Establish | When Work Gets Tough
Writing this post is bitter-sweet. Bitter because it’s forcing me to dig up the memories from the worst situations at work and re-analyse what caused them. Sweet because I’m remembering how I moved on from them and just what a vital part God played.
Many of the challenging situations that I’ve had at work have been when I’ve felt despairing. Some large project has been directed my way and I feel out of my depth. My code isn’t working and everything I’ve tried has failed. Or one of the most difficult, a senior colleague has given me some bad feedback and said that something needs to drastically improve.
So it’s not colleagues perhaps being nasty or unkind that I’ve found tough in work, or necessarily being a Christian in a non-Christian environment. Instead, it’s the feelings of being out of control and overwhelmed that work can cause in me. These are the challenging times during which I am learning to turn to the Lord for help.
Feeling overwhelmed is something that David and the other song-writers who make up the Psalms have portrayed in incredible detail. The poet of Psalm 40 talks about ‘troubles without number’ surrounding him and his heart failing within him. The writer of Psalm 61 talks about their heart growing ‘faint’ and feeling as far away from God as the ‘ends of the earth’. Psalm 142 describes being in ‘desperate need’ and looking for help but not finding any.
How do these writers find comfort in their situation? When they despair where are they getting their encouragement? I have found two practical ways that they have spoken about and through which God has helped me during challenging situations at work.
Remember the Lord’s previous help – ‘I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done’, Psalm 143. If you spend time recalling, it is amazing what things have happened that may not have occurred to you as special at the time but after looking back have ‘Jesus’ written all over them.
One such event happened after one of the worst days at work – this was the day I had received the awful feedback from a senior colleague. It had come out of the blue and stripped me of any confidence I had in what I was doing. That evening also happened to be my first week at a connect group (home group). I knew I should fulfil my commitment to the group and turn up but it was honestly the last thing I wanted to do. Unsurprisingly God did some amazing work in me that evening, He showed me His blessing through new friends struggling with similar issues and His wisdom given through people who had been there before. God may have worked in me in a different way if I hadn’t turned up that night, I am not to know what that would have looked like. The way it did work out though gives me regular encouragement and, like the psalmists I am able to recall what God has done for me in the past as an encouragement for the present.
As I’ve been reading the Psalms for this post, the phrase ‘for I am poor and needy’ has jumped out at me. Starting full-time work after being a graduate has been an incredible experience but also a humbling one. In short, I’ve needed to ask for help, I’ve been the ‘needy’ one. As I look back, a lot of the times when I’ve felt overwhelmed, it wasn’t the work that was overwhelming. It was the fear of having to ask for help - this has been the actual challenge. And David had it down all along! ‘For I am poor and needy... teach me Your way’ (Psalm 86). He’s asking for help and wanting to be taught.
In a lot of cases my pride has got in the way and I feel overwhelmed because I don’t want to ask for help. All I can say is that being needy seems to be a regular gospel characteristic. Throughout history God has used people who realise their need for Him. The times I’m feeling overwhelmed are now the times when I’m learning to ask myself where is my pride in all of this? How can I access the help God is giving me through the people around me at work?
The culmination of this is learning to give up my need to feel in control. I am called to remember that God has been in control in previous situations. I am called to humbly ask for help and in doing so give Him more control. This is echoed in the New Testament both when Jesus asks Peter to step out of the boat and walk towards Him and when Paul says Jesus’ power is made perfect in our weakness. Can I learn to be content with being imperfect and needing help to improve? Can I ‘boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses’? Paul says, ‘for when [he is] weak then [he is] strong’! (2 Cor 12:10)
When I am feeling the bitterness of despair at work I pray that I would recall the sweetness of the Lord’s help I have received before. Psalm 71 (KJV) puts it perfectly. ‘Be my strong refuge to which I may resort continually’ . Let us continually recognise and remember that God has been our strong help before. Let us be humble enough to give Him the control and accept more help even as it breaks down our precious pride.