I live near New York City. New York is known for many things, but among them are its skyscrapers- the Empire State Building and the new One World Trade are perhaps the most iconic, but there are dozens of others. Each year, thousands of people come from all over the world to visit New York City, and a trip up the Empire State Building or down to the World Trade Center site is always on the itinerary.
New York City, being built on a series of islands, is also home to something else: bridges. There are a few famous ones, like the Brooklyn Bridge, that even tourists know, but most of them are obscure. By one count, there are 2,027 bridges in NYC, and each day, they carry thousands of cars, trucks, trains, buses, and countless people. You don’t think much about bridges until the one you need to cross is closed, or backed up with traffic. Then everything comes to a stop. Suddenly, you realize their importance.
People come to visit towers- skyscrapers. But they cross bridges. Towers bring people to a stop- they marvel, take some photos. But then they inevitably leave. Towers are a destination. Bridges help them keep going. They facilitate the journey. Everyone remembers towers. Few people remember bridges. But arguably, in the big picture, bridges are far more important, because you can't cross the divides of life with a tower. Have you ever thought about who built the bridges that you get to cross?
There’s a lesson here. In your life, you’re a builder. You have a limited amount of time and resources, but you will invest those things building something. Some of the things you can build look a lot like towers- your portfolio, your home, your career, even your public persona, your talents, your circle, your ministry or business, or your self-image. Oftentimes, there’s nothing even wrong with this stuff- it’s good, beautiful, noble even. Like a skyscraper, people will come and marvel at it. They’ll take some pictures, take in the view, and give the builder some well-deserved props. But your life, for others, becomes a destination, rather than a thoroughfare, and inevitably, those people will eventually pack up their cameras and move onto the next thing.
If you build bridges with your life to and from other people, they will still come and go. But they’re on their way somewhere greater. They’re not leaving so much as they’re on an even bigger journey.
I’ve faced this as a leader, pastor, and friend a LOT over the past several years. There are people I’d like to stick around and help me build my tower. They’re gifted, talented, great friends. But the real reason they’re in my life is so I can be a bridge in their life. This means pouring myself out into them, facilitating their journey, knowing that one day, they’ll finish crossing the bridge that is my life and move on. I’ve had to release them to the next stage of their life and cheer about it! It feels like a loss, but it’s really an immeasurable gain!
I recently had a good friend move away to take advantage of a great career opportunity that, ironically, came about because of another connection with an old college friend I was able to make for him. This guy has a great future in front of him! Because of some other paths that crossed and a great “God” story, my friend also met met his wife through me, as she was one of my former students when I taught college. They are writing an amazing new story together, now as a family, in this new place. My name will not appear in that story. But my life was able to be a bridge they could cross. It's my hope they'll do that for someone else, someone I could never even reach. I’m learning that this is the key to writing much bigger, better stories!
No bridge-building person wakes up in the morning and says "I'm going to go be a bridge today." But what they do is lean into all the relationships and connections that come across their paths to see how they can help people take the next step in their journey. They become catalysts. In chemistry, a catalyst is a substance that enables a reaction to take place, even though it’s not part of the reaction itself.
If you’re going to be a bridge builder rather than a tower builder, you will have to make peace with not being the epicenter, because it’s about others’ journey, not you as the destination. You have to embrace that your role, like a catalyst, is to enable something bigger to happen, even though you may not ultimately be part of it. You won’t be able to manage the outcomes in others’ lives, you’ll have to become comfortable with letting go, releasing people and relinquishing control, even allowing others to increase as you decrease.
Are you building bridges in your life, or towers? What are you currently building in your life that is helping people take the next step on their own journey?
(Image by Pedro Lastra)