I recently attended a wedding that concluded with one of those Pinterest-worthy sparkler tunnels, where guests line either side, cheering and waving firework wands as the newlyweds run through to their getaway car. As the evening ended, the bridesmaids distributed the sparklers and worked together with a limited number of lighters to light them all up before the new Mr. and Mrs. made it to the start of the tunnel. Amidst the hustle and bustle I heard the maid of honor say, “remember, you can use your sparklers to light other sparklers!” Her comment caused me to pause and notice. Each of us was so eager to get our own sparkler lit in time but forgot that once it was, we could use it to light up someone else’s.
The following Monday back at the office I was arranging some action items in my calendar when I looked at the date and realised it’d been almost a year since I was asked to apply for my current position. I guess time flies when you’re having fun adulting. It has been fun though too, my job. And really, I sort of stumbled into it.
I’d been working as a temporary contractor doing administrative work for a few months when one day my boss and supervisor pulled me into a conference room. As the heavy door swung shut, I was faced with two sets of serious eyes, I feared the conversation might not be a good one.
Though I’d never envisioned myself working in the utility industry, or in the corporate world at all for that matter, this job was both and I found myself not only enjoying it, but hoping to earn a permanent position. I was learning so many new things, beginning to bridge the gap between the theory of study and reality of practice. Not only that, it was allowing me to take aggressive strikes at my student loans, something I’d hoped to continue. But the biggest reason I enjoyed my job was that the people I worked with made it enjoyable - it was a true team environment demonstrated by the fact that everyone always seemed to be willing to lend a helping hand and genuinely enjoyed each other. I learned quickly that any job is fulfilling when you feel that you are a part of something and making a difference.
My fears gave way to relief as the two sets of serious eyes curled up into smiles, and then to excitement as the accompanying mouths told me they had a permanent position they'd like me to apply for. In describing the job, they used words like socialising and organisation and travel and writing and speaking. At its core, the job was to take a safety message and communicate it in such a way that effectively brought about behavioural change. And along with this job would come all that accompanies the creative challenge of accomplishing such a feat.
It was one of those moments that felt as if God was lifting back the curtain, allowing me to see what He’d been orchestrating. For months leading up to my college graduation, I’d been paralyzed with the anxiety of not knowing what was next. I had an idea of what I liked, a few puzzle pieces if you will, but nothing close to the whole picture. Gradually, though, I’d begun to realise that the things I found joy in all shared a common thread: communication. I loved having a concept I was so passionate about, that it became a creative challenge for me to figure out a way to communicate it in such a way that it might resonate with others.
I immediately saw this new job as an opportunity to develop the skills attached to those things I was most passionate about. And I suddenly saw that 'random' temporary job had purpose. God knew where He was bringing me all along.
That day I learned that God is the ultimate caretaker of our dreams. He faithfully plants them, waters them, and gives them growth all while we sit there stressing about how we’ll ever be able to accomplish them on our own. Even when we can’t see it He has a plan, because our dreams were never about us to begin with.
But that’s not all I learned.
Later that day my boss pulled me aside. He told me why he thought I’d be a good fit for the position and knowing I’m a believer, also divulged that in opening up this door of opportunity, he felt God would use the experience to prepare me for the purposes He had for me. I was astounded. It’s like I’d spotted God’s hand in all of this and now that sighting was being confirmed.
When I thanked my boss, he continued on to say that he’d already experienced successes in his own career. What brought him joy now was using his position to open doors for other people, getting to play a part in the story God was writing in their lives. What brought him joy was lifting others up.
As he spoke, I realised that in the time I’d had him as a boss these had proven to be much more than just words. Across my mind flashed time after time when he’d made himself about other people: creating opportunities, celebrating small victories, seeking out occasions to build people up. It suddenly dawned on me that the team environment I’d so been enjoying didn’t happen by accident.
People grow where they’re accepted and appreciated, and they excel when others believe in their abilities and challenge them to be better.
The environment was a direct result of his leadership.
I’d heard before that a leader is someone who lifts up others to their full potential and I decided in that moment it was true and that regardless of my title or position, that’s the kind of person I wanted to be.
It’s easy to become so focused on proving our own worth that we miss the joy of building up others in theirs. Worse yet, it's easy to fall prey to the mentality of scarcity. The one that tells us if another person is beautiful or funny or smart or talented, then we can’t be, so we do everything we can to keep from acknowledging those qualities in other people. We become tight-fisted with our compliments, with our words that hold so much life-giving power should we only choose to give them freely. We’re convinced that if we lift up the greatness of others, there won’t be enough left for us. And it’s usually whatever quality we most identify personally that we’re most reluctant to acknowledge in others.
But this isn’t Walmart on Black Friday with a limited number of flat screen TV’s. It’s not one of those “if you get it, I don’t” scenarios. There’s enough to go around.
Scarcity simply isn’t true with an infinite God, and only when we know that we’re enough in Him are we freed to give freely to others, to lift them up.
I know how much it means to me when someone sends an encouraging message about my blog or speaks words of life over the person I’m becoming, so why wouldn’t I want to give that same gift to others?
The lies of scarcity tell us that if we lift others up, there won’t be enough for us. The truth is when we lift others up, our own freedom and joy is multiplied.
It’s easy to think in our minds that a certain person is really kind or encouraging or intelligent. And then assume it’s common knowledge and because we recognize that quality, the person must too. But who’s to say they aren’t starved to hear the very truth we’re thinking, but haven’t vocalized? We have an opportunity to speak life every day.
I’ve found that Pinterest is good for more than just wedding-sparkler-tunnel inspiration (though I’ve pinned my fair share of those). My most robust board is a board of quotes and one of my favorites reads:
A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. - James Keller.
I don’t ever want to become so focused on my own sparkler that along the way, I overlook my capacity to light someone else’s. I want to emulate my boss’s example of finding joy in lifting others up.
In what ways— big or small— can we do just that this week?