This is kind of a deep subject for a Friday morning, but it's an important one, so I'm going to give it a go...
Over the course of my 15 years in the Human Resources profession, I have had the opportunity to interact with employees at various life stages. While I make it very clear to my clients and peers that being in HR does not = being a professional counselor, some people cannot help spilling their guts. Because I am an encourager by nature, I try to listen and offer support and resources wherever possible.
At least once or twice a year I have an employee express to me the intense inner conflict they feel between their religious/spiritual beliefs and their need to work for a paycheck in order to support their family. Typically they express this conflict with phrases such as:
- I desire to do something meaningful with my life, but I have to make a living.
- I want to serve humanity and I don't feel like I can do that in the business world.
- I want to use the talents and gifts God has given me but my current job doesn't let me do that.
- I don't feel like I am being authentic.
- I feel like I am wasting time!
My undergraduate degree is in Theology and my earlier career aspirations involved being in the ministry. Time and circumstance dictated that I change my plans and "get a real job." I fought that reality kicking and screaming for a long time. So believe me when I say I know how it feels when your inner spiritual world and your heart's desires are in conflict with your day-to-day life. Over time I have been granted peace and comfort. It is clear to me that it's completely possible to integrate our faith and our work in the business world - and for many of us, it may even be our calling. I didn't come to this confidence overnight - it was/is a journey that took a lot of time, effort, and God's grace.
Your journey will be different than mine is, but perhaps some of these resources that helped me will be useful to you:
- The Book of Ecclesiastes. This is one of my favorite books in the Bible - Solomon's exposition of the seeming contradictions in life "under the sun" and life "above the sun" are as relevant today as they were thousands of years ago. As I read it, it seems that one of the core themes of the book is that our faith is most important - and we express our faith through how we handle our work and our relationships (hmmmmm - kind of makes you realize why "work-family" issues are such a hot topic...).
- Learn basic facts about stress and anxiety so you can separate out when you are having a genuine question of faith, and when it's a normal stress reaction and you need to pay better attention to your physical/emotional health.
- Loving Monday: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul by John Beckett is a very encouraging book for those seeking to make more of their God-given gifts in a capitalistic business climate. Beckett explains clearly how profit is not incongruent with grace and service to humanity.
- Faith that God is in charge of the universe - I am not. God is perfectly aware of where I am at in my career and if he wanted me to be somewhere else, I would be. I don't mean resignation - I mean an active faith that says "Now what can I do to use my talents and be of service right here and now?"
Thomas Merton has powerful words on this subject in his book Ways of Meditation (as excerpted in Devotional Classics: Revised Edition: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups). Merton was an early 20th century French Philosopher and Trappist Monk who addressed the apparent conflict between faith and work this way:
"Under the pretext that what is 'within' is in fact real, spiritual, supernatural, etc., one cultivates neglect and contempt for the 'external' as worldly, sensual, materialistic, and opposed to grace. This is bad theology and bad asceticism. In fact, it is bad in every respect because instead of accepting reality as it is, we reject it in order to explore some perfect realm of abstract ideals which in fact has no reality at all. Very often the inertia and repugnance which characterize the so-called 'spiritual life' of many Christians could perhaps be cured by a simple respect for the concrete realities of every-day life, for nature, for the body, for one's work, one's friends, one's surroundings, etc."
I believe that our times of personal crisis over our worth and our meaning in the workplace are cosmic prompts for us to examine our faith and ask ourselves how well we are truly living it in our daily, mundane lives. Are we genuine and authentic to what we claim to believe? If our beliefs are never challenged, then how do we really come to know what we believe? Are we willing to live out our beliefs even if we aren't 100% happy with our physical circumstances?
Like I said...it's a deep subject for Friday morning. How do you see it? Please take a few minutes to comment and share with our readers.