Note: In my previous post, I laid the foundation of "REST" as one of three principles needed if we're to remain on a trajectory toward the wholeness for which we're created. In this post, I'm jumping to the TOP of the wholeness pyramid to offer some thoughts about giving. Receiving is up next, but I share this because it's timely for me and I hope I might be for you too! Happy reading
This past week was my birthday, and though I didn't plan it intentionally, it was beautiful to sandwich that day between two events that embody what's giving me joy these days. In the church where I previously served as the senior pastor for 27 years, I've been granted the incredible privilege of mentoring a group of six young leaders. They gather as a cadre three times over the course of the year at our house in the mountains, and have access to a quarterly one on one coaching opportunity, which can incorporate learning some leadership principles through being outside, as seen here where my wife Donna is explaining the value of intergenerational community by showing our friend an old tree and explaining the value of its resources to other trees.
This past Tuesday and Thursday, individuals from this cadre came up and shared a short snow shoe trip with my wife and I. Donna is a certified nature guide so these leaders learned about adaptability, interdependency, patience, and how both young and old trees each contribute different things to the forest community, even as toddlers and elders do among human tribes, congregations, neighborhoods, and families.
After this outing, I meet with them one to one to discuss their unique leadership styles and aspirations, and speak of matters relating to spirit, soul, and body wholeness. I'm also doing this kind of one on one coaching with a handful of leaders from various parts of the country. I'm finding great joy in caring for leaders younger than me and sharing insights from values shaped over a lifetime of leading, along with lessons learned from successes and failures. The whole enterprise feels, what's the word?.... appropriate, and because of this has becoming very life giving.
The forest around our home is made up of thousands of individual trees, but what many don't know is that these trees are connected, sharing resources and (according to many biologists and serous arborists, and shared in books like "The Hidden Life of Trees") offload their resources intentionally and extensively as they grow older or face a sudden life threatening crisis (such as a chain saw penetrating their bark). Sharing resources before departing in order enrich the lives of future generations. Imagine that!
The principle doesn't only apply to trees. Johann Sebastian Bach, perhaps the greatest musician of all time, embodied the same principle, as articulated in Arthur Brooks outstanding book "From Strength to Strength" (an outstanding read for anyone facing the 2nd half of life, either now or anytime soon). Brooks explains that JS rose to early and prominent fame as a gifted and prolific composer, but that eventually his place of prominence in the musical world was eclipsed by one of his 23 children, Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach. This younger Bach embraced music's evolution from Baroque to Classical style and as the new style rose in prominence, the elder Bach's status began fading. As Brooks writes: "for the last decades of JS's life (ad a century afterward), CPE was considered the greatest of the Bachs. Joseph Hayden, and Beethoven admired CPE and collected his music. Mozart said, "Bach is the father and we are his children", but was referring to CPE, not JS! By Mozart's day, JS's star had become dim, outshone by newer, younger minds.
As it should have I'd add. Although JS was a timeless genius, musical styles necessarily evolve, just like neckties, cars, architecture, painting, economic systems, and nearly everything else in human culture, including leadership styles and philosophies. Not all trends will be timeless, and CPE Bach's music didn't pass the test of time nearly as well as his dad's. Still, CPE's flag rose to prominence and what I love in the story is that JS didn't cling to prominence because prominence wasn't his identity - music was his identity and calling.
As a result, rather than becoming bitter, JS began off-loading his wisdom. He taught music composition and wrote some pieces to help people learn how to play and write, including "The Art of the Fugue" and "The Well Tempered Clavier", both of which rose to prominence and stood the test of time as masterpieces. Again quoting from Brooks, "When (JS) fell behind as an innovator, he reinvented himself as an instructor," passing on a lifetime of wisdom through his investment in others.
Last fall in Canada, after a full week of lectures to a crowd of about 100 students mostly between 18-25 years old, I realized that I'd failed to eat much of the fruit so generously provided in my room that week. So on the night of my last lecture I said, "Hey all. I have lots of fruit to share with you because I haven't eaten enough of the snacks the staff put in my room. So if anyone wants some tonight after the lecture, I'll be in the dining room for apples, bananas, and conversation. We can eat and chat about anything you'd like." I'm always a bit insecure about such moments, fearful that nobody's going to show up.
Instead there were about 30 students who made their way to the dining hall and I quickly discovered it wasn't about the apples and grapes. It was about human sexuality, doubt, political polarization, whether the church as it stands today will still exist in 50 years, how to find your calling, and so much more. I came away from the evening feeling really thanking for my grey hair!
Not literally of course, but grey hair represents (hopefully) some measure of wisdom. Over these past 15 months, since shedding a senior leadership role, I've come to not only believe that I have things to share, but I've found that sharing it gives me a joy unlike anything I've done in my life. The contexts vary for me, from chats on a ski lift in Austria, to facetime conversation with pastors needing support, to a bowl of fruit as an excuse for deeper sharing. The principle is the same: all of us have something to give, and our world is full of people eager to receive
There's a moral to this story no matter your age, for the reality is that there's usually someone younger or less experienced than you who's in need of learning from your skill set, or life example. Don't hide your light under a bushel. Instead, find a tree that's younger than you and start sharing your resources. Your heart, and body, and soul will all thank you because, as the good book says, "it is better to give than to receive"
Or to put in more bluntly. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself when your fifteen minutes of fame are over. That never should have been your true identity anyway. What's priceless inside of you is the wisdom you have and there's someone in your world hungry for exactly what you have to serve up. So get on with it friend! Share you life! That's why you're here."