Over the past several months, I’ve shared about how difficult work has been. I would be lying if I said all that’s happened wasn’t upsetting—because it is—but even so, God has been meeting me and challenging me in the midst of it. This is some of what I’m chewing on at the moment.
My Job is Not My Identity or My Worth
When it feels like you’re winning at work and the work is fulfilling, it’s sometimes hard to divorce who you are from what you do. At least, it is for me. Without realizing it, I conflate my work performance with who I am and I walk around, unwittingly puffed up on the inside, thinking that I’m significant and special because I do work that matters and I do it well. But when that’s gone —when I don’t do work that I feel matters or when others do not perceive me as doing it well (whether I actually am or not in this situation doesn’t matter)—it erodes my ego and sense of self. I’ve had to remind myself that my performance review and how some of my colleagues may view me are not the final authority on my value as a person. I’ve had to disambiguate ‘Alicia the worker’ and ‘Alicia the person’ and this experience has helped me see the inordinate importance I put on the former.
My Heart > Conduct
My “work spouse” is a great baker. She has made the treats for many of the staff members’ farewell parties and I have already reserved her for mine when that time comes. The other day, I dreamt that one of the women at work who doesn’t like me and has made things difficult for me showed up at my farewell party, reached for a pecan tart and I slapped it out of her hand. While that’s pretty tame in terms of wishing ill of my enemies, it’s still indicative of bitterness growing in my heart.
One morning on my way to work, I prayed that God would bring verses to mind to encourage me about my situation. I was hoping for those vengeful God-will-trample-on-all-my-enemies kinds of verses but instead they were all about having a loving heart. I’ve been that person that smiles in these difficult people’s faces, says good morning, and once they’re behind me, I give them my worst sour face. But here’s what God had to say about that to me:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you [including a pecan tart], do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.
Matthew 5:21, 22
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
This is what He brought to mind in that moment so my first concern for my situation at work now is to keep after my heart well.
I Am Called to be Faithful
The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.
But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the Lord had said to Moses.
Relatively speaking, Joseph seemed to follow God to success while Moses followed Him to catastrophe upon catastrophe. Joseph follows God and is favored of men (not always, of course, hated by his brothers, set up by Potiphar’s wife, forgotten by fellow inmates, etc.). On the other hand, Moses follows God and encounters resistance at every turn. Even after eventually getting the Israelites out of Egypt, they lose their minds in the desert. But both men were faithful. And, so was God. Whether my colleagues at work think I’m fabulous months from now or they still want to skewer me, God’s faithfulness to me doesn’t change. And my faithfulness is an end; it is a thing in itself, its own reward. It does not mean that the tide of public opinion at work will ultimately turn in my favor as a result.
I Am Desperate for Grace
I’m sure there have been more trying circumstances in my life that have made me acutely aware of my need for grace—though I always need it, my awareness of that comes and goes. However, in recent memory, this takes the cake. Before my feet touch the ground in the morning I know that making it through the day will depend on grace alone. I fantasize about quitting in some highly elaborate way that makes me YouTube famous (and also, likely, homeless or displaced, since Lord knows I need all the paychecks…) and my unregenerate character is also bitingly cruel and ornery (so if you haven’t seen me that way, you have grace to thank for that). I walk into the office begging for grace like a kid with separation anxiety that clings to their parent’s leg. I leave the office at the end of the day and say a prayer of thanks for getting me through the day. I’ve taken to listening to that song, “Lord, I need you” at my desk in the mornings.
Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart
Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need you
I Am a Worker Before God
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
I serve God through my work. I forget this the most. I can’t get caught up in the humans I serve because honestly, of late, they aren’t worth it to me. But God is my actual boss.
My Witness Matters Too
That being said, my coworkers need to see me working hard, not complaining, not badmouthing colleagues, not being anxious, and having hope in the midst of this. It is not just my heart, but my work ethic that serves as a witness. When I am commanded not to grumble in Philippians 2:14 it is so I might shine like stars in the sky (v. 15).
Authority and Power Come from God
A few months back, I was talking to a college friend on the phone and she urged me not to speak against my boss. She said that as much as I may want to complain, that God is behind all authority.
Besides the obvious Romans 13:1 reference about all authority coming from God, an episode from Exodus really drove this point home for me. These words in Exodus 16:8 are spoken by Moses on behalf of himself and Aaron to the Israelites in response to their constant complaining about conditions in the desert, “Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”
I don’t think this means that I shouldn’t be prepared to defend and demonstrate my value to the organization or that I pretend not to see my supervisor’s shortcomings. It simply means this: God has, in His sovereignty over all authority, allowed this and therefore I need to sit before Him with this, thank Him for this, and trust Him with this, because it is in His hands. When I ask, “Why did you bring me to this desert to die?” I show that I’m unconvinced of His goodness and don’t trust His plan. Psalm 77:19 says, “Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.” I need to be better at seeing God where I don’t see God.
God Gives Grace to the Humble
Yes, my pride is bruised about this whole thing because I want to be recognized for the actual good work that I do. But, if I stop and ponder “What I can learn from this? How can I grow?” I think that is good too. I want to be teachable and be a better worker because of this.
Please pray that God would daily create a clean heart in me (Psalm 51:10), that I would remember my worth and identity in Christ (1 Peter 2:9), and that I would be faithful at work to God’s call to work for Him and love my neighbor.