Parting Company

Any successful leader or manager needs a team, ideally an effective and loyal team. Sometimes, however, the very same team that is so critical to the leader’s success can put the leader at odds with another leader and the challenge arises when the two leaders are also good friends in their own right, probably a friendship that predates their current roles.

What do you do when your team and your friend’s or associate’s team does not get along? How does one navigate the minefield of loyalty to friendship and loyalty to one’s team? In Genesis 13 we have such a scenario where the herdsmen of Abram and Lot are unable to get along with each other. Both teams are successful and doing well, yet competing for the same resources, there is quite literally a turf war. Abram and Lot are family, Abram the elder of the two has an almost paternal sense of responsibility towards Lot, his nephew; both left their home to journey to an unknown land based on God’s call to Abram and now the problems of success have created a seemingly unresolvable divide.

Having been in similar situations myself as I read the account of Abram and Lot it helped me understand some of the dynamics involved and also that the fallout that I had hitherto perceived as failure was really a normal part of the process.

Firstly, both Abram and Lot recognized that the existing situation was not tenable in the long run and needed resolution. This is often hard for two friends; I know, I for one, would try to ‘make it work’, probably longer than is truly wise. There is a very real time when parting ways is really the best alternative if the relationship is to survive in the long term. Paul—writing to the Romans—says to live at peace as long as possible. There is sadly a cut-off in many relationships, when parting becomes such sweet sorrow.

In Genesis 13 we have such a scenario where the herdsmen of Abram and Lot are unable to get along with each other. Both teams are successful and doing well, yet competing for the same resources, there is quite literally a turf war.

Secondly, the decision to part was made by the two leaders and not by the teams. Such an amicable parting would have been impossible to achieve had it been left to the teams to decide. The persons who really have to bear and live with the cost of the split should be the ones making the decisions. Subordinates when left to sort out a turf war inevitably get caught up in their own status as an extension of the leader’s prestige and power. While Abram was willing to go left or right, to take the seemingly less attractive asset or unfair settlement it is very unlikely his herdsmen thought he had made a wise choice and even less likely that they would have made a similar choice themselves. For those of us in similar situations, we cannot and must not expect our team to have the same spiritual perspective that we have been blessed with.

Yet we have no record of any dissent from Abram’s herdsmen, the reason, I believe, is that like Sarah earlier and Isaac later, Abram’s relationship with the Lord was so real and tangible they could bet their own lives and livelihood on it as well.

Thirdly, it is very difficult in most cases for both parties to come out equally satisfied. Dividing assets tangible or intangible is always fraught with differing valuations and emotions. Negotiation is never easy and being transparent and open creates its own challenges in terms of vulnerability and the possibility of the other party abusing the process. Abram wisely realizing this, steps back and allows Lot to choose, resigning himself to whatever the outcome. This stance can only come from a deep-seated assurance that the Lord always has Abram’s and our best interests in mind and will work out the situation for our ultimate good. God had called Abram, God had promised to bless Abram and as another example of his active faith, Abram trusts God for whatever the consequences.

As we read Lot however made his choice by sight rather than seeking divine counsel and the consequences were quite painful. First being kidnapped during a time of war and then later escaping with nothing but his life when Sodom is destroyed.

For me the lesson is that whether being asked to make the decision myself or facing the fallout of the other party’s decision, trust in God’s goodness remains key and the faith to trust His leading and provision even if it looks like a poor option at that particular point of time.

There is a very real time when parting ways is really the best alternative if the relationship is to survive in the long term.

Lastly, physical separation doesn’t mean emotional and spiritual separation. Abram and Lot part ways but as the subsequent chapters show, while Lot was out of sight he was not out of Abram’s mind. There were no cell phones and WhatsApp updates, but somehow Abram kept himself abreast of Lot’s progress or lack of it. When Lot is taken hostage, the one person who one of the escapees immediately runs to is Abram. Obviously, they knew that he would be concerned and would probably want to do something about it. Abram had not allowed any rancour from the separation to create an emotional distance between him and Lot, at least nothing that was apparent to their respective teams. He not only goes to war on Lot’s account he later intercedes on his behalf with God himself.

That for me is sometimes the hardest part, can I and do I pray for the welfare of someone who earlier was willing to shaft me? Would I be willing to literally risk my life to bail them out if the need were to arise? Do I actively intercede for them before the throne of God? Do I seek to pray for their success both materially and spiritually? Do I stay in touch even if it seems largely one way? Are my team members aware that I really do not bear any rancour towards the other party on account of the split?

Hard questions, but necessary ones. May the faith of Abram be our portion too when faced with a similar challenge.

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