How to Become a Better Leader
It starts with a jar of dirt
Some of you have read my novelette, The Seventh Key. Barry is a young business owner who nearly lost everything under the stress of a failing business, marriage and self-esteem. He was rescued by a mentor who introduced him to seven keys that would save his life.
They did. But before he could fully navigate his way to smoother water, he was thrust into a mentoring relationship of his own. The book is a story of two men struggling together to find their way. One has seen the path but hasn’t found his footing. The other is lost and searching.
The first of the seven keys come in the form of a jar of dirt. Here is the exchange between Barry and Jack as they look out from atop the Space Needle in Seattle.
Jack turned back toward the skyline, leaned on the guardrail, and rubbed his hands together. “I feel like I’m mostly failing as a leader and I don’t know why. To tell you the truth, if someone offered to buy us out tomorrow, I’d jump at it. For so long all I wanted was to own my own construction company. Now…well… I almost hate going in.”
There, I said it.
He turned back to Barry. “So yes, there’s a lot I dislike about my company. As for the other stuff, I guess it all has its downside. You pay for the house, maintain the house, insure the house, and in the end, it’s just a house. Same with everything else, you keep it up, buy insurance for it, feel guilty when you don’t use it, repair it, and look forward to the day when you sell it. And even the retirement fund, it’s nice to have but frankly, I don’t look forward to retiring. I’m not the kind of guy who can just sit around, so having a lot of money to do so doesn’t seem very smart. I have it because I know I’m supposed to, but that’s about all. So, that’s a pretty somber response.”
“Yes, it is. Thanks, Jack. When Carl asked me those questions two years ago, I think I went through a similar kind of list. What he helped me to see is everything that I claimed to own seemed to bring a lot more grief than it did happiness. He concluded by making this point, the stuff we think we own ends up owning us. But that’s not the real kicker.”
He lifted the jar of dirt again and held it in front of them. “I wanted you to bring the dirt because it represents two very important moments in your life: your beginning and your end. Back in Genesis, we’re told that God created man from the dust of the ground. He scraped together a big mound of dirt, just like this, breathed into it and created the first human. If we trace our genealogy back far enough it always goes back to a pile of dirt. So, part of the reason for this jar of dirt is to remind you every morning that this is where you began, as a pile of dirt. It’s also where we all end up. In the end, no matter how rich or successful, no matter how poor or broke we are, the worms win. Each of us will be reduced back down to a pile of dirt. So, we began as dirt and we will end up as dirt.”
Barry switched the jar to his other hand and turned to look at Jack. “And here’s the most important thing. In-between dirt and dirt, in-between birth and death, everything else is God’s. None of it belongs to us. In fact, we don’t own anything, it’s all his.”
Barry shook the dirt in Jack’s jar, tipped it upside down, and then continued. “That’s why I wanted to meet up here. Look out at all you can see in every direction and think about the fact that it’s all his. Every person, every business, every tree, every life, every breath. It’s really a pretty amazing thought, isn’t it?”
Jack ignored the question. He was already building his case against the idea.
It’s just not practical. God may own it, but I still have all the responsibility for it. I practically killed myself building this business, and everyone looks to me to keep it alive. My name is on the building, the deed, the debt… you bet I own it. It seems like a pretty raw deal. I take all the heat and when we finally succeed, God gets all the credit.
He met Barry’s gaze. “If it’s all God’s, why do we still have to carry the load?”
“That’s just it, Jack. We don’t. That’s what I messed up on so badly all those years. I may have said that I believed God owned everything, but in my heart, I still thought I was in control. I still played the owner and still felt the full responsibility for everything that happened.”
It’s all His! I love the image of this simple jar of dirt. I encourage you to create one for yourself and place it somewhere where you can see it every morning. It’s a powerful reminder that everything belongs to God. Take a moment and really look at that soil in your jar. We were literally created out of just such dirt, and we will, one day, be turned back into the same dirt. It’s really pretty amazing stuff. We are made of the same molecules that make up every other living thing on the planet. We are the crown of creation not because of those molecules but because of the life-giving breath of God that He breathed into us. Dirt and the breath of God constitute who we are as we walk this planet. This is not a sorrowful statement but one of great joy, for it is the breath of God in us that grants us the awesome opportunity to bear His image in the world He created for us.
This should cause us to marvel at the power of God’s creation. It should be an ever-present reminder to us that we are, at the molecular level, one with all parts of the earth that we inhabit. It should also send us to our knees in praise and worship to the God who breathed that life into us and who, every day, loves us and seeks to fill us with the Holy Spirit so that we might live the life He created us to live. All that from a jar of dirt!
May you know the freedom that comes from seeing all of life from this vantage point of a steward of what rightfully belongs to God and God alone. Place everything in your life into His hands, trust Him, and then listen for His voice to guide you. He is the owner, after all. And when stress, fear or discouragement well up in you, look at your jar of dirt and remember, it’s all His. And He will take care of it, and you. All that He asks is that you be faithful.
 Rodin, R. Scott. The Seventh Key. (Kingdom Life Publishing, 2015), pp. 38-40.