Pain-bearing leadership

Leaders bear pain.  It’s been a theme of mine recently.  For strength does not mean being impervious to pain.  And leadership reframing of reality means first staring death in the face.

It’s been a theme in this space because I’ve seen it again and again in the space of my daily living.  Leadership means carrying the pain of others.  It means holding space for their expressions of doubt and fear.  It means entering the smog of pain and un-faith and yet not drowning there.  Richard J. Mouw says it well when he claims that ‘God-honoring leadership requires the willingness to bear the pain of others’.


Leadership means too the pain of holding one’s own tension, gap between what is and what could be.  Hope is indeed a burden because it risks the heart again on the promise of God.  It makes us vulnerable to future loss and disappointment because it dares to name a specific reality for which it perseveres rather than settling for a generic ‘good’.  Hope hurts because it forces us to name our helplessness, our utter dependence on God in a world held in bondage to decay.

Yes, leaders bear pain.  At least, the ones who can be trusted do.  And they may not always be those in positions of leadership.  They may have no title on their door, no official status in the institution nor honours paid to their name.  Yet, in every place, there are those who have embraced the pain.

They are innocent but not naïve, these nameless ones.  These pain-carriers are the ones who have ‘seen, and borne, the worst that institutions can do – and yet…have somehow escaped the abyss of cynicism’.  And though they have no titles, no honours, no name for themselves, these are the ones who can ‘enter in…bearing…pain and offering hope’ (Andy Crouch, Playing God).

I want to be this kind of leader.  I want to carry their pain and bring hope in its midst.  I want to carry my own pain, to keep straining for the promise despite the searing heaviness of hope.  And I want to carry his pain, the pain with which he travails over his people until we are lifted out of the abyss of cynicism and into the risk of hope.

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