I grew up in East Texas, where the soils are soft and given to erosion. As a result, the nearby rivers are mostly muddy, running yellow or even brown at times from heavy topsoil runoff.
And then there's the Red River, bounding East Texas to the north. It takes its name from the ruddy clay sediment that it carries downstream.
Scattered along these muddy rivers are dozens of huge man-made lakes, stretching for miles from shore to shore. It has always amazed me that these lakes, fed with the muddiest of streams, are themselves beautiful blue expanses.
What magical factor transforms muddy streams into bright, clear lakes? One simple principle accounts for the change. As the water lies still in the lakes, its sediment settles quietly to the bottom.
In a similar way, we need quiet times in our lives to let the sediment drop out of our thinking. Just the sheer rush of day-to-day deadlines keeps us dashing from commitment to commitment, with little time for deep reflection.
Before long we are like those muddy streams, filled with the constant runoff of the activities and deadlines that clog up our calendars and dominate every waking moment. We become cluttered, not clear in our thinking. If we just keep pressing on, we believe, there will surely be time for greater reflection tomorrow.
But those lakes in East Texas would have never existed had someone not made the purposeful decision to build them. And in the same way, time for reflection and contemplative renewal will not occur unless we make a purposeful decision to build such times into our routine.
As leaders, too many of us get our best reflection time while driving in traffic or commuting between appointments. But that's hardly quality reflection time. If anything, the heavy traffic and the distractions around us are simply further reminders of the congestion in our lives.
As we approach a new year, you will be making a number of resolutions, no doubt, regarding things that you want to do in 2011. Be sure to include in your resolutions some regular time for "not doing." Some time to set aside periodically for reflection on where your life is. Time to contemplate ways to give greater priority to the things that are really important to you and to the organization that you lead.
Remember, water must lie still before the sediment settles out. The life of a leader is no different.