PMP:120 A Leader’s Spiritual Growth – Four Reasons Your Faith Matters

A few weeks ago, I was on an airplane with my oldest daughter, Emily, who just finished her first year of college and is enjoying summer break. Being with her brings back a lot of memories.

Photo by Cayusa – Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License
At the time, she was staring out the window into the landscape of clouds below while we flew to a conference together in Chicago. As I watched her, I recalled moments from her birth and growing up years. And I thought about how hard is to explain the kind of love you have for your children.

I’m a father of four, and with each one, I have had such deep emotions that words fail to describe the feelings. When I held Emily in my arms for the first time, I remember the overwhelming affection I felt, and I thought, “I have no idea what I’m doing!” But I also thought, “I had no idea how deep a father’s love can be.”

Thinking about a father’s love also helps me think about my spiritual growth. Your beliefs guide your thinking and life decisions. The bedrock of my beliefs about spirituality are communicated from my background and experience as a Christian –the belief in a Heavenly Father who cares deeply for His children. Although your experience and beliefs about God may differ from my own, I’d like you to consider some reasons why your spiritual growth matters:

4 Reasons Your Faith Matters

1. Faith provides a bedrock of assurance.

We live in a world of uncertainty, and our students experience increased anxiety and stress because of the environments (both globally and locally) presenting risks and dangers we may not have faced at their ages. At the same time, human experience has always included risk. In every aspect of your life, you have to accept that there are some situations and experiences that are beyond your control.

But when you are faced with more difficult scenarios – like counseling an abused child or struggling through the death of a loved one – no amount of self-talk replaces the kind of assurance that faith provides. Walking by faith does not mean pretending. Instead, it means placing your trust in something or someone that promises hope –a belief that our circumstances are ultimately under God’s control.

This does not mean that I expect my students or teachers to share my faith. Instead, I can step into each day (whether the day is one of inspiration or crisis) knowing that I can step forward with courage and assurance.

2. Faith provides a measure of perspective.

I think it is important to ask yourself the question of who are you ultimately trusting for the outcomes you hope to see in your work or life? Your ability to self-reflect and rely on others will provide you with growth and improved outcomes, but many of your outcomes have nothing to do with you.

My grandfather was a farmer. I would ride the tractor with him as he planted corn or soybeans, and I noticed how hard he worked to till the soil, select good grain, apply fertilizer and plant in early spring and summer. But there were a number of elements he could not control. First, he planted outdoors, not in a greenhouse. So, he was unable to control the weather. Sunlight and water were not in his control. But most importantly, he had no power over the seeds. Yes, those seeds were helped by being surrounded with the right conditions, but sprouting and growth was never guaranteed.

In the classroom or schoolhouse, you can place your students in the best conditions possible for personal or academic growth. But you also have to trust in the elements beyond your control.

Frankly, some of you reading this have encountered others in your work or life whom seemed beyond help at times. As I’ve met with individuals who appeared to be in conditions beyond my reach, I’ve had to learn to trust in what I cannot see. Not every situation turns out exactly as you plan, but when you trust God for the ultimate outcome, you are practicing the same wisdom as a good farmer.

3. Faith provides a community of strong support.

Over the years, I have managed a number of crises involving student illnesses or deaths. Some of them were unexpected circumstances like car accidents or murder, while others were the result of disease. When you face these moments, your students and teachers need to know they are in a place where they can be comforted. And communities of faith add an additional layer of support.

Most schools provide students with access to counselors or therapists. For your students of faith, a clergy member may also know them through interactions in places of worship. Over the years, I have seen pastors, for instance, who provide places for school communities to hold candle-light ceremonies during a time of crisis – places to gather for community prayers. These experiences may not be ones all students or families participate in, but they provide powerful moments of support, encouragement, and healing for grieving loved ones.

In addition, faith-communities can be powerful partners. Some of the best volunteers and supporters of schools come from faith-communities who are eager to see their local or community schools thriving and flourishing. And in my own experience, I do not know how I would survive the normal walks of life without others I gather with regularly for worship and community.

4. Faith provides healthy context for your leadership.

Recently, I heard some great research from Scott Barry Kaufman, Professor at the University of Pennsylvania who spoke on the topic of Cultivating Grit from Within. In his talk, Kaufman explained research from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, with some interesting new definitions Kaufman will be sharing in his newest book coming out in 2019.

One of the areas Maslow explored in his hierarchy is self-actualization. But in his later writings, he talked more about transcendence, the highest level of human experience where people pursue something equivalent to reaching for the infinite. (You can see reference to Maslow’s later works here.)

Kaufman’s reminded his listeners that ultimate learning experiences involve discovery, awe, and wonder – not just receiving information, but finding inspiration. As education leaders, how can we expect our teachers and students to tap into moments or inspiration and awe if we don’t value those experiences ourselves?

Let me ask another important question: Why do you step into your school each morning? I do not believe it is because you want to simply earn a salary or because you love being in control. If so, you will seldom find long-term satisfaction or meaning in your work. I believe you step into your school each day because you want to be a part of creating the kind of community where students and teachers can be inspired to grow, learn, discover, and flourish.

Faith provides a healthy context for this kind of perspective.

Let’s Wrap This Up

My daughter Emily was born 6 ½ weeks premature, a healthy 5 pounds, 11 ounces. She was hospitalized in a neo-natal intensive care unit while her lungs developed and we waited to bring her home.

Neo-natal care specialists will tell you there is no safer place than a mother’s womb during pregnancy. But when a baby comes early, it is comforting to see the specialized care premature babies receive. During her first days, Emily was placed in a small crib and connected to leads that checked her heart-rate and blood pressure, and she was fed oxygen through small tubes that were inserted in her tiny nose. As the days continued, her lungs strengthened, and she was disconnected from the oxygen so that we could hold and help feed her.

As wonderful and miraculous as neo-natal care is for premature babies, there was something those cribs, machines, and monitors could not provide. Nothing could replace the love that my wife and gave her. Whether it was stroking her little back with my forefinger while she slept, or watching my wife hold and feed her for the first time, we were radiating with a kind of affection that I believe worked as deeply on her as the medical treatment she received. What a joy it was to bring her home two and half weeks later. And what a joy it has been to watch her grow from a healthy baby into an amazing young woman.

So often I hear educators talk about their work as a calling. I think it is more apt to say your life is a calling. When is the last time you paused to think about your own spiritual condition?

Whenever you confront the realities of life: your relationships, work, or health — you will inevitably hit walls of discouragement, isolation or struggle. But when you think about how a heavenly Father offers an affection that touches you at the deepest core of your being, you can know you are never alone. You can have assurance for what is beyond your control, perspective for the journey ahead, support from others in a community of faith, and meaning that goes far beyond the moment you are in. When you do, you recognize the miracle involved and why faith matters.

Now It’s Your Turn

As you pause to reflect on the kind of motivation you need in your leadership, when is the last time you reflected on the eternal significance of your work? How can you take time to accept what is beyond your control by relying in faith for ultimate good to happen? How can you support others in their struggles or difficulties by pointing them to an assurance that is both present and eternal?

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William D. Parker
William D. Parker