Emma Sharma, Founder and Principal of Swallowtail Group and a 4word Board Member, shares how she has learned to truly wait and listen for God’s purpose and plan for her life, even if God’s leading takes months to make itself known.
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“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the LORD. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”Jeremiah 29:11
As we celebrate the start of another new year, it is a convenient time for reflection. Many of us commit to resolutions, hoping for a reset. 2022 is an opportunity to accomplish new goals or maybe finally achieve something long yearned for. What better time to pause and prayerfully ponder deeper questions such as: “Am I living out the purposes for which God created me?” or “Do I understand the plan God has for my life?” These can be complicated questions to answer.
Towards the end of 2021, I moved out of an executive leadership role at the company I co-founded several years ago. For me, it was the culmination of almost 15 months of intentionally seeking God’s heart for my life. I had known for some time He was nudging me towards a new, exciting future, but, with so much at stake, I also knew I needed to make the decision wisely and at exactly the time He ordained. Being patient through the process was not always easy!
How did I know He was asking me to move on? Well, for starters, I had begun to feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied in the role I was in. Don’t get me wrong, I knew I was richly blessed in that position (a highly engaging customer mission, the opportunity to work with great people, the prestige of an executive title, generous compensation). However, deep down, I had started to coast and was no longer challenged or learning new things.
After a great deal of prayer and journaling focused on seeking God’s voice for this situation, I realized my time at Valiant might be coming to an end, so I engaged support and wise counsel to ensure I was hearing God’s voice clearly. This support team included an executive coach (an essential investment, in my opinion, when facing a life change of this magnitude) and two experienced and wise spiritual coaches with proven track records. A small group of trusted friends also walked alongside us, praying constantly and sharing openly what they heard God say.
Crucially, I kept an entirely open mind about what God might be saying to me. I did not pray, ‘Father, when I leave Valiant what would you have me do?’ Instead, I asked Him to show me clearly and unequivocally who He had created me to be, what He had created me to do (even if that was to stay at Valiant for many more years), and worked to keep my heart in a place of total surrender to His purposes for my life.
During that period of active waiting and listening for His voice, I began to build a clear and consistent picture of my God-given identity and developed a deep understanding of His vision for my life. I started to hear His voice on these issues everywhere: in scriptures, in sermons, during worship, through nature when out on my morning walk, in those coincidental moments when something happened that could only be God, in dreams and prophetic words that friends would have for me. It was incredibly hard work but so rewarding and faith-building. I came to understand at a new level how God had intentionally knit me together.
Above all, I had to stay patient and trust God with the timing of any decision to make this longed-for change. Believe me, there were many days I wanted to make an emotional decision to resign in response to a bad day (or week, or month) and I had enough faith to believe God would have redeemed a hasty decision! However, I wanted to do better this time.
On many occasions, I gently explored whether our Board would release me but there was no willingness on their part. In fact, they presented me with new (albeit not very interesting) opportunities. Like Moses waiting to leave Egypt with the Israelites in tow, I knew I had to wait for an unequivocal sign to “go.” That sign came in the middle of a summer night when in a physical encounter with God while my whole house was asleep, I heard an audible voice in the darkness say, “Emma, it is time for you to leave Valiant.” There it was: a simple word, and so obviously God. I sat with that miracle all night telling only my husband and support network the next morning. We prayed and fasted again and all received confirmation that God was indeed saying “now.”
When I spoke with my CEO a few days later, he was finally truly open to a discussion about me leaving. The grace and generosity shown to me over the next few weeks and through the exit process were so unprecedented that I had even more confirmation this was God’s timing. That peace and joy in the weeks that followed my final day at the company had not been present at any point in my working life previously. By waiting on Him entirely, I was blessed with the absolute certainty that this step forward was in alignment with Him. I have not had one single regret.
Here’s the even more amazing reality: while I understand the broad direction of this next season of my working life (which fully aligns with who God has created me to be), the precise details are still unfurling. God used those 15 months of my seeking Him to grow my faith and trust to the point where I don’t actually need to know all the details in advance. And it’s a beautiful place of freedom and release for me, the former A-type executive who thought she needed to know every detail of her next 25 years! Now I’ve let go and let God lead me. Incredible doors are opening, and they are doors the real, God-created Emma is joyful to walk through. I am living His best life for me rather than feeling (somewhat resentfully) that “I am doing what I ought to be doing.”
If you’re feeling a nudge to change something important in your life, I’d encourage you to take steps to be as sure as possible that it is God calling you on, especially if the change is not something you’ve previously considered or seems “crazy.” God does call us to do crazy things, but He is a God of order and who He has created us to be will usually determine what He will have us do. You are less likely to misstep if you take time to first figure out your God-given identity. In my experience, this requires a strong community of supporters around you—people who simply want to see you succeed in faith, life, and work. Welcome to 4word!
Happy New Year! May God bless you richly in 2022 and beyond.
Emma is the Founder and Principal of Swallowtail Group and a global business executive known for her entrepreneurship, strong empathetic leadership style, courage and skill in taking on messy challenges. Emma has a proven track record in complex organizational transformations and a natural talent for pulling together high value creation teams. Additionally, Emma’s passion for organizational design, psychology, and development led her to pioneer mentoring and leadership development initiatives for fellow executives and senior managers throughout her career. Emma has a growing reputation as a solid and passionate advocate on mental health issues that impact the workforce, especially at executive leadership levels.
Emma is very active in the community, both nationally and locally. Recently, Emma was appointed to the Advisory Board of the Center for Government Contracting at George Mason University, serving as a thought leader on industry matters. Emma serves actively on the Board of 4word, a national, faith-based non-profit that supports women in the marketplace in growing with confidence to meet their full potential. Previously Emma served as the President of the Board of Trustees of an influential non-profit in Northern Virginia for six years and worked for several years as an ambassador for two global non-profits providing micro-financing for women in developing nations and addressing human trafficking issues.
Outside of work, Emma is a devoted wife and mom to two young children and an active member of Holy Trinity Church, McLean. Her hobbies include a passion for travel, learning about great food and wine, music (she is a classically trained soprano), movies, and reading.