Rising Leader Series: Week 42 - Challenge
Updated: Feb 25
A nature photo caught my heart today
Mother deer, split-second before leopard’s teeth
Serene because her two fawns had run away
To save her own, her own life she’d bequeathed
She could have run much faster than the fawns
Instead, she stood– and waited for the fall
Cameraman cried when this brave Mom passed on
Then gave honor by sharing with us all
Mom had to make a choice in just a second
And so do we in every blink of life
Self-preserve and run? Or stand and reckon?
Daily decisions that cut like a knife
Our choices knit the fabric of our lives
May we live to give– not just to survive
Before we can respond to God’s call to public ministry, private soul work is required. God can’t deputize us to heal the wounds of the world until we are ready. This call to private soul work often comes packaged as an invitation– one that challenges our status quo.
1996 was a consequential year for me. I was 41– happily married, blessed with two seven-year-olds. I was rising in my career. My wife Pageen, the love of my life, was (and is) a devoted Irish Catholic. So going to church every Sunday was, for her, a given. Early in our marriage, she had helped me sort through the hurts of my youth. Drawn (with her encouragement) into a regular church-going habit, I had begun to reflect more deeply upon my relationship with God. But still, faith seemed to me to be just one more spoke on the wheel of life. God was not yet my hub.
Then came an invitation.
One cold January day on our way out of Mass at our local Catholic church, Brenda (an inspiring woman, overflowing with life, love and energy) came up and invited Pageen and me to join a small faith-sharing group she and her husband John were forming. It was part of a church-sponsored program called Christians in Search. Pageen and I agreed, and for six Thursday evenings in a row, ten of us congregated at Brenda’s and John’s home. Each week we’d read short Bible verses, and then answer questions– until, invariably, the conversation would burst wide open. What wonderful conversations they were– probing, questioning, searching.
Later that year, in May, I received another invitation. This one was from another church friend– Tim. A big Promise Keepers event was scheduled at the Minneapolis Metrodome, and he and a bunch of guys from our church were going. Would I like to come along? In the mid-nineties, Promise Keepers was a men's Christian revival movement at the height of its popularity. I decided to join them. 80,000 men attended that two-day Metrodome event. The six of us from our church were probably the only Catholics in the crowd. But still– the talks, the music and the presence of so many men seeking God and goodness– it all impacted me deeply. I didn’t subscribe to every single thing Promise Keepers advocated. Nonetheless, most men who attended that event were sincere in their faith; most exhibited humility of heart and a desire to become better, more God-centered men.
I will never forget a moment late that Saturday afternoon. Sitting in the nosebleed seats looking around the stadium at 80,000 guys, I fell into my own thoughts. The song “Awesome God” was being sung on stage: “My God is an awesome God, He reigns from heaven above– with wisdom, power and love, my God is an awesome God.” I found myself reflecting upon Him, and upon the mistakes of my life. I whispered a silent prayer in my heart: “God: forgive me.” Instantly, the response came back, clear as day: “I forgive you.” My first reaction was to reject what I’d just heard. But the "voice" repeated. “I forgive you!”, it said. It was beyond my rational conception: a message of mercy direct to the heart from God Himself. As I grappled with what had just happened, knowing few would ever believe me, my heart filled with joy.
Then came September of that year. Pageen and I received another invitation– to attend a three-day weekend “Cursillo” retreat. You can only attend a Cursillo retreat once in your life. In Spanish, Cursillo means “short course”. In this context, it meant a short course on Christianity. I wrestled with whether to participate– after all, I was an executive and family man with many responsibilities– but in the end, Pageen and I both decided to go.
In Cursillo, the men’s weekend comes first– followed two weeks later by the women’s weekend. As I arrived Thursday evening, I was introduced to my table mates (there were five similar tables scattered around the room). I sat down with them– the eight guys I’d be spending most of my time with during the retreat. Introductions began. There were no executives. My group included a call center worker, an FBI agent, a chiropractor, and a carpenter. “What am I doing here?” said my ego-voice.
The carpenter spoke up, his hand resting on his Bible (I hadn’t brought a Bible). “God is everything in my life. Every morning in prayer, I read from this, and reflect on what God is trying to tell me. Then I try to live it.” Arrogance and cynicism crumbled at my feet as it hit me: this guy gets it way more than I do. Come to think— Jesus was a carpenter. A picture formed in my mind (true story): my table mates and I were on a bus bound for heaven. They were sitting comfortably inside the bus. I was holding onto the back bumper, clinging by my fingernails.
My Cursillo retreat was a deeply humbling, inspiring, transformative experience. I have never been the same. From that weekend on, I have recognized that God is the very hub of my life– not just one of the spokes. In retrospect, I realize it took all three invitations to shift my heart– the Christians in Search faith-sharing group, the Promise Keepers event, and the Cursillo weekend. Each led to the next. Of course, time and again since 1996 I have fallen short of God’s call. But I’ve always picked myself back up; I’ve always returned to Him– seeking His mercy and welcoming His embrace. And I hope I do so for the rest of my life.
Whether or not you’ve experienced a year such as my 1996, I hope you too have been challenged by angels bearing invitations. Invitations such as these call upon us to change– to move beyond our status quo's. They challenge us to dive into deeper waters. Do we accept? If we do, our apprenticeship begins. We surrender. We do the soul work. Day by day in prayer, study and action, we make ourselves ready to become the hands and feet of Christ in the world.
Good leader, are you ready to receive your private challenge, to prepare your soul for God’s public call? A hurting world awaits-- in hope that you will answer your call and rise to the need.
Next week, my letter to you will ask you to consider how God is calling you.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”-- Philippians 4: 4-7
Yours in invitation,
(For past letters and songs go to: TomMohr.com. To add people to the mailing list, click here.)
Previous Weeks' Letters:
Week 6: Leadership and the Holy Spirit Week 7: Holy Winds Week 8: Healing Waters
Week 28: Democracy: Individual Liberty; Equal Vote
Week 29: Democracy: Equal Justice
Week 30: Democracy: Equal Opportunity
Week 33: Environmental Sustainability
Week 34: Economic Sustainability
Week 35: Social Sustainability
Week 37: Church Discipleship Week 38: Community: Race Week 39: Community: Charity Week 40: Chance Week 41: Conscience