No matter how difficult our job, there are ways to view our work and daily responsibilities that can bring out the best in us, and draw us closer to God. Listen in to learn how to be encouraged when our 9 – 5 activities are getting us down.
Our relationship with our work is one of the key relationships of life. How we view what we do to earn a living tells a lot about ourselves. Some of us are blessed to be in a career we absolutely love, while others are in jobs or activities during the day that are very unsatisfying and drain the life right out of us.
If the former is true for you, and you love what you do for 8 hours or more a day, listening to today’s episode may give you some insight into the people who are so different form you. It may give you some ideas to help them.
But if the later describes you, where your job or daytime activities are something you dread, and are anything but fulfilling, today’s episode may offer a new way of looking at things that could change your outlook. Either way, listen in. I’ll start with a story.
Our daughter and her family were in town recently for our grandson Nathan’s spring break. They came from their home in warm South Carolina to Wisconsin in April. It snowed the 2nd day they were here. They really do love us. How many people do you know who go north for spring break?
For those listeners in other parts of the world outside of Wisconsin, our state is just north of Illinois where you’ll find Chicago. Wisconsin is the only state in our nation with “sin” in its name. Wis-con-SIN. Maybe that’s why we get snow in April.
I live very near to the city of Milwaukee, which is about 75 miles north of Chicago, and is home to what I consider the most beautiful building in the entire state. The Milwaukee Art Museum, or what most people call it around here, simply The Calatrava. It’s named after the Spanish architect who designed a major addition to the museum, Santiago Calatrava. It was his first designed building in the US, shortly before his career skyrocketed with other beautiful structures all over the world.
Each day, beginning from the night before to 10am each morning, The Calatrava here in town looks like a large white sailing ship ready to launch eastward into Lake Michigan, just several hundred yards away from its western shore. Then at exactly 10am, what looked like two white sails of this ship, slowly separate and open on its north and south sides to transform this ship into a beautiful white bird. The sails become wings. It’s breathtaking to watch.
Later in the day, at 5pm, the two wings, gradually close to transform the bird back into the shape of a sailing vessel. It’s quite stunning. A true thing of beauty. The inside of this museum addition is just as beautiful. White marble floors and walls. Even the underground parking garage is all white, and it somehow lets in ambient light from outside into its cavern underground. The garage itself is worth visiting.
One day during our daughter’s visit we visited The Calatrava, walking through the rooms of a traveling art exhibit, looking at paintings. And reading the description about each one. It was very quiet and peaceful. At one point I saw two gray-haired women thoroughly engaged with one particular painting. The taller of the two pointing to an specific spot on the painting, and whispering to her companion who smiled and nodded. I wanted to eavesdrop, but I think they have rules against that kind of thing in art museums.
After looking at all the paintings, and wandering through the gift shop, we went downstairs to eat lunch in The Calatrava cafe. Our conversation started with how much we all liked the museum building itself, and then the paintings, and the people they depicted.
Our daughter Jennifer then commented, “I felt sorry for the guards watching over each area where paintings hung. That’s got to be a really hard and boring job.”
My thoughts exactly. Dressed in black pants, a cheap black suit coat, white shirt, black tie, black shoes, and black horned rim glasses. Watching to make sure no one stole any of these 6 x 8’ canvas paintings. Watching to make sure no one sprays paint on the 18th century-portraits, like someone did a few years ago on Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Rome.
The guard’s job is to look for manifestations of the worst of the human condition, and then to stop such expressions. Their job is to not trust people. All day long, do not trust people. 10am – 5pm, “My job is not to trust people, to be suspicious of human beings.” What a contrast to the beauty of the art and the building they were looking out for.
Daughter Jennifer’s observation reminded me of comment from a former pastor I talked to about four years ago. I was on the pastoral search team for our church and I made a call to this ex-pastor I knew, living out of state. I had spoken to him several years prior when he contacted me for help in dealing with a messy church situation. He had succeeded his father as pastor of a congregation of about 200. His father had served the church for over 30 years, and was dearly loved by the congregation. His son, not so much. Factions developed and he was beside himself in handling all the drama. He eventually resigned and found another ministry job, but not as a pastor.
Several years had past by the time I called him, and he was doing well in his new position, but I contacted him to see if he would be interested in getting back in the saddle again as a pastor of our 200+ member congregation. He heard me out as I explained our congregation’s need and what we were looking for. When I asked him if he would be interested in pursing this further, he said he’d have to think and pray about it for a few days, and then he concluded with a sentence I still find a bit haunting,
“I don’t know if I want to get back into the toughest job in America.”
I never called him back to follow up.
We have listeners in 25 countries around the globe who I’m sure could care less about the toughest job in America. You may be one of those listeners. But please hang around because today’s episode is not about America, nor about being a pastor. It’s about the human condition that sparked such a comment from my ex-pastor friend.
He went through a gut-wrenching mess at his last church, and my heart went out to him. He clearly was still quite raw from the experience several years back. But is being a pastor “the toughest job in America?” Really? I know what you’re thinking now, and I am thinking the same thing. But let’s extend a little grace to the guy.
His comment reflects several relationship dynamics at play in how we relate to what we do for a living, or how we spend our days making a contribution to our world.
