“We find ourselves fully to the extent to which we give ourselves, to which we have the courage to give ourselves; we possess life if we lose it. This is pure Gospel.”
– Pope Francis
Recently I volunteered to be a chaperone on the third-grade field trip to the Franklin Institute - a staple elementary school adventure in the Philadelphia area. Mercifully, I didn’t have to take the bus with all of the children. As the teachers and parents disembarked at the museum already looking a little harried, I began to wonder if I bit off more than I could chew. As the students spewed forth from the bus, the teacher handed me a sheet of paper with the names of four boys, including that of my own son, and a phone number. She put her hand on my shoulder and, as if I was being sent off on some sacrificial mission to destroy an alien spacecraft in a sci-fi movie, she looked me in the eye and said, “Good luck. I believe in you. Call the number if one of them gets lost.” Simply assembling my foursome took an act of God. As soon as I had one, I lost another. I had three and couldn’t find one. Before we even made it through admissions, someone had to go the bathroom, and another had lost his bag. I looked at my watch and I swear the hands of time were spinning in reverse as I calculated how much of the three-hour adventure was left.
I quickly learned that exhibit rooms with only one entrance/exit were my best friends. As soon as I found one, I unleashed the boys and stood squarely in the center of the door so that I could make sure no one got past me. As I caught my breath in the entrance of the train exhibit, a much more experienced mom came up and asked me how I was holding up. “I know they are all in this room,” I shared with tired and anxious eyes. “Come on, you lead people all the time,” she said. “Adults,” I responded quickly. “In meetings. With much fewer requests for snacks.” She laughed and offered some wisdom, “It’s hard if you try simply to keep tabs on them. It works better if you engage with them.” At our 516th snack break, I thought I would give her suggestion a try. I asked them what the most interesting thing was they’d seen so far, and they all wanted to chime in with their answers. At the “Amazing Old-time Machines” exhibit, I called them over to a display case that depressingly contained a tape cassette player and my first computer (neither of which the boys could identify). “Stuff you used is in a museum!” They cackled, “How old are you?” We all started to giggle. Soon I found myself yelling their names less and being more amazed at some of their observations.
As I gratefully waved goodbye to them as they boarded the bus, I couldn’t help but reflect on my fellow chaperone’s advice and connect it to my own leadership. Those I lead are certainly not third graders. But do I ever treat them that way? As a leader, do I see myself as a chaperone or as a co-learner, co-explorer, co-worker? If all I am doing is simply trying to keep tabs and count heads, am I bringing people together toward a common goal? Are we working on something together or are we merely working near each other? The Lord never seeks to control. He invites us to grow through Him, with Him, and in Him. As we continue in this Easter Season, let’s take a break from trying to control others and instead, engage them in the way to everlasting life. And, if you have any cassette tapes lying around and need to play them, I know where to send you!
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