Leadership Lessons Along the Trail
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (I Timothy 4:12 NIV).
Sometimes one learns lessons in the most unlikely of places.
We recently had the privilege of riding seventeen miles of Virginia’s Creeper Trail–a rails-to-trails path that winds through beautiful countryside outside quaint Damascus and Abingdon.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been pondering leadership lately, our oldest son having married over Labor Day. The notion that he’s now the head of his household is in the forefront of this momma’s mind, and his dad and I desire nothing more than to encourage him in his new role as a godly husband.
As we biked that September day, we were led by our 13-year old daughter and her best friend. And it struck me. Learning leadership should begin while one’s young, and it can be demonstrated by those who are still in their youth.
Paul said as much in the first letter penned to his beloved Timothy. Like a son to him, he exhorted this young man to lead, despite his age, in five particular areas. And why? That others in the faith might follow.
So as we peddled along, passing picturesque farmland abundant with round bales, dotted with late summer wildflowers, the Lord spoke to my heart. Indeed, as we went, I discovered there were leadership lessons I could learn from two teenage girls riding ahead of me on the VA Creeper Trail.
First, in the quiet, under a canopy of trees, I heard talking as these teenagers took turns leading. “Watch out for that pothole,” the leader would say, and the other would add, “Wow! That was deep!” Or, “Hey, check out that cool barn,” to which came the reply, “Let’s stop and take a picture.”
Not infrequently, one would shout back to my husband and me, “Watch out for the giant tree stump.” Consequently, we’d pay particular attention, readying ourselves prior to riding over the obstacle, perhaps sparing us a bike spill in the process.
This bantering back and forth was nothing less than encouragement at its finest–between kindred hearts, among family. The girls were watching out for one another, keeping the other’s best interest in mind.
Thankfully, they were looking out for us too–leading by example in their speech, encouraging us as we went.
Throughout our 3-hour trek, there were opportunities for these girls to demonstrate godly conduct.
Though they could have battled a competitive spirit–vying for attention, for example, or desiring to remain in the lead rather than take turns–these friends demonstrated kindness and consideration toward one another.
At one point, our daughter’s friend blew a tire. Not only was this incident scary, it was also inconvenient. Nearing the end of our ride, everyone was looking forward to the ice cream promised when we reached the finish line.
To make matters worse, when my husband unwrapped the brand new spare tube included in the emergency pouch we’d received at the bike shop, he discovered it, too, had a leak. Thankfully, our daughter also had a kit containing an extra. Within minutes, her friend’s tire was as good as new.
All this time, the teenager smiled ear to ear–never losing her cool or complaining. She simply believed all would work out, and when it did, she was courteous, thanking my husband for having helped her.
Such was a beautiful example of godly conduct.
Love abounds in Virginia! In fact, “Virginia is for Lovers” is the state’s slogan.
For fun, literal “love” signs have been hidden in and around Damascus and Abingdon, not to mention other towns and cities in Old Dominion.
But real love isn’t merely this four-letter word spelled out in neon or written boldly on a billboard. Rather, it’s when it’s lived out–demonstrated in tangible, though perhaps simple ways.
Early on in our bike route, we stopped to take a photograph, and there we met another family. Clearly, the mom and dad had their hands full.
Their beautiful brood clamored about on an old piece of railroad equipment. Trying to act nonchalant, I counted the kiddos before commenting, “Wow! Are all these precious children yours?”
“Yep,” the momma proclaimed, a wiggly infant in her arms.
Like steps on a boxcar, the couple’s sons and daughters appeared close in age, which their mom confirmed, patting each on his or her head as she went. “There are seven total. She’s nine… then eight… and he’s seven…” and so on. Finally, “And there’s one more in the van. She’s two.”
Smiling, I complimented, “Well, you sure have a beautiful family.”
Some time later, we stopped for refreshment at a small venue along the path, and there we saw this family again. This time, however, the father pushed a stroller while the other six children danced about like happy puppies.
At one point, their momma reached down to lift a child from the stroller, and it was then that I understood, as did our teenagers.
Quite small for her age, this daughter–the one second from the bottom–appeared much younger than her twenty-four months. Unlike my own 2-year old granddaughter, she lay limp in her mother’s arms, her eyes open but unseeing.
In that moment, my heart was struck, realizing the tiny child was severely handicapped. Even more, my heart stirred as I recognized a rise of emotion within our two teenagers.
Witnessing the love between a mom, a dad, and their daughter–one whose disabilities undoubtedly bring sadness, what with their resulting death of dreams–our teenagers’ response was tender. It affirmed their appreciation for–indeed, their love for–the One who is Himself love, who makes no mistakes. Clearly, they understood all life is precious.
And in that moment, brief though it was, these two young ladies demonstrated the most beautiful of love–Christ’s love toward another human soul.
Okay, let’s be honest. Each of those seventeen miles was an act of faith.
Unknowns lurked. Dark tunnels created by close-growing trees lay before us. Sometimes the sun disappeared behind clouds and raindrops threatened, a mighty concern when the only way home is ahead.
Still, not once–not even when the tire blew–did either girl complain or comment, “I’m scared,” or “I can’t go on.”
They simply pressed ahead, mile over bumpy mile–trusting the well-worn trail, believing they were safe, even as they rounded the next bend.
And honestly, they did so with joy, because they did so with Jesus. And with Him, they led by faith–thus, leading by example.
Finally, these teenagers–having already demonstrated leadership in speech, conduct, love, and faith–led by example in purity as well.
One cannot, however, decipher what thoughts each had as they trekked along. After all, it’s within the confines of the mind that much sin is born. That’s why we’re also exhorted by the Apostle Paul to take all thoughts captive and make them obedient to Jesus.
Still, if it’s from within the mind that the words one speaks as well as the actions one does derive, then godly purity is what I witnessed in these two young ladies. Because, on that beautiful September day, what they demonstrated was a cleanness of heart equal to the unpolluted air of rural Virginia’s countryside.
And I desire nothing more than to echo my brother in the faith–proclaim to these two, as well as to anyone who might otherwise feel intimidated due to their age–
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young…”
I’m grateful for the leadership lessons I learned from two teenagers. And much of this we believe can be passed on to our newly married son as well–for all godliness as he leads his blossoming family.
And even though it’s low on the totem pole of importance, don’t forget, son–
Virginia’s for lovers.