Thursday, September 2, 2010

Spot On - Spotlights or Searchlights

Until last year, I worked in a corporation with all the hierarchy and folderol that involves. I had a corner office, a sizable staff, a good sized paycheck and quite a few perks. Back then my monthly car allowance was about the size of many a household's food bill for a month. Seemed a little excessive to me. I called my boss, the CEO, and offered to fore go a car allowance, but he became a bit irritated and asked if I was trying to make the other executives look bad.

I really was not; but neither did I feel comfortable receiving a perk that was more than what I thought my duties actually required. This and other aspects of the corporate world caused me to sometimes feel like a fish out of water. Or perhaps more like "neither fish nor fowl" but more like, as one wag put it, a feathered-fish or a finned-fowl. Those experiences became part of what I think of as being a country Christian in corporate America. (There may be more on this subject in future blogs.) So do I long for the good old days? No. Not once in the year and a half since I decided to hang up my brief case.

I sometimes wonder why I don't miss it? And I have been asked that repeatedly by acquaintances, former business colleagues, and friends. I think, perhaps, part of the reason has to do with a phrase that one of my former bosses liked to use when he was particularly pleased with my input. "Spot on", he would say with a smile. By this he meant that I had hit the nail on the head with my take on the situation, at least in his opinion. It was meant as positive feedback and I appreciated the intent.

However, I rarely felt like my contribution actually mattered in the over all scheme of things. What seemed to matter most were attending meetings, meeting deadlines, meeting the budget, and being willing "to do whatever it takes" to get the job done. With all this meeting going on, only occasionally could anyone tell me what the meeting had accomplished. I recall one particularly lengthy conference call involving multiple vice presidents, senior sales executives, and grand-poo-bahs of various types and stripes scattered about the entire county. The phone module itself could have probably run a small third-world country with all its bells and whistles. Nevertheless, despite all this technology at our fingertips, when we were about an hour and a half into it, I called a halt to all discussion by simply asking, "Can anyone give me a summary of the progress we have made thus far in solving our problem?" The silence would have rivaled a graveyard at midnight.

Oh, objectives were met - with regularity - as they must be or heads would roll, and someone would certainly be on the spot. But as for the actual quality of the outcome, the impact of the action upon another human being - well, not so much. Thus I often did not feel "spot on" - even when told otherwise.

God takes a different approach to evaluating our actions and giving us feedback. First, He tells us right up front that we are anything but "spot on" or on the mark - but rather that we have "all sinned (and one of the more common definitions of sin is 'failure to hit the mark') and come short of the Glory of God." (Romans 3:23 )

So we are not spot on and we are clearly told so. St. Paul, however, while acknowledging that he isn't right on target either, nevertheless encourages us that he has decided to "press toward the mark of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:14.) None of this fancy verbal footwork to try to make us - or himself - think we are better than we are. We are foul-ups, messes, and downright embarrassing failures sometimes. But we can do better, thanks to a lot of help from our Friend who really does "stick closer than a brother."( Proverbs 18:24.)

What a terrific realization! A friend who sticks by when we are not right on the money, or heaven forbid, we have lost our way entirely (and perhaps all our money as well) ; who cares for us even when we have no office or official standing, but stands by us nevertheless. We have all worked with and for people who always kept an eye out for the next spot on the roster, the next rung up the ladder of success, the next chance to be in the spotlight.

For whatever reason, God has allowed me to spend some time in the spotlight in one or two avenues in my life. It never did me much good, as far as I could tell. I mean, yes, I learned to take the podium with confidence after making sure my nylons didn't have visible runs; then remember to make eye contact with at least one or two people in the first three rows. But has the spotlight ever seemed to really do me much good? Not that I could tell. Perhaps my diction improved a little...maybe. And of course, I learned never to eat the complimentary luncheon when serving as the guest speaker. It is really humiliating to discover you have spent a half-hour speaking to an audience with spinach in your front teeth.

In fact, I have come to conclude that spending time in the searchlight of God's grace is a much better place to be. Certainly the world will always go for the spotlight. The natural tendency of any of us is to want to be "right" - spot on. Or to be considered "special" by secular standards - in the spotlight of talent or success. But I have discovered that I am more comfortable with a searchlight on my soul than a spotlight on my title or position.

I may no longer be in the spotlight, or the corner office, for that matter. But I am pretty sure I am pressing toward the mark. And it feels right. Hope you are also in a good place. Have a good day.

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