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How do Leaders Think about Sacrifice and Suffering?

Conversations in a foreign culture often hold up a lens through which we can see our own culture more clearly. These two happened a number of years ago in Romania yet land with unique significance today. I invite you to consider the way you think and talk about suffering.

Valentin was telling me about life growing up in Romania before the revolution of 1989. He grew up poor in a family that often had no food to eat. In fact, their poverty was so severe that he and his brother shared one set of clothes. They could never both go out in public at the same time. They took turns going to school.

Holy cow. As I listened to Valentin, I recognized I have no experience with poverty or suffering like he has known. Maybe that’s why the pivot he made in his story caught me so strongly. With a pause and a somber expression, he continued, “My own children have no idea what it means to go without food. Sometimes they complain when we don’t serve bread during a meal. I look at them and worry. They have no idea what it is to be hungry.”

A nearly identical conversation happened two days later with another pastor. He expressed it this way, “my children and their generation have it so good. they have no idea what it is to suffer. I am afraid that because they haven’t suffered they don’t how to sacrifice. They don’t know about the privilege and power and life-shaping impact of sacrifice. I worry that we will have a generation of leaders in the church that doesn’t know how to make sacrifices.”

“They don’t know about the privilege of sacrifice!” When is the last time you heard a leader in America speak that way?

It sounds dissonant to our western ears. We worry about how to provide everything our children need. They are worried about the downside of having all their needs met. We are concerned with keeping our children and families safe and comfortable. They are concerned that without knowing how to sacrifice their souls are somehow short-changed.

So, where am I going with this? I invite you to consider the way you think and talk about sacrifice and suffering. What if our role as leaders is not to provide everything people need to make their lives easier? What if leadership is about calling people to the sacrifices embedded in a higher purpose? What if one of our greatest contributions was to help people find hope that is deeper than believing circumstances will improve?

Sacrifice is not the pathway to less, it is the way to fulfillment. Suffering might even be a pathway to healing from our cultural bondage. What if the path to freedom runs through the valley of sacrifice?

What if our leadership assignment post round-one of covid-19 was not to fight to put everything back to the way it was, but to install a new more sacrificial normal? What if the shared sacrifices of the past few months taught us to be more empathetic to those all around us who know hardship and injustice on a regular basis?


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