My plan was to write a number of posts on all the things below. Best laid plans. And I just figured less is more.
Most of what I have written below is still being learned by a guy who left vocational ministry and entered the business world. I’ve just now gotten through the Freshman level courses. I think I know something and I’m probably on the verge of being sophomoric – you know, thinking I know more than I really do.
Many of you know all of this far better than I and could tell better stories. My experience sounds “cynical” or “pessimistic” but only because I am. At least about my job. I’m working on being thankful for it and letting that seep into my daily experience. Right now, it’s just a fact. “God gave me this job. I should be thankful.”
I am thankful for what I’ve learned. And I’ve learned a lot. Here is some of it…
The struggle between self-interest and loving your neighbor is real. When I started this job, I vowed I would not let my principles get overtaken by my desire to do well and be successful. This was easy in the beginning. I knew nothing about the finance world and could not even balance my own checkbook. There was very little drive for me to do well to make money by achieving my goals and then get a bonus. Heck, I was just trying to keep my head above and not look like an idiot. But I’ve gotten fairly good at my job and now I find myself having to struggle to care about people more than my numbers.There are always those ethical gray areas that make your stomach hurt even if you have not technically done anything wrong. And there are always situations when the company will be pleased but God won’t.
Christians are not the best customers. You wouldn’t believe how often I deal with professing Christians who do not even attempt to be civil. OK, maybe you would. They are sometimes insulting. Sometimes they are dishonest. And sometimes they have asked me to be dishonest. You may not be surprised. What is surprising to me is that even though we – the customer and myself – have established that we are both believers, they have no shame in the way they treat me or others (spouse, child, etc.). I just don’t think Christians know how to deal with others in the marketplace. They probably know how to evangelize and do a quiet time. But they are clueless on how to love others in the marketplace.
Numbers are merciless. I am measured by numbers and measure others by numbers. And it sounds terrible because it is terrible. Dollars, dates, scores…all of it defines the relationships. After a year, I am still not used to this. When you work in ministry, you have at least the moral high road when numbers are thrown at you. And grace can permeate the relationships in vocational ministry. I kinda miss that. I hate looking at people and seeing dollar signs and higher scores. But it’s almost unavoidable.
Work can steal joy. The other night I took the trash to the curb and all the lights were already out on the outside of the house. The moon was electric light. For a moment I was struck. I could feel the beauty down deep. There’s a deep magic in those moments if you can move slow enough to feel them. But a moment later it was washed away by the fact of work the next day. There are those who would blame me (and you). But I sincerely tried to push it back, I wanted to draw out the greatness of that moment but couldn’t. I had to get up the next morning and go to work at a job I do not like. And so the brightness of the moon waned.
God breaks in. For some strange reason I keep getting shocked by the goodness of God filtering into my work. I’m not talking about raises or promotions. I would like those but have yet to enjoy one of them. The other night I finished book two of The Lord of the Rings and I got to one of my favorite parts. The movie does not do it justice, but when Sam and Frodo use the phial of light given by Galadrial, it is wonderful. This otherworldly light, inexplicable in its power to push back the darkness, gives the Hobbits some hope in black place. God, in his great mercy, does this again and again. Either by giving me opportunities to really help someone or simply by putting someone’s shining story in my path on a dark day.
Dignity is at a premium. In the business world it is easy to steal dignity. It can be done in myriad ways. And it is devastating to behold, even more so to experience. But here is where the Christian can push against the fall. Showing dignity to the hurting, the poor and those who are marginalized is to do the work of the Kingdom. Simply being kind to them, even when you cannot help them, can be a cup of cold water for parched souls. Often, no one is at fault. For instance, I’m learning something wholly new things everyday, it feels like I’m in High School taking a foreign language course for the first time. But I’m the oldest one in the room and dignity can be hard to come by those situations.
The one thing we do the most, no one talks about. No one talks about work in the Christian world but Lutherans. We, evangelicals are good at talking about evangelism, quiet times, family values, et al. But I work everyday and it is hard to find talks, books, anything to helping me think about my work and how to survive and thrive and think about it and process it at the end of the day. Preaching the gospel to myself can help, sure. But it ain’t cutting it for everything.
Friendship is a lifeline. If I was not able to instant message my friend, Sean, all day throughout the day, while at work, I am not sure I would have made it this far. We talk about baseball, work, our families, work, music, work, church, food, and work. My sanity disappears on the days he is off work. I like the people I work with, I guess, but none of them are like Sean. We were friends before the job and will be after the job. He’s been with the company for a long time and it’s good to have a friend who can help me navigate the rough waters of corporate America. Not having one would be unfathomable.
Work done to support your family is spiritual work. I’m not sure where we got the idea it wasn’t. But far too many people have bought into the idea that all the spiritual work is done by pastors and missionaries. Or work that is done with the goal of supporting them is spiritual work. A Christian man working to support his family because he believes he has a responsibility to do so will get no press. But it is Kingdom work nonetheless.
Trustworthy people are a refuge. Trusting people is difficult anyway. In the business world it can make you crazy, I would think. If everyone’s success is determined by numbers, the only thing you can really trust is reaction of the powers that be to your numbers. I never had to think about this kind of thing before. But can imagine the power of a faith community that is a refuge of trust for people who have worked year upon year in this kind of environment? I can. I crave it.