Yes!" I pounded the wooden desktop as I rushed from my office into my boss'. "Lynn, I got it all: bonus spots, the discount we talked about, four extra weeks, guaranteed no charge. That's at least $50,000 right there!"
Lynn glanced up. "Great!" She continued typing.
I'd grown accustomed to Lynn's "Of course. That's what we pay account directors like you to do" attitude whenever I announced each victory in the aggressive game of negotiations I played to win—day in, day out. Unbeknownst to me, I'd also grown accustomed to the thrill of victory, and adrenalin, with every deal I hammered. I loved it—the late-night hours of research, strategy-planning, and what-if scenarios I ran through before phoning the next radio or television rep to begin negotiating on my clients' behalf. I negotiated to win, to get the best value for my clients, all or nothing.
One day I woke up and thought, "I'm 25 years old and I'm responsible for leading the team of media buyers about to purchase 24 million dollars worth of 30-second commercials on almost every radio station in Canada."
Obeying God's call to move out of Canada's ad-agency world and work as administrative pastor at my downtown Toronto Baptist church lessened the thrill of victory somewhat, but not much. After all, my hire coincided with the church's multi-million-dollar renovation. There was a lot to manage and negotiate, whether projects or people. My first big task at this new job: make it all look easy—the moving of congregation and staff out of the building into temporary offices, the interminable construction delays, meetings, moving congregation and staff back into the new church building, the opening ceremony, rental policies, rates…
I loved the ministry even though my adrenalin rushes began to lose steam. They slowed down when I dealt with the sticky part of my role—congregants who didn't understand why our congregation's ministry of hospitality, of presence, needed to be anchored to a framework of policy and procedure. But so what? I kept my chops wet with risk and crisis management, negotiations with a tenant over rental rates, dealing with agenda-driven volunteers. These were still all-or-nothing situations where I needed to fight on behalf of and for our leadership's vision for what our church could become: a place of healing and hope where faith intersected with Toronto at large. The stakes were still high.
Crash and Burn
The adrenalin dried up the evening my husband and I left Sunnybrook Hospital, newborn son in arms. For two months I flitted on the edges of postpartum depression through days and nights of nursings, diaper changes, and burps. As I stared into space one night, two thoughts remained: "I've lost it all—my profile, my momentum, my career, everything that's made me Renee. I'll never get any of it back." Five months prior, not knowing I was pregnant, I'd assumed the communications director role at Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec (CBWOQ), a women's missions organization.
I'd found it easy to lead the big things: the million-dollar media buys, all to be done by deadline and with a team around me; the high-profile projects at church that would impact an entire congregation and budget lines if income didn't exceed projections; the finding and cementing of partnerships with evangelical organizations that could use our renovated building and thus help us increase our ministry impact. I helped make big visions real. I helped others realize their marketing and advertising dreams (on their dime of course). God now wanted me to learn another leadership lesson.
Perhaps it was the scale of CBWOQ's mandate and the rhythm of its task list: small, slow, steady, focused. Perhaps it was becoming a first-time mother in my mid-forties: Once I'd wrapped my big fingers around onesies, how difficult could it be to raise a baby? Or so I'd thought.
In any case, the adrenalin that had hallmarked my previous leadership roles became something else—prayers that varied in intensity, frequency, and volume depending on the day and the situation. For once I was up against what I couldn't anticipate or finesse. I had no clue what my son's cries meant. And I couldn't control CBWOQ's budget that seemingly shrank overnight, victim to the stock market and a shrinking donor base of older women.
All I could do was pray—for strength, for wisdom, for the Holy Spirit to show me what to do. For the first time in my life I prayed, "Lord, I can't do this in my own strength, on my own. I need you." I weaned, once and for all, from my adrenalin addiction.
Here's what I've learned:
Stay in the moment. When my son wants to plant lettuce seeds in our backyard, am I able to stay in the moment and shut down the ticker tape of deadlines and tasks that runs in my head? Could I give my son, and me, the gift of sweet attention and time? When I do, God's delight warms me. I feel his pleasure. I hear his "Well done, good and faithful servant."
Search out the one needful thing. One day my writing mentor, a published author, women's speaker, columnist, and grandmother, cut across the grain of my whine. "Renee," she said. "I remember accepting my PhD and, while striding across the platform to accept it, thinking about all the books and columns I'd be writing and the talks I'd be giving. I stepped off the platform and into the arms of my son and granddaughters. My son was about to go through a messy divorce. My granddaughters needed me. So I went home—to be a grandmother. And there were months when all I could do was ask the Lord, ‘Lord, what is the one needful thing for today?' He'd show me and I'd do it. That got me through the years of wondering why my life had taken such a turn."
What's the one needful thing for today (Luke 10:42)? That question anchors my days, pulls me back when I spiral out of control, brings me home.
In a sense, staying in the moment and searching for that one needful thing are two parts of the same coin: obedience. I'm learning that leadership isn't just about the big things we do well. It's about obedience in every thing. When, like Mary, I choose to press in and listen, I realize how much Jesus wants to give me what I need to accomplish my projects and then some: peace, joy, kindness, gentleness.
Don't despise small beginnings. Zechariah prayed for, cajoled, and prophesied to God's people returned from exile in Babylon. The Lord hadn't forgotten his people and wanted this remnant to rebuild his temple. With fantastic images and words, Zechariah, priest and prophet, told these battered and torn Jewish people to dream again, to believe that Zerubbabel's small beginnings to the temple would be completed…all to God's glory (Zechariah 4:5-10).
I'm privileged to help the Spirit fashion a man out of my son and to help CBWOQ reach out to a new generation of Baptist women with creativity and flair. "The Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, has said this to Zerubbabel: ‘Your strength and prowess will not be enough to finish My temple, but My Spirit will be.' " (Zechariah 4:6, The Voice).
Yes, God's Spirit will be enough to help me.
Renee James is the director of communications for Canadian Baptist Women of Ontario and Quebec, and editor of its publication, The Link & Visitor. She is a former administrative pastor and a regular contributor to Today's Christian Woman, and she blogs at ReneeJames.org