In the stories of Israel, there is an interesting description of a king, a new king. This particular young ruler will follow in his father’s footsteps. He has big sandals to fill.
The young king’s father would be known forever as one of the greatest kings ever. That package is both burden and blessing. Many of us know it’s difficult when everyone knows who your successful parents are, or your tall and talented brother, that one who impressed all the teachers before you came along.
And yet, we still have to discern how to step into the sandals when it’s our turn to lead.
I’ve had season of parenting, which changes because the children grow and the questions are new. I’ve had first days on the job. I’ve been nervous, exhilarated, and doubtful. I have wondered about the politics involved.
“Politics” is an abused word these days, a word that is meant to depict crass back-alley deals, but there will always be the better politics, that process which examines the give and take between humans, what we might call the work of classic compromise. We need more practice at politics. After all, our homes are political because we necessarily make decisions that affect all the members of our family, and that, too, is not easy. In reality, politics must account for everyone’s needs, just as a family does.
The young king’s name is Solomon. As the story in 1 Kings 3:3-15 goes, the inexperienced ruler appears anxious to seek guidance for his new role as king, and thus finds his way to a sacred shrine. While there, he falls asleep, which isn’t a bad thing to do when one needs to find the calm center and listen. Leadership requires thoughtful decision-making that can stress us mentally, emotionally, and physically, like that tensed neck muscle you find your fingers pressing to loosen.
In sleep, through a dream, God asks Solomon what he would like God to give him? It’s a jackpot question. Write your own lucky lottery ticket, a blank check, a grand buffet.
What will he choose? wealth? fame?
Despite his privileged advantage as a prince, the young man who is about to assume the throne requests the ability to make good decisions for the benefit of all. Interestingly, making wise decisions will include the least in Solomon’s kingdom: single women, moms who also happen to be prostitutes (1 Kings 3:16 ff.). I have to wonder how the media covered that meeting between a ruler and the marginalized women. What is the trending hashtag when a king cares about the least?
I think part of the story poses the question to us, those living in a highly developed and affluent country, a place and time fascinated by money and celebrity. Too many have come to believe that things like wealth and fame will fix us, or fill us, or even save us. They will not; nor will they make our children happy.
Rather, the way of wisdom and compromise, aren’t those tools we need to teach?
One of my younger boys, a fifth-grader, was worried. He decided that something at school was unfair, even though it was a new opportunity for the children to come together and build teams. However, from his vantage point, the loss of points to various teams seemed random. He also worried that by listing the name of the person who lost points, it might cause greater friction instead of community.
By the time he greeted me at my car when I got home, he was in tears. He had written the principal a letter stating his opinions and making suggestions on how to improve the teams, but then regretted putting it in her in-box.
I reassured him that it’s important to ask questions, to offer suggestions that might improve a community, just make sure you are polite, even though we are, too often, seeing leaders act like fools, to use the biblical name.
The next morning, the principal called me. She loved the letter. She liked his pros and cons. She liked his thoughtfulness. She liked his suggestions. She told me that we might want to frame it.
And then she said, “This is the kind of leader we want to prepare.”
Isn’t that what leaders need most? A measure of wisdom? A way to look at the whole picture or system? Giving our children the ability to see that everyone counts, that there is such a thing as compromise, and civility. Teaching our kids wisdom: isn’t it one of our most important jobs?