At a recent leadership conference, when asked what he hoped to get out of the event, Kevin replied, “I want to leave with a limp.” Have you ever had this as a conference goal? I know I haven’t.
Perhaps a bit of context will help. The gathering was the Christian Schools Canada Leadership Conference held in Winnipeg, Manitoba planned by the Prairie Centre for Christian Education, where I serve as Executive Director. The theme was “At The Table” and our Deep Hope for the event was that “as we ‘pull up a chair’ to a table of blessing, brokenness, connection, and giving, we will be challenged and equipped to lead our communities into the fullness of life at The Table.”
One of the “keynote speakers” at the event was The Canadian Museum for Human Rights. I’m not a “museum person,” but this place fascinates me: the architecture is purposeful and beautiful, the exhibits are stories told in engaging and interactive ways, and the content is both heartbreaking and hopeful. It was in a session preparing participants for their afternoon in the museum, that Kevin expressed the desire to “leave with a limp.” He was articulating his hope that he would be so impacted by the stories he was about to encounter that he would be transformed, and not just in an intellectual manner, but instead that he would leave with a permanent reminder of what he encountered, a limp.
Kevin was, of course, making reference to the story of Jacob wrestling through the night with God, and ending the encounter with a limp after God touched his hip, or as The Message says “he deliberately threw Jacob’s hip out of joint” (Genesis 32:22-31). Jacob’s limp was his daily reminder that he wrestled with God and came through, that he saw God face-to-face and lived to tell the story (paraphrased from The Message).
Since the conference, I have been thinking about the times I’ve been left with a limp. Having a difficult job-ending conversation with a teacher. Hearing the heartbreaking story about a student’s home situation. Sitting with a parent as they tell you about their impending divorce and the substance abuse at the root of the decision. Walking with a staff member through their journey with mental illness that doesn’t seem to have an end in sight.
I’m not sure I’ve ever thought about the “limps” I’ve felt in those circumstances as a positive or hoped-for outcome. I think I usually thought of them as one of the hard and unwelcome side effects of leadership, something inevitable and accepted, but not something I’d ask for.
But in the weeks since hearing Kevin say that a limp was his hope for the event, I’ve been thinking that the limps we have as leaders can be reminders of both the brokenness of this world, and that we are wrestling with God and living to tell His Story.
Perhaps the limp is a sign that we have not become hardened or cynical, but instead still see people, in all their brokenness as made in the image of God. Maybe the limp is the result of walking through hard things with people and being willing to share their burdens. It might be that listening to the stories of the vulnerable moves us to wrestle with God.
Leaving with a limp is then not something to avoid but instead can be a reminder that we’re currently living in God’s Story, in the “in-between times” between a perfect creation and a longed-for restoration. So perhaps when we walk into school with a stiff and aching hip, we can see it as a reminder of the opportunities God has given us to lead with a limp.