In Chris Nye’s book Less of More. Pursuing spiritual abundance in a world of never enough he makes this statement: “The strange thing about power is that you always notice when you don’t have it, but rarely notice when you do.” I cannot recall exactly why he was writing about that, I suppose you could read his excellent book to find out. The sentence makes me think about some of the general dissatisfaction people seem to have with life these days and its roots, namely that we focus on what we lack rather than what we have.
We notice our big mortgage and forget to be grateful for the roof over our head, we see the prices in the grocery store and forget the struggle some folks have to find clean water—let alone food—for their families. We notice the price of gas and forget how lucky we are to have reliable transportation along routs without bandits or corrupt-bribe-requiring-officials.
We cannot be satisfied by focusing on what we lack and ignoring what we have.
It also brings to mind a leadership story that really sticks in my mind because it is something I have experienced more than once myself. The story happens in the 2 Samuel 23. David is a leader of men and, while away from home, he longs for some of his old comforts. He expresses this by saying how much he wishes he could have a drink of water from his beloved Bethlehem. He says this out loud, not asking for the water, certainly not ordering anyone to get him the water, more likely he is saying it in a way that lets his closest friends know what he’s thinking, offering a story version of his longing for home, and maybe that his patience with the adventure he was on was waining. It seems like a gentle moment of vulnerability, he is a homesick warrior king.
What his men heard—because he was in charge—was either an order to get him the water or an opportunity for advancement if they could surprise him by getting him the water. Make no mistake David knew he held the power, he just didn’t expect his men to act on these particular words. We might also notice that despite the power he had he still had longings, desires, like anyone else would. Because having power is not as satisfying as we like to think it is.
Anyways, some of his men go and get the water, David feels bad that they took such a risk, and refuses to drink the water. We don’t hear how the men who had risked their lives for the water reacted to his dumping the water out rather than drinking it.
A few times I have said things in the office that sent people down long roads of work with little result, because I was thinking out loud or longing for something and didn’t expect others to go do what I was talking about. But they did, and it cost time and effort and relational capital. This is one of the costs of leadership miscommunication.
More pastorally, at times I have reacted poorly to someone asking something of me, or stating something in a way that made me think they were placing a demand on me, when they were simply letting me know how they were feeling, or what they missed. Also more than once I have felt threatened when asked to do something I knew I could not deliver on and again my responses in such moments have left much to be desired. The weird thing is that in most such situations I had all the power and I didn’t even recognize that. People were being courageous and vulnerable and open and instead of someone feeling heard and appreciated I am sure they felt belittled because I felt not up to a given task. The world works better, and all of our relationships work better, when we recognize the power and privileges we have and stand in a posture of openness and appreciation.
Something about our days of war and inflation and pandemic make me think we need reminding that we are okay.
I wonder what power you might have that you don’t notice. Maybe you have had it so long (maybe even forever) and thus it is invisible to you. Maybe it isn’t power you particularly desire and so it is not that important to you, though it may be terribly important to others.
Today, instead of noticing what you do not have (materially, spiritually, emotionally, or relationally) can I suggest you take some time to reflect on the power you do have. You can give thanks for it, find a posture of appreciation. Doing so may even help us to wield power more gently and productively.