Today’s Conclusion: Having taken leave of his daily duties, and with the process of leadership succession in full swing, Alec stared mortality in the face.
In March 2015, the day after his daughter’s wedding, Alec opened a refrigerator door when he promptly fainted. Lab tests led to a diagnosis, and the probability of survival was not encouraging. A bone marrow transplant became a must. It was bad news on top of bad news.
Then came the good news. Alec’s elder brother, Grant, proved to be a perfect match as a bone marrow donor. To protect his highly-vulnerable immune system from the risk of infection post-transplant, Alec spent four months in isolation and another eight months in quasi-solitude.
“What sustained you in your most difficult moments?” I asked Alec. “What advice would you give to leaders now facing a serious threat to their physical, mental or spiritual health, perhaps a relationship, or a work situation beyond their control?” Here is what he said.
Double-down on your alone time with the Lord.
“I’m actually surprised at how many Christian leaders spend insufficient time in daily Scripture study and prayer. If you’re not doing this, you’ll wither and fade when the crisis comes. Life is a marathon, and you will not run it well if you’re cutting corners by having drive-by devotions. It’s unfathomable where I would have been if this rule of life hadn’t been deeply ingrained into my life over four decades.”
Take Sabbath seriously, and allow your time with the Lord to become the opportunity to bask in God’s presence.
“Over the past year, I thought I might have a ‘dark night of the soul’ experience. But just the opposite happened. When my cell and platelet counts were at zero for 40 days last fall – and being kept alive by a cocktail of 5o+ pills a day – my sense of the Lord’s presence was deeply enriched. In fact, I have never experienced a sweeter time with Him, as paradoxical as that might sound. Basking in His presence, He not only sustained me in the midst of hellish times, but actually caused me to flourish.”
Double down on your alone time with the Lord. If you’re not doing that, you’ll wither and fade when crisis comes.
Prior to his diagnosis, Alec had been working with his board on a presidential succession plan. Following Jim Lundgren’s successful tenure as interim president, 43-year-old Tom Lin was recently named InterVarsity’s first non-white president.
“I could barely contain my joy at this announcement,” exclaimed Alec. He had recommended Lin, a longtime InterVarsity staffer and rising leader, to the board as his successor.
On February 1, 2016, Alec returned to InterVarsity in his new role as president emeritus. His doctor has declared him cancer-free.
“Someday, every president will hand the baton to his or her successor. I like the word ‘steward’ because while I was responsible for leading InterVarsity, I was certainly not its owner. The job of a leader is to faithfully further the mission and serve others.”
“I haven’t had as much problem letting go of my senior leadership role, and it’s surprised me in a pleasant way. I guess that I’m just glad to be alive.”