You go first

It started with a book about Dick Winters’ leadership style. He commanded the company that later became was dubbed the Band of Brothers. And yeah, when the men were pinned down in a ditch and no one was willing to take the first step out into the fog of canisters activated to confuse the enemy, Dick got up, ran up and down the line, screaming, they say, like a madman. The quiet man demonstrated his proficiency and his excellence in leadership day-in and day-out through WWII.

In his biography, he shared with the writer “I liked [another CO]. We both had the same philosophy of leadership, which is “you go first.””

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I sat through two or three months of it: listening to spirit-filled preaching, but wondering why any mention I heard of struggle was just a general allusion. No one named their past or current struggles or victories. So if you’re like me, you imagine they haven’t had them. Or at least any that are as shameful as yours.

And then this brave woman stood up and shared about her financial debt and her marriage and how God has fixed broken things and brought joy to things that were hard for years. It was powerful and it was encouraging. A rush of gratitude swept over me.

But no one except The Woman named his or her struggles.

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It came time to read that poem aloud, which I was prepared to do. The leader asked if I would share 4 or 5 minutes about my heart behind the poem. I had pretty general clichés. I had things that felt safer to talk about. I could be vague. But the things that I could drop a line about weren’t the things that showed God’s power in my life, and I kept feeling Him asking for unfiltered honesty. You put down roots in the darkness. Christians can’t expect to bear fruit if they don’t talk about how I revealed myself to you in the dark soil where you put down roots. The flower isn’t evidence of a deep faith as much as the roots.

He confirmed it like a dare. Leadership is ‘you go first.’ But God, I’m not the leader of the group. They should go first. You want it to change though, don’t you? I’m just asking you to lead in this. You don’t have to be a leader to change this.

It’s hard to be honest with a crowd of people, and it’s even harder when they’re your own age. But God was clear, so I shared things from a stage that I had as recently as the prior month determined I wouldn’t share with a future husband (and y’all, he’ll still have to wait a couple months before I do). I plowed over the music and obeyed.

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There was this birthday months later when disapproval weighed heavy, and I felt the loss of love and the anger and the shame, and I felt ashamed to have caused it. God has since restored those relationships, but I felt the weight of being a disappointment acutely.

That night, when I left to feed a dog, I desperately thought it to the night sky. “God, I need to know a time when you were proud. Name a time when you were proud, God.” When I said “leadership is “you go first” and you went first.” 

It probably isn’t a huge surprise to anyone who knows the tender-hearted spiritual-side of me that I started crying in the middle of the street. He knows me. He speaks my language. And there are things that I have done that make Him joyful and proud. I didn’t feel like a disappointment. The night turned around with Being the gift

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Why am I sharing this now? Because God is saying “you go” again. And I have to remind myself to find my joy in obedience and humble myself before the Lord and before man, because honestly, it’s still a little terrifying each time. I’d rather someone else feel this burden, but I do. And I can’t ask for others to do what I’m not willing to do myself. I can’t ask to follow God, but only if it doesn’t cost me. Not only is that dangerous to the Christian faith. It’s completely contradictory to it.

It’s disobedient to the Father, arrogant to Christ, and disempowering to the Holy Spirit.

And so I’ll keep on keeping on with the bull-headed determination to do as Mary said to the servants at the wedding: “Do whatever He tells you.”

Oh, and that group? We’re getting vulnerable and specific. And I’ve experienced the healing God brings through someone else going first with naming her specific struggles and sins.

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