Faith Goes to Work: Part 2

Spirituality in the Workplace

 

How do we go about incorporating our faith in our work? Where do we find the most meaning for our skills, values and faith in the workplace? What are some ways that our faith can impact how we work and our attitudes about work?

Frederick Buechner, in a now famous quote, says that work can be a sacred calling, a vocation for anyone. He says,

“The kind of work God usually calls you to do is the kind of work a) that you need most to do and b) that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve probably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

 

So Buechner is saying that a wide variety of work can feel like a vocation if it leans towards need and gladness. We don’t all have to be curing leprosy to feel our calling. We can do work that fosters healthy relationships, we can make useful and beautiful products, we can teach, we can clean houses, we can take care of children, we can preach, we can make clothes, we can build buildings, we can serve coffee. It all depends on how we see our work and if we can make that connection between our gladness and the worlds needs.

Here are some ways in which people’s faith has impacted how and why they do their work?

-A radiological oncologist has a difficult job. Most of his patients are not going to be cured. He could easily have a morbid view of his work and just treat it as a technical duty. But because he has chosen to incorporate his faith, he asks his patients what sustains them in their cancer journey. Often they will say their faith sustains them. In that context he can talk with them further about faith. He says it strengthens his faith and his connection to his work to hear their stories.

-A poor woman with a tough life story chooses to do cleaning and odd jobs for a group of nuns in her neighborhood rather than work in a factory. She may make less money but she feels she is part of something larger than herself by working to further hospitality in the neighborhood. And she loves the nuns.

-A corporate guy, a human resource professional in a division of a large corporation, feels he could easily be lost in the bigness. So he decides that his meaning will come by creating loving communities within the corporation. When one of their division’s plant managers dies in a small town several states away, he instigates a private flight for all the leaders of the division to go to the funeral. The plant leaders are very moved by this gesture as is the whole town. Making a small difference big.

-A woman manager in a costume design production firm came on board in the middle of a very stressful environment in which people routinely displayed poor manners and tolerated meanness. Her spiritual values were the opposite. So she begins treating people well, listing each person’s gifts and uniqueness, bringing food, hugging the most angry people, and asking people to leave their issues at the door. Within a year the whole atmosphere has been transformed.

-A cabinet maker, faced with cutting corners in order to make a better profit in an economic downturn, prayerfully decides to stick with the principles of his workmanship, possibly making less money but feeling good about his products. He adds some smaller products as part of his bread and butter. And he does some volunteer work with his extra time, work that eventually brings him some valued cabinet making

-A woman who is in customer service at a medical device company starts a “faith at work” brown bag lunch discussion just to see what others are thinking about this subject. Soon the group develops into a support group that fosters different ways to incorporate faith into work.

-A housing developer makes it a part of his practice (years before it is legally required of contractors) to include some affordable housing in each of his development projects. He does this because he is aware of the affordable housing shortage and because he believes he is called to be a man of God and to make changes in the world as a result of his work.

-A spiritual director who occasionally meets clients at coffee shops, gets to know the coffee shop manager and happens to have a spiritual conversation while buying coffee. Now the manager seeks out the spiritual director to accompany him on his journey, not only to be a more present manager but to heal some issues in his life and his relationship with God.

 

 

In my own life one of the times that my faith made a huge difference in my work was when I was beginning leadership in a national organization whose aim was to reduce domestic violence. We had to decide what our goals were, how we would reach them and what kinds of resources and people we would work with. There was a lot of anger and victimization in this field and it was almost contagious. I went on a retreat to think and pray about this. As a result of some soul searching and praying and connecting with my own journey, I decided that in order to work meaningfully in this field I had to have a healing stance instead of a stance of justice or punishment. We developed our mission statement and the five principles by which we worked based on that healing stance. It made all the difference for me as a north star by which we navigated and it allowed me to stay connected far beyond the usual tenure in the field.

 

What would you advise the four people whose stories we encountered in the first essay on Faith Goes to Work: part 1; the woman working in the entertainment business who wonders about the product she is spending her career producing, the young man working in the coffee shop who feels as if he may be wasting his time preparing coffee for weary workers, the doctor who feels like a pill machine because of all the patients she has to see in one day, or the stay-at-home dad whose kids are programmed to the hilt with activities he wonders about?

Perhaps you could even go back to my original question to help yourself get started on this journey for yourself: Have you ever had a spiritual experience at work?

 

ÓJanet Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved

The wonderful Buechner quote is from his book, Wishful Thinking: ATheological ABC, p. 95.

Reflections on this essay

How do you think about your work as an outgrowth of your faith?

What have you seen in other people of faith at their work that has intrigued you?

What could you do differently to integrate your faith into your work?

Who could you talk to, to help you reflect on your faith and work questions?

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