This weekend I made the mistake of getting hooked on the TV miniseries, The Kennedys. I say it was a mistake because miniseries tend to be time consuming and irreverently biased or one-sided portrayals of a string of events. I’m sure this one is no exception.
While I find the story I’m watching to be intriguingly interesting, I’ve no doubt that the family finds much fault with its portrayal of their history. Even if many of the assertions made by the string of movies (JFK’s need to please his father, Jackie’s addiction to some kind of “upper” drug, Joe Sr.’s conniving manipulations that got his son elected to the senate, the president’s moral weaknesses, etc.) are true, the series tends to present these faults or hang-ups or character traits in a caricature sort of way.
For instance, every time you see Jackie while her husband is in the presidency, she’s on some kind of energy boosting drug. And every time you see Rose Kennedy she’s saying the rosary or doing something else extremely catholic. And every time you see Ethel Kennedy she seems to be the only sane one in the bunch. And every time you see John his eye is roaming unfaithfully. Every person in the family is more of a caricature than a well-rounded character.
And maybe they really were like that, but I doubt it.
I’ve never been much of a fan of the Kennedys, only because I don’t agree much with their politics. But I’ve watched their lives along with the rest of America as we’ve treated them as somewhat of our rendition of a royal family. They’re intriguing. Most families are when you get right down to it.
I say all of this to say that I don’t credit the movie with much reliability and I’m not especially sympathetic to the plight of the Kennedys. If the series has even an ounce of truthfulness to it, the Kennedys had some major character flaws — but don’t we all? — and they were somewhat of a dysfunctional family.
But I have learned something of value from this mini series:
Leadership is a tough place to be.
John Kennedy seems to have wrestled consistently with the heaviness of his job. And if the events portrayed in the movie add up at all, they add up to some pretty strenuous stress. The Bay of Pigs, the building of the Berlin Wall, racial tensions, the crackdown on organized crime, the space program, the list goes on. This man had a lot to deal with some major stressors. And whether he handled it all very well or not, I leave up to the political analysts and historians. I’ve never understand political history very well, so I’ll not start analyzing it now.
But this I can see. JFK carried the weight of leadership like an albatross. His choices must have worried him. The dilemmas must have seemed daunting. The conflicting counsel he received must have been aggravating. The juggling of varying positions must have tripped him up at times. And the need to please must have constantly bucked against the need to do right.
Leadership is a tough place to be.
Whether you feel called to lead, are called upon, seek it out, or stumble into it ignorantly, the position of leadership comes with unexpected challenges, daunting dilemmas, and frustrating demands.
During the past few weeks I’ve been reading about the likes of Moses, Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb. Each of these men wrestled with the mantle of leadership as well. They all had their moments of frustration and they all had grandiose moments of victory. I’m sure each of these men were honored, compelled, and confident as leaders while also feeling inadequate, exhausted, and troubled.
Moses constantly fought the murmuring of the people. But he also had the opportunity to bring his people out of captivity. Imagine how many times he must have lost his patience. (In fact that’s what kept him out of the promised land in the end.)
Aaron got caught up in the need to “people please” but he also got to enter into the presence of the Lord on behalf of those fickle people. Imagine his feelings of inadequacy.
Caleb was chosen to spy out the promised land and see the greatness of that land first hand, but he also had to listen with astonishment as his fellow spies delivered a report quite the opposite of his. Imagine his frustration and how alone he must have felt.
Joshua was given the charge to lead the people into battle and into a place of rest, but he also had to remind them constantly to be courageous and to finish the job. Imagine his weariness.
In fact, the way the Bible records each of their deaths, it doesn’t sound like any of these men cared to live a minute longer, even though at least a couple of them died with healthy and vital bodies. By the time the Lord said they had completed their leadership assignments, they seemed to be ready to head Home. That’s how tough it was for each of them to lead. It was exhausting.
So here’s where I’m going with this. With what I’ve learned form The Kennedys and what I’ve learned from these biblical leaders, I have a few points and questions for us to ponder.
- Who are your leaders? Your father? Your president? Your boss or employer? Your husband? Your pastor? Your commander? Consider the burdens they carry and ask God to give you a divine sensitivity to the weight they bear. Pray for them. Pray for your relationship with them. Pray for God to grant them wisdom, discernment, strength and courage. And pray for Him to help you respect them and treat them well.
- Are you a leader? Are you tired? I get that. I get weary in my leadership responsibilities too. But while I’m not sure how well the Kennedys leaned on God, the men from the Bible I referenced earlier seemed to have had greater success and more stamina when they leaned heavily on Him. He, and He alone, gave them wisdom, strength, victory, and joy in the tasks. Lean on Him, not on anyone or anything else.
- What do you look for in a leader? I think we’re tempted to look for things like charisma, charm, knowledge, and friendliness. But those are some of the very characteristics of Saul, the king God eventually removed His spirit from because he wasn’t a godly king. We’d do better to look for things like godliness, integrity, spiritual maturity, and humility. And here’s a little hint you need while looking for those things. Those very character traits are often the hardest to notice. They are seen best against the backdrop of trouble and controversy and are sometimes mistaken for their polar opposites. It takes a keen eye to see true integrity. It requires that we take off the blinders of resentment, bitterness, and personal agendas. Instead we must search God’s Word, glance up and hold the leader up close to the Bible and examine him or her through Spirit led eyes. Things are not always what they seem.
- Finally, I just feel the need to repeat myself. Leadership is not an easy place to be. A little grace would help. A little grace is always a good and godly thing. We could all give a little grace to those in leadership. I’m not talking about neglecting to hold leaders accountable. But I am talking about the danger of holding them to an impossible standard. I’ve cringed with sympathy as I watched John Kennedy, as portrayed by Greg Kinnear, wrestle with decisions, strive to lead well, and battle his insecurities. And I’ve cringed with the same sympathy as I’ve watched leaders that I know and support deliberate in prayer, struggle with stress, and weigh out conflicting counsel. It’s a tough place to be. A little grace would certainly provide a much needed cushion to soften the rock and the hard place.
Comments? I’d love to hear your thoughts on leadership.