Danger is Not Where It Seems
Graeme Irvine, our international president, used to be a sailor.
Well, actually, he still is a sailor. Even though he doesn't go sailing much these days. Maybe this is one of the things he is looking forward to in retirement next year.
At the Partnership Forum in Los Angeles, Graeme used a sailing analogy to remind us that organisations are at greatest danger when things appear to be going smoothly.
Graeme asked, "When do you suppose a sailing boat is most in danger of capsizing? When it is tacking into the wind and waves, or when it has the wind behind it?"
I freely admitted to knowing as much about sailing as the next man. The next man was a woman, Linda Tripp. She didn't know anything about sailing either.
"Err, when you're going up into the wind, I suppose," I suggested, "the boat is heeled over (see I do know some sailing words). The waves are crashing over the pointed end (well, not too many sailing words). All the wires that hold the mast up seem to be stretched tight."
"Yes, you would think so," replied Graeme and I could see we had played into his trap. "But the time of most danger is when you are running with the spinnaker up and the wind behind you."
"Why is that dangerous?"
"Because the swell can build up under your stern and next thing you know you are going nose first into a trough, the bow (that's what it's called) digs in, and you're sinking."
It is the same for organisations. When things seem to be going well, there is great danger of capsize. And when everything is stretched to the limit, and the wind and waves seem to be against us, there is safety.
Change gets our adrenalin going, and that's a good thing.
But the adrenalin rush is caused by both anticipation and fear. For me, as much as for anyone.
Most people, quite naturally, fear the unknown. This is a God-given trait that protects ordinary human beings from taking life-threatening risks. It makes us cautious.
I recognise that there is pain in change. Sometimes it is the pain of confusion. It goes away as the future begins to get clearer. Sometimes it is the pain of loss. It goes away when something good replaces what is lost.
I was thinking about pain today as I worked at my desk at home. And within hours I had experienced four kinds of pain.
First, over breakfast I was reading Nelson Mandela's autobiography. The following passage touched me and brought tears:
[The prison warder] "handed me a telegram. It was from my youngest son, Makgatho, and it was only one sentence long. He informed me that his elder brother, my first and oldest son, Thembi . . . had been killed in a motor accident.
Walter [Sisulu] came to me and knelt beside my bed. . . . He said nothing, but only held my hand. I do not know how long he remained with me. There is nothing that one man can say to another at such a time."
The loss of a son must be a profound, unspeakable pain.
Within minutes I was walking in the neighbourhood, getting some exercise. A woman of about 30 stopped me and asked if I had seen a "Jack Russell puppy that answers to the name of Archie." As she said "Archie" her voice caught with emotion and her eyes filled with tears.
I assured her I would keep an eye out, and wondered as I walked on whether the puppy was hers, or perhaps a precious gift to a small child. Perhaps the mother was in pain for her puppy and her child.
I also realised that her pain, so close and visible, had touched me more deeply than what I had read minutes before in Mandela's book.
The loss of a puppy is not as bad as the loss of a son I found myself thinking.
During the day we got a letter in the mail from a friend recovering from a serious accident that could have easily killed her. Judith advised me to read it "in private." The friend wrote:
"I know that in time, the pain will ease. I just have to remember to let God take control and trust in his healing."
And then on the evening news, the vicious, evil, gutless bombing in Oklahoma City. The pain and agony, in living colour.
Now I am sitting here wondering how to evaluate these four experiences. Although I don't begin to say I have got this worked out, I think I am asking the wrong question.
Pain is not something to be measured. There are no units of pain to be counted. It is a wholly qualitative thing. It is encountered and experienced and endured.
God enters into our pain, to comfort, and to heal. Our role as Christian people is to enter into the pain of others without judgement or evaluation. But with sincere empathy.