Leading When Life Is Too Much
First Corinthians reminds us that our faithful God will not allow us to be tempted by more than we can bear. I trust the Scriptures, but life doesn’t always feel as if this is true. Any Christian leader who has spent more than a few months at the helm has probably encountered this feeling as well. How do we lead when life feels like too much?
A few years ago, I was overwhelmed. In the span of a few months, my father passed away, my wife was diagnosed with cancer, our organization faced financial challenges due to global events, and then Hurricane Harvey hit in our hometown of Houston.
For me, this period was what some call a “dark night of the soul.”
For me, this period was what some call a “dark night of the soul.” God felt silent. The assurances of 1 Corinthians 10:13 didn’t feel as if they belonged to me. I feared God would remain silent; or worse, that I’d misheard God in the past, when I’d believed he’d called me into ministry.
What I really needed, in those moments of doubt and anxiety, was to reconnect with my trust in God as the Master Strategist. Of course, telling myself to trust God more didn’t help. Just as yelling “calm down!” doesn’t help someone calm down, telling yourself to trust God more rarely makes you more trusting.
What worked for me was choosing to trust others and trust the past; through those actions, over time, I found reassurance in God’s faithfulness.
Throughout the dark night of my soul, I began each morning with prayer even though God felt silent. I wouldn’t let myself get up from my prayers until I had the courage to trust others and do the next right thing.
I have an incredible team that was working hard to care for our organization and advance our mission. I needed to trust that we would figure out what needed to be done that day, and then do it.
Author E.L. Doctorow said that when driving in fog, you can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make a whole trip that way. We learned to drive to the end of our headlights, then do it again.
Leaders who try to drive alone are operating with dim headlights.
Leaders who try to drive alone are operating with dim headlights. By engaging my team, asking for their insights, and trusting their leadership, I felt some assurance that God was working among us. It kept the organization moving forward. But to really restore my faith, I had to learn to trust the past.
Tell a story
After Hurricane Harvey, it became clear that the storm’s damage extended beyond the physical devastation. Many of our biggest donors are in the Houston area; they’d lost homes and businesses and were channeling their resources to recovery efforts. That meant a large part of our organization’s work would go unfunded.
Then, one morning, I reread a story about Jesus’s disciples in what must have been a very dark time for them after the crucifixion of our Lord. They’d been searching for a way forward for 40 days when Jesus appeared.
I counted and it had been 40 days since Hurricane Harvey. Coincidence? Not for me. Somehow, this ancient story was speaking to me in a new way. Even more, I felt like God was telling me to tell stories of his faithfulness from the past. I began to recall times when God had provided for me, for my family, and for my organization before. In telling these stories, I felt the past strengthening my present faith. I trusted once again that God was still the Master Strategist.
What does a leader do when life is too much?
Our story had a happy ending – drawing on Acts 1:8, we extended “beyond Jerusalem” to ask donors in “Judea and Samaria and all the ends of the earth” to cover the gap left by the struggling Houston supporters. God provided generously and we were able to proceed our work as originally planned.
From this, I’ve learned that trusting others and trusting God’s faithfulness in the past, as seen through stories, are two steps for finding God’s provision for the future.
Leaders, remember: our challenges are not ours to solve alone. We belong to a team and have a long history of a faithful Master Strategist who has a host of followers in your corner. When life is too much, trust others and tell a story. I hope, as it did for me, this helps you emerge from the darkest of nights.
Michael J. Mantel, Ph.D., is the President and CEO of Living Water International. Mike has led the organization since 2008. His new book, Thirsting for Living Water (IVP, Oct. 12, 2021), invites readers to discover their own stories of God’s faithfulness.
Dr. Michael J. Mantel will speak at the Men’s Breakfast at The Outcomes Conference 2022, April 26-28, Louisville, KY on "When in Doubt, Tell a Story: Overcoming Burnout, Fear, and Exhaustion." (Register today!)
Hear Dr. Michael J. Mantel discuss "Finding Adventure in God's Redemptive Story" from the Dad Tired podcast - LISTEN