4. Incarnate Values

Watch Them Come In

As Activators, we want to have our eyes on our members as soon as they step through the front door. Set the tone early. It’s part of creating a culture that makes every individual know that they’re valued and that we’re there to serve them from the moment they arrive.

Today I had an encounter that challenged me to do even better.

I was given the opportunity to spend time with a sage 95-year old sage over a shakshouka breakfast and coffee overlooking the Dead Sea. After explaining my work with activprayer to him, I asked him if he could kindly share with me the best piece of advice that he felt he could share with me.

We talked about the vision of activprayer: thousands of coaches around the world working together to build a fitness that builds up the spirit as much as it does the body, a form of fitness that helps unite: the exterior and the interior, the husband and the wife, the deepest longings of the body with the deepest desires of the heart. That’s a fitness I can stay excited about for the rest of my life.

I also  asked him, specifically, to offer his best piece of advice for helping accomplish mission and what we as coaches can do to facilitate the same inspiration we’ve received from others.

Of course, it always starts with little things. Small, concrete acts.  This was no different. He responded by telling me the story of something his own mentor had taught him – not through words, but through actions.

His mentor was his father. His father would go an hour early every day to the elementary school where he taught. He wanted to be present when his students arrived.

When he asked his father why he arrived so early – a practice he eventually did every day for 35 years – he invited his son to “come and look”.

After the students had gone into the school, his father asked Raphael what he’d observed.

“It’s quite interesting to watch them going in,” his father replied. “You can see how eager they are to study math, science, and reading. There, I saw a boy pushing ahead of another. He has a zest for learning. That one over there, though, is not anxious at all to enter. His mind is still on the games he was playing. That one, over there, doesn’t have the usual look of excitement on his face. Something is stirring inside of him this morning – I’m worried that there might be problems at the home.”

“Yet I look at things differently…I look deeper,” his father continued. “That child’s trousers are torn. This one’s shoes are quite tattered and worn. That boy over there is definitely hungry; how will he ever be able to study like that?”

His father attended to the material needs of his students if he could – it was economically depressed Ireland in the early 1920’s, but he would bring some extra snacks from the family home to make sure that the hungry student at least had a snack before the first lesson began, and he’d end the one with no soles in his shoes home with a nickel to get them repaired if he couldn’t do the repair himself.

He was completely in tune with the mental, emotional and spiritual needs of each and every one of the students who entered the room. Sometimes it was only a bit of advice, a kind word, or simply a little chat to make a person feel better – but when these actions were inspired from a deep love for each student, they took on a meaning with impact far beyond themselves.

He cared so deeply about each and every one of his students that was important for him to see them come in the door.

“My father,” he continued, “practiced the virtue of hospitality. He watched them come in, and he also saw them out. He believed in the Irish tradition of seeing visiting guests off from the house by having our whole family stand in the driveway and wave good-bye to them until the guests were out of eyesight.”

“I suppose he did the same thing for his students,” Raphael continued. He’d make sure that the last one was out the door and safely on his way home, and the last thing that child saw when he left school that day was his teacher smiling at him.

Before long, through these small acts of attentive ministry, Raphael’s father had started a virtual revolution at the school – one that extended to the families and the community.

“Watch them come in, Luke,” he told me. “Watch them come in.”

Should I set up an office near the front door with big windows in it and my chair with a view to the entrance of the club?

Maybe.

For me, it goes deeper than that. The eyes I’m being asked to “watch” with are the kind of eyes that see into the heart – the eyes of faith. It starts with little things.

Watch ‘em come in.

Luke Burgis
Luke Burgis, CSCS, is a Co-Founder of ActivPrayer, an architect of the activMAP, and a sports and performance coach that has worked in the nutrition and fitness industries for over 10 years. He graduated with a B.S. in Finance from NYU and also completed an S.T.B. in Sacred Theology at a university in Italy where he worked closely with the Vatican's office of Church & Sport about the role of sports and fitness in renewing cultures.

He is a well-known public speaker on the topics of entrepreneurship, fitness, and faith.
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