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Encouragement to those in the arena

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One of my favourite quotes comes from Theodore Roosevelt.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Over the last few years, leaders have known what it means to be in the arena. They’ve led through crises, created new models, and chosen to love those who criticize them.

It is easy for those on the outside to assume they understand the challenges leaders face, whether the leader’s position is CEO, administrator, church planter or pastor. But only the leader knows all that they have given.

Some of the greatest gifts we can offer a hurting world come from our own suffering. Walking the hard road, making tough decisions, and choosing the best path forward amid challenges polishes our hard edges. But let’s be honest; those scars are marks of suffering. And each scar we carry can become a gift to others if we are willing to do the hard inner work of discipleship and self-reflection. Unfortunately, without attending to that work, our scars can make us hard, causing us to use battle wounds as weapons rather than gifts. We must choose daily to love rather than defend, to give grace rather than blame.

A battle scar I continue to overcome is speaking openly about burnout. When I first experienced burnout, there was a lot of stigma around it, and I felt an incredible amount of embarrassment. However, choosing to help others prevent and overcome burnout is liberating. But I’ll be honest, doing so forces me to overcome fear and choose love over shame on a daily basis.

Wherever you find yourself today, whether you feel you’ve come through the past years battered and bruised or triumphant, know that you have dared greatly. You have survived. You have persevered.

Reflection Questions

  • As you continue to walk your journey and lead others, what scars do you need to attend to?
  • To whom do you need to extend grace even if they do not understand what you’ve been through?
  • Where do you need to listen and learn more than speak and defend?
  • How can you celebrate that you have survived the arena?

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