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Pouring Out Grace in the Lose-Lose

For the past 22 weeks, everyone has been struggling to navigate the difficulties of the pandemic shutdown. Uncertainty has forced all of us into an extended season of decision-making where we must choose between options that are unattractive, painful, or even deadly. When all of your options are bad, it’s called a lose-lose proposition. For

For the past 22 weeks, everyone has been struggling to navigate the difficulties of the pandemic shutdown. Uncertainty has forced all of us into an extended season of decision-making where we must choose between options that are unattractive, painful, or even deadly. When all of your options are bad, it’s called a lose-lose proposition.

For example, when President Trump had to choose between shutting down the economy or risking millions of deaths, it was a lose-lose. People on both sides of the debate were offering their opinions — and their arguments made it clear that if he chose the other side’s option, it would cause untold pain and suffering for the entire country. Both sides were correct. He faced an unimaginable lose-lose proposition.

Every church leader I have talked with has also been struggling with lose-lose propositions. People on both sides of the debate have been offering their opinions — and their arguments have made it clear that if the pastor picks the other side’s option, it is unacceptable. If a pastor chooses in-person worship, they are accused of putting their congregation and community at risk of sickness and death. If the pastor chooses online or drive-in worship, they are accused of acting out of fear or rejecting science or kowtowing to the government — clearly, a lose-lose.

Families aren’t escaping the lose-lose either. Elderly folks don’t know how much time they have left on planet earth. All they want is to be with their loved ones. However, their grandchildren have been told that if they go to visit grandma or grandpa, they risk killing them. No one wants to choose between killing their grandparents or completely isolating them in the last season of their life. Both options stink. That’s the nature of a lose-lose proposition.

We are currently living in an extended lose-lose season — and we are all wearing out. Heather and I have been referring to it as Pandemic Exhaustion Syndrome, or PES. Friends, we’re going to be in this season for quite some time, so talking about how we extend grace in the midst of the loss is vitally important. If we don’t, PES will lead to deep division and broken relationships. Actually, it already has. We need to pour out grace on each other — and especially on our leaders.

Leadership is always challenging, but never more so than in the lose-lose. The phrase “pick your poison” means that all options available to a leader are lousy. To fully understand the challenges encountered by leaders in the lose-lose, let’s consider the win-win and the win-lose.

The easiest decision for any organization is the choice between a good option and a bad option. It is referred to as a no-brainer. In a no-brainer decision, everyone ends up happy — a win-win.

A more difficult decision is when an organization must choose between two good options. When two good options are on the table, people express their preferences. By making a decision, the leader chooses one set of preferences over another and inadvertently creates winners and losers. For that reason, it is called a win-lose.

Every parent has experienced a win-lose on a road trip. You take an exit off the highway, and there are two kid-friendly restaurants — Burger King is a mile to the left, and McDonald’s is a mile to the right. Half the kids want BK, and the other half want McD’s. Before turning, the parent must make a decision knowing full well it will result in a number of disappointed campers.

A win-lose can result in a temper tantrum. I have occasionally found myself on the losing end of a win-lose, and I confess, my selfishness has sometimes resulted in the adult version of a tantrum. No one enjoys losing, especially when someone else got exactly what they wanted.

What usually gets overlooked in a win-lose is the personal loss to the leader. On road trips, I have sometimes turned the car away from the restaurant I prefer. Why? As a leader, my job is to serve those who are following me. Sometimes leaders go against their own preferences to meet the needs of their constituents. Doing so is called selflessness — a hallmark of true leadership.

In a win-lose, losers rarely offer grace to the leader. They’re too busy whining and complaining. Their selfish attitudes and harsh comments cause the selfless leader to suffer a double loss. It’s no wonder people avoid serving in leadership. Who wants that job?

The most difficult decision for a leader is the choice between two bad options. This is the lose-lose, and is sometimes referred to as “pick your poison”. Lose-lose is awful for everyone, but for leaders, it’s the worst. Followers have an out because they can blame the leader for their suffering, but leaders have nowhere to turn. Ultimately, a decision must be made — and the leader must make it.

President Truman had a sign on his desk that stated, “The buck stops here.” It was a reminder that even in the lose-lose, a leader must decide. Remember, it was President Truman who made the final decision to drop the atomic bomb. He knew better than anyone the severe loneliness and personal second-guessing and self-loathing a leader suffers when making a lose-lose decision.

But it is in such moments that true leadership is needed. Consider leaders like Queen Esther (See Esther chapters 3, 4, and 5), Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Martin Luther King Jr. Each were faced with enormous lose-lose decisions. Thankfully, their causes prevailed, and we remember their leadership to this day.

But may we never forget that a leader must make a decision before the outcome is known. It’s easy to criticize a leader’s decision when the game is over. That’s what Monday morning quarterbacks do. Leaders don’t have that luxury. They must make a decision in the heat of the battle. If they prevail, they are hailed as heroes. If they fail, they are cursed as villains. Again, a double loss. Seriously, why would anyone ever choose to serve in leadership — and especially in the lose-lose?

Friends, we need leaders, especially in times like these. If we destroy our leaders, then what? This is why grace is so important. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for the many people in my congregation who have thanked me for offering the sacrifices of leadership in these very confusing and uncharted times. They haven’t always agreed with the decisions I’ve made, but their kind words of encouragement have lifted my spirits in the midst of much organizational and personal loss. That’s what grace does.

Friends, we all need a lot of grace right now. We are fighting a mutual enemy called Covid-19. If we continue to blame each other for our misery and turn everyone who disagrees with us into an enemy and destroy our leaders through criticism and second-guessing, then the world will grow more dark and angry and divided and sad.

But if we will pour out grace, then we will lift each other’s spirits and emerge together on the other side. We can do this. We must do this. Grace is the only way we will turn this lose-lose into a win-win. And yes, God can redeem even the ravages of a pandemic and bring good out of it. He’s just asking for our help with pouring out grace. So, let’s help. It can make all the difference.

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