Here’s dynamic #1. When we’ve been through a really tough job situation, where we’ve suffered a lot of hurt, frustration, and disappointment. It’s easy to blame other people, and the job itself, as the source of my problem, rather than to consider the possibility I was simply not a good match to handle the challenges of that situation. I didn’t have the skills or interest to meet those challenges. Rather than saying being a pastor is the toughest job in America, a more accurate statement would be “Being a pastor AT THAT CHURCH was the toughest job in the world FOR ME at THAT TIME IN MY LIFE.” There’s no joy in being in a job where our interests and skill set is not a fit for the job.
Another dynamic is that we tend to think the job we have is so unique and different to the jobs other people have, and that what we do is so much harder than what others do. The reality is: We are not nearly as unique as we think we are.
As a teacher right out of college, for example, I felt I accountable to my students, to their parents, to my principle, and to the school board. Way too many “bosses” to please. People just didn’t understand how difficult this is. No one has as many people to be accountable to as a teacher.
When I was a salesman, no one could appreciate how hard that was, either. No one else I knew was working on commission. No one else I knew had to deal with closing a sale from a pay phone while on vacation in a remote area of Wisconsin with one’s family. People just didn’t understand how difficult this is.
As a business owner, no one else I knew had to be concerned about meeting payroll. With having enough cash in the bank so employees could cash their paychecks. No one else I knew had to fire an employee. People just didn’t understand how difficult this is.
The reality is, other jobs are just as difficult as the ones I had, and many are much harder. And while the details may be different, other jobs had similar challenges. Mine were just not that unique. But we all tend to think they are.
It’s dangerous to compare the difficulty of our job with the difficulty of jobs other people have. To say my job is harder than your job is to compare and evaluate myself in comparison with another person. Don’t do that. It’s envy and it’s wrong. And it’s sin. It’s also prideful, for it presupposes one accurately knows how difficult someone else’s job is.
Dynamic #3 is that almost always, the job we have is the product of a choice we make. If our job is so distressing and hard, we need to quit and get another one. It may be difficult and scary to do this. There may be financial considerations. I might have to move across the country. But it’s all still a choice. No one is forcing anyone to have the job they have. We often think we don’t have a choice. But we most always do. We have more choices than we think. Accept responsibility for our own choices.
And the last dynamic is that every behavior has a payoff, a benefit to it, otherwise we wouldn’t engage in that behavior. If someone chooses to be a guard at an art museum, or a pastor, there’s a benefit to it. It may certainly not be something WE want, but for the people who engage in them, there’s a payoff. Maybe the payoff to the museum guard is part-time income in a stress-free environment, boring as it is, to pay off student-loan debt. Maybe the payoff to my ex-pastor friend was to please his pastor father, who wanted his legacy carried on by his son. I don’t know what the payoffs could be. I’m just speculating and wondering. What I do know for sure is every behavior has a payoff. The challenge is knowing what that payoff could be.
So what are we to do if we find ourselves in the Toughest Job in America? I have several ideas.
- Examine ourselves to better understand our gifts and talents, along with our limitations. To what extent can I reflect the image of God well in my current job, given how God has wired me?
- Re-assess the job we are in. What are the needs of the position, and how do my abilities and interests fit the needs of the job? To what extent am I using the gifts God has given me to make a positive difference in this job?
- If I’m not a fit, why am I staying in this job? What is keeping me for making a change? What’s the payoff to me? Is God trying to teach me something about my character while in this difficult job? Is it possible God wants me to remain i n the “toughest job in America” for reasons I don’t quite understand yet?
- Ask God for wisdom and discernment about my career. To what extent am I doing my job well to please God? To what extent am I trusting God to help me with the difficulties of my job? Am I willing to trust God to open up doors to a new job?
These 4 ideas are all about bringing our relationship with God to bear on our relationship with our job and activities during our waking hours. He’s a resource we tend to forget is available to us in dealing with our relationship with our career. It doesn’t have to be that way. The choice is ours.
If we were to do the things I just mentioned, and call upon God to help us with our work life, we wouldn’t feel the urge to compare ourselves with others, to evaluate them in comparison to our self. We’d have more compassion for others in their work, when we see their gifting and talents not matching the requirements of the work they’ve been called upon to do. We’d be grateful for whatever blessings our employment provides us.
Before I close, here’s the he main take-away from today’s episode, our show in a sentence:
How we relate to our job is often a reflection of how we relate to God.
How can we respond to today’s show?
Two things come to mind. First off, if we are employed in a job that makes good use of our abilities and interests, be ever so thankful to God for this blessing. Secondly, look around and notice those who are not similarly blessed. Think of the “museum guards” in your life who are bored to death, think of the “pastors” you know with so many stresses in their life. Then pray for them, show compassion for them, enter into their world as much as they will allow you. And, of course, leave a big tip when you pay your bill.
Relationship Quote of the Week
“There is no deep knowledge of God without a deep knowledge of self, and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God. ” ~ John Calvin
Well thanks for listening in to today’s episode. Remember what you were made for. You were made to experience life-giving, fulling relationships. Even in your relationship with your work. We’re here together to learn how. See you next week. Good bye for now.