Ecclesiastes 3 (NIV)
A Time for Everything
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.
And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
I thought in my heart,
“God will bring to judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time for every deed.”
That pretty much sums up the views of the wisest man in the Old Testament, King Solomon. In a more colloquial version, Stephen Covey once told me, “This too shall pass,” and my partner, Phil Anschutz echoed, “It’ll all work out.”
It seems there is a pervasive sense of loss these days. Loss of certainty. Loss of structure. Loss of close one-to-one relationships in favor of social networks. Loss of an aging loved one or, much worse, loss of one snatched untimely from this earth, loss of a secure job through technology change (newspapers), outsourcing (factory jobs), down-sizing (banks and bankruptcy), loss of a home, loss of financial security (where’s my 401K?).
My friend, the management writer, Jim Collins, who feels that the worst is yet to come, has spent eight years researching the characteristics of those who survive and prosper during times of turbulence and utter unpredictability. His book is soon to come. Collins’ “small interim book” was titled, How The Mighty Fall, which also gives you a feel for his mood these days.
Last week I heard the long-time Director of the World Economic Forum (Davos) say, (no kidding), “For a long time, America has sinned. It is going to take a long time to atone for those sins – probably eight or ten years.” It was almost like Joseph’s prophecy to Pharaoh of seven fat years followed by seven lean years.
When I need to process some vexing concern I have, I often write in a series of journals. They go back for years. I spent a morning last week reading what I wrote fifteen years ago. As usual, I found myself tangled in a bramble of concerns. I couldn’t see around the corner. Fred Smith, Jr., my partner for the first twelve years of Leadership Network, had resigned to stay closer to home after years of relentless traveling to build the bedrock of relationships that is now Leadership Network and the American evangelical megachurch. Fred told me, “I’m a limiting factor now. Leadership Network should be two or three times the size it is now. Given my desire to be close to my two daughters before they leave home, I am not the man to do that job.” I was dumbstruck. I still had a growing cable TV business to watch over and a book to promote – the beginning of Halftime — and no leader in sight. I prayed and prayed and prayed: (“I’m lost, God … This is a sea change, a new season … I’m tired, bone tired … I’m dependent on you, God, dependent on others”).
In the intervening years between then and now, friends stepped up with partnership. Leadership Network tripled in size, Halftime went from 45,000 copies sold to 600,000. The megachurch movement swelled from a few hundred churches with over a thousand attending to over 7,000 to become the most robust church movement in the U.S. This was mostly a self-taught movement. I could foresee none of this in my anguished prayers of fifteen years ago. Others could, I could not.
What are the lessons? I kept hearing God say, “Stay in the game.” Peter Drucker told me, “Just put one foot in front of the other and go on.” Some programs flourished. Others died.
The last two weeks have been heavy – the funeral of a long-time Tyler hero and friend, then there was the third person in my high school class to die in the past four months, two Dallas friends’ parents die: Bill Solomon’s mother at 100, Mort Meyerson’s father, Brudus, dies at 99.
I soldier on. I’ll close with a Prayer by Thomas Merton that illuminates the intersection between uncertainty and faith. Linda, one of whose StrengthsFinder is “Empathy,” brought it from a class she is taking in Dallas:
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that my desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always,
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
— from Thoughts in Solitude
Abby of Gethsemani
So What about You?
Think back about the ups and downs of your lifeline. When has your life been more amenable to prayer than reason? When has what seemed like a loss turned out to be an opportunity for wisdom and growth?
Bob Buford is chairman of the board of The Buford Foundation/Leadership Network and, until the sale of his company in July 1999, served as chairman of the board and CEO of Buford Television, Inc., a family-owned business that started with a single ABC affiliate in Tyler, Texas, in the early fifties, and grew to a network of cable systems across the country. A classic entrepreneur, Bob has authored four books – HalfTime, Game Plan, Stuck in Halftime (Zondervan), and Finishing Well (Integrity). Bob was the founder and initial chairman of the board of the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management, now Leader to Leader Institute. He and his wife Linda make their home in Dallas, Texas.