A well-known and often repeated story about construction goes like this. A traveler came across three stonecutters. Each was busy cutting a block of stone. The traveler asked the first, “What are you doing?”
The stonecutter answered, “I am cutting a stone!” The traveler asked the second the same question.
“I’m cutting this stone to be sure it is square and uniform,” he answered.
The traveler turned to the third stonecutter who seemed the happiest of the three. “What are you doing?” he asked.
The stonecutter replied, “I am building a cathedral.”
Instead of working with stonemasons, I coach aspiring writers and speakers. My goal is for each client to learn the craft of writing so that writing well becomes natural and comfortable. I work with speakers to not only develop interesting and compelling content but also to improve the use of gestures, facial expressions, voice control, and body language. Along the way, we work on life issues, set goals and dream big dreams. My greatest joy is to encourage a client to the point of seeing his or her eyes light up with hope and anticipation or to shine a new light on a difficult situation or to watch a dream take shape.
For instance, my client Lesli is a consistent and meticulous woman who never gives up her dreams even though life has handed her some big struggles. Family issues, the death of her mother, and infertility could have left her without joy or faith.
Lesli’s dream of having children never came true. She did all the right things, followed doctor’s orders, and pursued every medical option. Even though she is past the traditional age for childbearing, she believes in miracles such as happened to Sarai, Hanna, and Elizabeth in the Bible. Her faith is strong in the face of disappointment.
Throughout her journey, a close relationship with God has helped her deal with well- meaning, but hurtful, conversations with people who don’t really understand her struggle.
Before she came to me for coaching, Lesli had already begun a ministry to other women who are experiencing the pains of barrenness. Her group, Dancing upon Barren Land, is a vibrant ministry of one of the nation’s largest churches, and more groups are forming in other cities. As she worked with this group of hurting women, she discovered the power and comfort and hope of praying Scripture. We began the process of putting these personal, beautiful, expressive prayers into a booklet format. We believe a woman who experiences the disappointment and frustration of childlessness will benefit from a purse-sized volume of Scripture-prayers when she feels angry or sad or when grief, jealousy, and fear overwhelm her. Lesli’s prayers were authentic and powerful to other women because she lives in their same situation. All she needed from me was a little technical help with the writing craft and the flow of thought.
Still, I felt something about Lesli’s journey was missing. Early one morning I spent a long time in prayer over Lesli and asked God to show me how to help her move forward to the greatness He had designed for her.
A few days later, we met to determine the next steps and future of the project. I sat back and observed Lesli as she read some of her work aloud. I saw a beautiful woman who appeared to have her act together on the surface. As she read, I heard the ache of her heart. Her disappointment and angst were tangible. I could feel her pain as her reaction to infertility hurt her to the core. Yet there was something else coming through the words and the way she expressed herself. I saw hope and peace.
I considered all the things I knew about her and how she worked through her discouragement and loss to find a way to help others. I remembered the months she worried over her mother’s illness and her sorrow upon her mother’s death. I recalled how the support of her five best friends (whom she calls her “five smooth stones”) carried her through the ordeal. I reflected on her strong marriage and the entrepreneurial adventures she and her husband have embarked upon. I knew she was becoming a gourmet cook. I recalled that she and her friends had recently taken a girl’s trip to New York City to explore and enjoy the sights. She had also shown me some new materials on teaching etiquette to children and corporate executives.
And then something amazing dawned on me—the coach.
She had already found the key to living with disappointments and pain. She kept moving and living and working and ministering even though her dreams were on hold. She didn’t wallow in her pain; she lived while she waited.
As she finished reading, she looked up to find me smiling broadly.
“What?” she asked.
“Your prayers are beautiful, and I know they will be helpful to women who read your book, but I think you have something far more important to give to your readers. You need to write a chapter called: ‘Living Life to the Full while You Wait.’”
Lesli hadn’t thought much about her accomplishments. She had considered her disillusionment and frustrations as failure and her goal was to cope, but her greater legacy is her ability to find joy, purpose, and influence despite her regret and disappointment.
Instead of merely surviving, she has blossomed into an encourager and inspiration to others. She didn’t see it until I pointed it out to her that day. And I didn’t see it until I stepped back from the details of coaching writing skills to see the big picture of her life.
Since then an amazing thing has happened to Lesli. She has new energy and vision for her ministry, but she also has begun to dream even bigger dreams beyond her original ideas.
As a coach, I didn’t have a magic formula to help Lesli. In fact, I was focused on the skills, techniques, and methods of writing. I was looking at Lesli, the stonecutter, if you will. But when I prayed and took time to observe and put all the pieces together, a new idea appeared. I saw Lesli, the cathedral builder. When I communicated the idea to her, she was able to catch that vision of herself too and she was inspired and encouraged.
Coaching Lesli (and all my other clients) is more about developing life skills than writing or speaking expertise. Lesli still holds to her dream of bearing a child, and she still offers comfort and understanding to women. Now, however, she also encourages women to live to the fullest extent while waiting, to never let disappointment rule their lives, but to move forward with joy.
Coaching the Coach Tip:
Whether we coach life skills, decision making, career moves, writing, speaking, business skills, spiritual disciplines, financial competence, family dynamics, or goal setting, it is possible for us, as coaches, to focus too hard on the program and blueprint we have set out for our client. We can become a slave to the rubric, the step-by-step plan, we have laid out. We get caught up in the process of mere stonecutting.
Sometimes coaching is about listening. To the client. To God. And sometimes coaching is about stepping back and putting all the puzzle pieces together to get a new perspective and panoramic view of our clients as cathedral builders. As a coach I am learning not only to focus on the practical, mechanical techniques but also to take a long, broad look at the whole person. With a lot of prayer, God shows up with the right answer and lights the way for success. He is the God of the big picture. The heavens are His throne and He sees the big picture. He sees the cathedral.
Karen Porter is an international speaker, author, and coach. She helps aspiring writers and speakers develop messages and careers. She and her husband, George, own Bold Vision Books a full-service traditional publishing house. They live near Houston, Texas, with their peaceful Great Pyrenees, Isabelle. Find more information about Karen at www.karenporter.com and www.boldvisionbooks.com
Georgia Shaffer, M.A., is a professional speaker, certified Life Coach and the author of four books including Coaching the Coach: Lessons from Christian Coaches. She is is a regular columnist for Christian Coaching Today and a board member of the International Christian Coaches Association (ICCA). Georgia is on the teaching team of AACC’s Professional Life Coaching Training. She specializes in coaching coaches, women and communicators To find out more, visit www.GeorgiaShaffer.com.