As someone doing an entry level role at a large company, I find power really challenging to think about.
I’m fine with it when it’s small and human. In the last week alone, I can think of times when I’ve used my social power to welcome new starters into my lunch group, and I can also think of times when I’ve been too tired to make an effort and, consciously or unconsciously, used my power to close ranks. Recently, I’ve been freshly convicted of my apathy around ethical living – my flatmate pointedly bought me a shampoo bar for my birthday and it hit home. Changes need to be made. I am massively privileged to have the space to even think about things like plastic reduction or the air-miles represented by my fruit, when so many don’t have that luxury. This kind of small scale, personal power fits into my head. I understand that we have influence and we’re called to use it to build for the kingdom.
However, on a larger scale, if I’m honest, I often don’t feel like I have any kind of influence. The big waves of culture and ideology roll over me and the most I can do is attempt to fight them in my own life and immediate surroundings. I relate more to all the memes about being tired, strapped for cash, and slightly lost than to Greta Thunberg. (Though I am very glad that both memes and Greta exist!) It is very tempting to throw a pity party and rage against the job market, the price of rent and basically how much perseverance is required in the fight to make any kind of positive difference in the world. But self pity is not a helpful response.
Moses ’life was marked by waiting, both for the burning bush and for the promised land.
Job had everything that could possibly go wrong, go wrong.
Ruth and Naomi were destitute before Ruth met Boaz and made it into the line of Jesus.
Paul was continually beaten, discouraged, stoned, starved and thrown in prison.
And Jesus didn’t even start his ministry until he was 30.
Of course, I’m not equating grad life with these heroes of the faith! But I am saying that, as a Christian, suffering, waiting and uncertainty are par for the course. Just look at your own life and the lives of those around you. I don’t think hardships come from God, but in our broken world, struggle finds everyone. Thankfully, both in the bible and in this messy world we live in, God uses times of waiting and uncertainty to build character. And godly character is crucial if we are to manage power well.
A couple of months ago, out of the blue, I was offered an interview at an extremely influential company. It felt like such an act of grace – I wouldn’t dream of applying for a company as shiny as they are. You know the type of place; staffed by international hipsters, snacks on tap, free bar on the roof terrace. Nevertheless, when praying about it, I felt led to place this opportunity in its right place under God. I think I even said the words ‘if it will take me away from you, I don’t want it’ … And then I was eliminated after the second stage of interviews. It felt like a punch in the gut. I took my disappointment and rejection to the Lord and felt him ever so gently remind me of my earlier prayer, and hint that the money and glamour would have been a snare. John 15 started following me around ‘He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.’ And I was reminded that God disciplines us and is kind enough to close doors as well as open them. I started to feel grateful that I didn’t get something I wouldn’t have had the character to manage.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet people who live and lead with godly openness, and it is so compelling. Without exception, these leaders cultivated the ability to hold their influence lightly by being doggedly faithful and open to the Lord through times of uncertainty and waiting. And that has direct implications for the way we look at graduate life. We have to lean into the waiting; give God permission to prune and grow in this time of uncertainty, so that we can be worthy stewards of any power we are eventually given.