In the last several years I’ve had the opportunity to experience a great deal of growth in the business I’m a leader for. I find directly attached to that growth is a certain amount of stress considering the great burden of people’s lives placed upon my decisions. If I were to answer “what keeps you up at night?”, it would be the concern that I fail and how many person’s lives are negatively impacted as a result. This often manifests itself when considering customer engagements where success and failure means the difference of the livelihood of large groups of consultants. It also is experienced in how we maintain a company culture that builds a place where everyone feels fulfilled and finds joy.
I have similar parallels in my life as a father. I find that directly attached to fatherhood is the expectation you place upon yourself to be the sort of dad that your children need. I can get anxious that I haven’t lived up to expectations, even if they are sometimes my own false ones. I can fall into fear that my failures will negatively impact my children’s opportunity to follow the plan God has laid out for their lives. Am I being calm enough? Am I resolute enough? Am I too authoritarian, or not enough? These questions can haunt me as a try to be the right kind of father and husband.
I found that my natural inclination in both of these areas is to “dig deep”, to “look within” and succeed, simply because failure is not an option. The unfortunate reality is that I simply am not enough, no matter my self-control, my drive, or my ambition. None of it is enough to make me the kind of business person, or the father I’m intended to be. When I rely on myself I may accomplish my perceived target, but miss the actual target God had for me.
I once experienced someone go through a significant tragedy and the first thing they said was, “the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord”, which is echoing the words of Job as he is challenged with the experience of losing all of his possessions and his family. It was a reminder to me that although I may sometimes feel alone or even place myself in the darkness, I’m always accompanied by the Lord, who is not just there “in case I fall”, but as my guide. The presence of the Lord means that my burdens and challenges are allowed to be given to me and are opportunities for me to trust. It reminds me of the verse “…and we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” How do we contemplate burdens being blessings? Could it be that burdens can be greater blessings than even a life without challenges?
The temptation is to fall into the trap that “His purpose” is always for me to be successful in a worldly sense, that as long as I trust I will always bear “financial fruit”, stability, or lack of conflict. Is that really what God has in store for us? The trust I’ve needed to develop, and often fail at, is that God wants me to depend in him regardless of the circumstances. That whether he has taken away, or given, that my trust is in Him, not in myself.
The radical giving over of my concerns to God is not something that is easy. I likely fail at it more often than I succeed, but when I’m successful I find a great deal of peace, because I know I am “sitting at the Lord’s feet”, rather than busying myself with cares of the world. The mechanism to actually practice giving over your concerns to the Lord can be challenging, though I’ve found that tools like daily mass, morning offering, or nightly examine are critical to understanding myself and where my true intentions reside.
I’ve found in my spiritual journey that the burdens of life are like heavy loads that weigh down a soul, but when offered to the Lord they become lighter. I was recently reading “The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ”, in which St. Alphonsus Liguori talks about the responsibility of a Christian to bear burdens with love and with the heart of Jesus. He quotes St. Francis de Sales with, “considered in themselves, tribulations are terrifying; but considered in the will of God, they are lovely and delightful”. In this sense he is indicating that we as Christians can actually look at burdens as not simply lifted by Christ, but more-so an opportunity to unite ourselves to the suffering of Christ.
If I were to consider my learning experiences as a leader or as a father, was the impact the greatest when I was the most “successful”, or was it when I responded to failure? In a similar way to the circumstance to Job, losing everything, we learned more about his character in failure than if he simply continued living about his day. The opportunity to suffer prepared him for the greater challenge God set out for him and also had its own value which he uniquely displayed. We have that same opportunity, to bear our burden with grace and to convey with joy the opportunity to live out our lives with patience and gratitude.
I found it really interesting to learn that many of the saints earnestly desired burden, as it would more closely align them to the Lord’s will. Taking on burdens doesn’t sound desirable, but in practice it causes us to understand the love that Christ has for us, as we unite ourselves to Him on the cross, if only in a minimal way. The question I ask myself this week is “would I crave to give up my good fortune if it meant I could suffer like Job”? In a surface relationship there isn’t any real reason to desire this, but Job showed how to give over your life to the Lord in trust and hope. I’d ask that I would have a similar strength of trust, to look into the burdens and see joy. This reminds me that the expectations I place on myself are only relevant if they are God’s expectations and that he will only give me burdens I can bear with his help. The realization that my burdens are God’s burdens provides peace that in all things he will strengthen me.