The last two years spent at my job have been the amongst the most humbling times of my life. These couple of years have challenged me mentally and emotionally, exposed my blindspots, taught me to swallow my pride and brought me to my knees.
I come from a regular middle-class background, attended local schools and would say that I’m very much a product of the system. While this system ingrained in me good values like an innate sense of responsibility and a sense of drive and commitment, the same system also inculcated less desirable values like the belief that self-worth is pegged to one’s stature. (Stature that is measured by earning power as well as the perceived importance attached to the titles we hold and the type of work we do). I entered the working world very much imbibed with these values and quite far from God.
I admittedly cycled through my first two jobs, which I left for selfish reasons. I had worked in small firms and felt that apart from not feeling challenged by the work, these firms by virtue of their size gave me almost no opportunity for anything more prestigious. Then, my current job came along and I felt like I was thrown into the deep end.
Standards were exacting; I was forced to be meticulous – which isn’t in my nature. Also I wasn’t a scholar as many around me were. I suddenly felt very small and inadequate. The work was consuming and intellectually daunting, and this made me realise how little I knew. My emotions and self-worth started to be dependent on my superior’s word. I was constantly exhausted from the hours, my social and spiritual life took a hit and I felt as if I was ceaselessly trying to keep my head above water.
Somewhere along the way, I realized that I’d had it all wrong – I had been running on my own strength and focusing on all the wrong things. I failed to see how God was shaping me by allowing me to go on this journey. I also attended a series by Pastor Benny Ho entitled, “Why in the world do we work?” that certainly lent perspective.
Here’s what I learnt:-
Proverbs 27:17 “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.“
Work is a means of personal growth. In one encounter with a “junior” officer, she explained to me that of the two persons assigned to support me for a time-sensitive report, one had issues with her computer. I replied that it would be fine if I got the input a little later, to which she said, “not if you chip in with research”. Though this happened more than a year ago, I can still recall becoming aware of the pride that had filled my heart to the point where I would think that I was above a certain task. How humbled I was made to feel that day. Philippians 2:3 “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.“
WORKING AS FOR GOD AND NOT FOR MAN
Colossians 3:23 “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.”
I realised that I was seeking approval in the wrong places – focusing my attention on finding favour with my bosses; nitpicking over whether recognition, or the lack thereof, was fair or unfair. When I altered my perspective and focused instead on excellence as the right, Godly approach to work, it completely changed my attitude. I set about making things right and decided to focus on working for God, and not for man. 1 Peter 5:6-7 “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” I learnt to stop pursuing the worldly perception of success but to honour Him by cutting out the distractions and keeping it about the work. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 “…aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you.“
PLATFORM FOR MINISTRY
Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.“
A co-worker once told me, using the analogy of a cup of tea – that as a Christian in the workplace, you can be like a sachet of tea and alter the flavour, aroma and colour of the hot water into which you are infused. I knew this in theory, but never really tried to put that into action. Over time I realised that he was right. Changing the limited interactions I had with the people I came into contact with made me realise that work gives me the opportunity to show that I am set apart.
My journey is far from over. While I recognise the need to shift my perspectives, the struggle continues. I am thankful that I have been blessed with a job that challenges me, enables me to produce work that I care about, and has – through its trials and triumphs – turned my eyes toward God. Once I started forsaking my self-centered pursuits, I was able to begin developing a collegial camaraderie with those around me. I now understand that it is not stature that fills the heart, but friendship, trusted relationships, and the certainty that God works for the good of those who love Him.
I have learnt the value of building a life that doesn’t necessarily have to look good on the outside, but more importantly, feels good on the inside. Romans 12:10 “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
Someone once asked me, “If you don’t do anything differently, what do you expect to change?” I know that I have not managed to overcome the human desire for worldly success entirely, but it is an effort I remind myself to commit to each day and the impetus for approaching my work through the lens of faith.
*All scripture quotations taken from the English Standard Version (ESV) bible.
Yiling is 27 and works in the civil service. She loves a good cup of coffee, a compelling photograph; and takes joy in being on the road as often as possible!