Sunday, March 24, 2013

Practicing Initiative. More Than the Minimum.

This Psalm Sunday I am reminded how Jesus exercised initiative in his early life, in his ministry, and during the final days of his life. Despite knowing that he would die in the Holy City because of the purposeful, inclusive, compassionate, and power-filled life of ministry he practiced, Jesus headed toward Jerusalem; he did not wait for his adversaries to come after him (Luke 9:51). As womanist biblical scholar Raquel St. Clair asserts in her book Call in Consequences, it was not Jesus’ purpose to die but to live; his suffering was a consequence of his ministry.  This historical Jesus was God with us (Matthew 1:23).  Jesus lived a life in which he continually exercised initiative; he took charge of his life.  Jesus chose to go to John the Baptist so that John could baptize him even though John thought himself unworthy to baptize Jesus; that Jesus should be the one baptizing him.  Jesus followed the Spirit’s leading and spent 40 days and nights in the wilderness fasting, praying and being tempted by the adversary in preparation for his ministry (Matthew 4:2).  Jesus, like his forerunner John the Baptist, did more than the minimum required to fulfill his purpose. Perhaps, because he believed that with God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37). Jesus understood that to exist in and exercise a God-like perfection or wholeness means exceeding what is required and allowing possibility, purpose, compassion, and passion to compel us (Matthew 4:43-48).
In order to pursue our lives and vocations in excellence, we will exercise initiative that is motivated by possibility, purpose, compassion, and passion. This means that we won’t wait for others to compel us or overlook us, but we will step up to the plate and do what needs to be done and more.  Too often people wait to see if someone else will do a task rather than doing it themselves.  This lack of initiative occurs in situations from helping people in distress to asking questions in a classroom. Many people won’t ask questions that can help them to understand a particular topic because they are waiting to see if someone else will ask the same question. Meanwhile, nobody asks the necessary questions. So like the majority, they just show up, which is the minimum required of them.  I don’t want to minimize the importance of showing up; showing up is half the battle, but only half the battle. Too many people set the example of only doing the minimum required for a task or project. Some students will only do the homework a teacher assigns, even when it would greatly benefit them and increase their knowledge to do more. But those motivated by possibility, purpose, compassion, and passion will exercise initiative. We can exercise initiative by thinking about and researching our options beyond the obvious ones, by asking questions, and by doing more than is required. For example, if an executive asks her assistant to reserve a room at her favorite hotel in a certain city and the hotel is booked, then the assistant should take the initiative to, (1) ask her employer at the time of the initial request if she has a second or third option if the hotel is booked; (2) search for comparable alternatives, and (3) ask the hotel to notify her in case of cancellations.
We value initiative in others; therefore, we should cultivate it in ourselves.  Most parents and adults value initiative in children. If we ask them to take out the trash, and they only empty the trash in the kitchen and not in the rest of the house, we become annoyed with them. To do only what is required of us will only assure that we are average or mediocre.

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