After my meeting I walked back to my office feeling small and overlooked. At my place of work the wheels above me had turned and I had been told that I was not going to be consulted on some decisions which closely affected my job.
It felt that whether I threw myself heart and soul into my work or else just did the bare minimum to keep out of trouble, it didn’t really matter: the important things would happen without my being thought about. A feeling of helplessness settled upon me.
For the next few weeks I wondered if there was a better way to approach my work. I pondered what I had read about the connection between work and faith and the part that our jobs can play in God’s plan, and although the pondering still continues I’ve come to realize some things that are helping me to make my peace with my new circumstances. I hope they also can be of use to other people who may have struggled with the same things.
1. Don’t worry that the desire to do something significant is either sinful or unrealistic. There’s a great quote from Pope St John Paul II: ‘It is JESUS who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives… [who stirs in you] the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity.’ God doesn’t give us desires that can’t be fulfilled. However, our desire to make an impact on the world may not be fulfilled in the way we expect – it’s not realistic to think that God is going to follow our plan! Moreover, doing something significant, if it’s anything to do with God, is not going to be at the cost of pushing other people down. That’s where a good desire would go wrong.
2. Do remember that however menial we feel our job is or however frustrated we are by bosses or bureaucracy or anything else outside our control, this isn’t the whole story. There is a world parallel to the world that is obvious to the senses, and that is the spiritual world. We can truly work ‘as if it were for the Lord and not for men’ as St Paul says in Colossians 3:23 and ‘put [our] hearts into it’ without feeling that the enthusiasm is wasted, for God sees and rewards all our efforts. He’s our true boss!
3. If you feel as though your work doesn’t make a difference, or is supposed to be contributing to the common good but you are hampered by paperwork, or that you are too small a cog in a vast machine, try using the image of God as your real boss and think about what His aims would be. Whilst He is never going to let you use Him as an excuse to skive off doing a day’s work, God is not going to be so much interested in what you do for the business you work for as the witness you give to the people around you – your colleagues, clients, and other workers you come into contact with. This is something that is always in your control, however much anything else is out of it, and in this is your chance to do something really significant. However small the task, we can do it with great generosity, with great love, with great compassion, with great cheerfulness in spite of frustrations. If we do it for God, it is then a great witness to our faith.
4. Witnessing to Christ is particularly important now, as modern society drifts further and further from Christianity. Particularly at work, where we do not choose our companions, we Christians find ourselves in the minority surrounded by people who often have no faith at all. We know that despite the demands of our faith we often find it a refuge and a source of great joy and strength. That’s something that our work colleagues may lack, for as modern Western society disentangles itself from its Christian roots, the person on the street can feel the effects in huge uncertainty, deep loneliness, and an awful sense of futility.
St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein, 1891 – 1942) wrote, ‘The modern pagan frequently finds every religious habit suspect and does not want to hear about any teaching of faith. This individual can scarcely even approach the supernatural life other than through persons he considers his worldly equal: those who perhaps practice the same profession, have strong common interests with the people of this world, and yet possess a mysterious power which comes from elsewhere.”
In short, a Christian layperson can reach people that priests and religious can’t, simply by being (as it were) undercover. We are, if you like, God’s Secret Service, and the real significance of what we do at work is fulfilling our mission – our great mission – to spread God’s love in a heartless world desperate in its unacknowledged need for the Divine.
5. It is worth remembering that God turns this world’s view upside-down. We will often – not always, but often – find that God is directing us along a path which is full of small, seemingly insignificant things and to people who are not worth much in the world’s eyes. However, the secret is that God is to be found amongst the small things and the insignificant people, and that as ‘God’s Secret Service’ we can learn to see God’s ‘coded messages’ telling us that we and they are valuable, loved, whatever the world’s estimation of us might be.
St John Paul’s quote continued: “JESUS stirs in you… the courage to commit yourself humbly and patiently to improving yourself and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.”
Now that’s a mission I want to accept.
This article was contributed to Catholic-Link by guest author, Margot Fisher.