speck of feeling disrespected by the lateness of others, to begin helping me see the log in my own eye. I started learning that if I was going to lead, I had to clean up my own act and be on time. I couldn’t ask anyone respectfully to do what I was not already doing. And I couldn’t set myself up as an example, but rather I had to model the appropriate action and ask others to join me. It was one of my early lessons in leadership and being on time.
But it took a while to settle in. I still gave less regard to being on time to things where I was not in charge. And I justified it this way: wherever I am and whoever I’m talking to is the most important, and I’ll attend to that until I’m finished. Then I’ll go on to the next thing. This meant I was still late to “next things.” And if I didn’t have a schedule, I would just wander from one thing to the next without much thought of the schedules of others. Very disrespectful, but I was oblivious and self-justified all at once.
It was my first year in college when the “on time” coin finally dropped. It was my first real date with guy who was a friend and who was becoming a more serious relationship. I was shopping for new clothes, and in all fairness we did not set a time for our date that evening. So when I called him to ask when he would pick me up, he was already fuming because in his mind I was late. The values about being on time in his family were very different than mine.
That evening was the beginning of a very long relationship, and a more serious change toward being on time – or early. Even though we didn’t have a set time, I didn’t communicate and missed his expectations. He also missed mine and the difference made for a bit of a crisis. Over the years since that birthday long ago, I’ve seen the value of keeping one’s word in small and large ways. That guy, who is now my husband, knows in his bones how being on time is one way to keep one’s word, to respect the time and expectations of others, and to build a significant relational trust. I’ve watched him and lived with him. And I’ve learned. He has also learned from me that there are legitimate times to have no schedule at all, and there are some times when being late is not only justified but socially or morally necessary.
There are also significant gifts in being early. Like just last week when I showed up to the beach before sunrise. That was when I saw a pair of osprey hunting for breakfast.
Honestly, I can still get a little stressed over being on time. And presently I’m understanding that some much deeper issues are at stake for me. That struggle, however, is for another post in the very distant future. I mention it because even though I can say “be on time” is good advice for new ministers, and it will contribute to building trust with those whom we serve, it is not necessarily easy. The capacity for coping with time has deep roots in our psyches and may be easy or may be a struggle. Whatever the case, it is a capacity is worth exploring.