By Kevin Lowry, OSV Newsweekly
Do you take your faith to work? Or does the mere thought evoke a nervous flutter in your stomach? Be not afraid. As Catholics, there are countless ways to live out our faith in the workplace in ways that aren’t offensive to others, and actually make us better at doing our jobs. Don’t believe me? Read on.
Since becoming Catholic more than 20 years ago, I’ve been fascinated with how God draws us closer to himself through a process of ongoing conversion. Given how much time we spend at work, it’s no surprise that what happens there is critical for our spiritual growth. In fact, the workplace provides us with one of the best opportunities in our daily lives to grow in holiness. All we need is the right perspective — and a willingness to let him lead.
Here are just a few modest ways to live out our faith in the workplace. As you’ll see, the possibilities are endless.
1. Be joyful
We can’t be happy all the time. But joy transcends emotion; it’s rooted in the hope we have in Christ and the knowledge that his faithfulness is constant and enduring. Within this context, we are able to better live in the present moment and dispense with the anxieties that come from focusing too much on either the past or the future. I have a co-worker who exemplifies this joy. Brenda is extremely gracious and does a great job encouraging others in routine workday interactions. She radiates a natural cheerfulness that’s not forced but rather springs from her faithfulness. I always come away from our interactions grateful to be on her team. Her joy is contagious.
2. Strive for excellence
Who do you work for? Ultimately, it’s not just a company, a boss or even your family. We all work for the Lord. So that carries with it a responsibility — we should always do our best in human terms. Consider the hidden life of Jesus as a carpenter. Scripture doesn’t tell us much about this time in his life, of course, but I would imagine that Jesus was known for really great carpentry. Can you imagine him producing shoddy work? Me neither. Our work necessarily involves trade-offs between perfection and timeliness, but we’re always able to work with intensity, to give our best efforts to the task at hand, and to pray that the Lord will bless and sanctify our work.
3. Support others
If your work involves other human beings — and whose doesn’t? — there are people around you experiencing difficulties. Although we can’t fix everything, we can often be sources of support and encouragement — quietly and unobtrusively. This can be as simple as an understanding smile, willingness to listen patiently for a couple minutes during a busy day, or an encouraging word. I recall a colleague who was experiencing financial hardship a while back, and on top of everything had a flat tire one morning. She didn’t have the money to get it fixed. It was my privilege to help her out with this minor crisis. Jesus tells us in Matthew 10:8, “Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.” Small sacrifices for others, particularly those in need, demonstrate our genuine love for the Lord, and for them.
4. Be an ally
I have the great honor of working with a friend of mine from Legatus, an organization of Catholic business leaders. One of the most striking things he’s ever told me is how grateful he is to have me as an ally. In thinking about it, don’t we all need allies at work? Even better, regardless of our role in an organization, why not strive to be someone else’s ally? This helps us to remember that it’s not all about us. We also need allies for the mutual support and encouragement we obtain through these types of relationships — especially with our prayers.
If you’re interested in workplace evangelization, there are few ways more authentic than through forgiveness. I knew two women several years ago in my workplace who were at each other’s throats. They were both playing political games, trying to consolidate support for their positions while undermining one another. Everyone on the team knew what was going on, and the source of the issue: they despised one another. Forgiveness is frequently necessary in the workplace, and as Catholics we need to ask for it and receive it. The words “I’m sorry” are among the most powerful we can use, and when it’s our turn to forgive, we’re called to do it from the heart.
6. Embrace failure
There’s no better impetus to success than failure. My first stint in college was a debacle, and I got kicked out within three semesters (from Franciscan University, no less). This wound was so deep, so excruciating, that I vowed it would never happen again. Upon returning a couple years later, I excelled.
This experience gave me a visceral sense of why it’s so important to work to the best of my ability. These lessons are invaluable. Even in the small workplace failures we experience — which are inevitable — we can learn, grow and do better next time. With perseverance and willingness to own our failures, the path to success is never easy, but it is attainable.
7. Be a friend
I’m not sure who said it, but I love the thought of friendship as the “elixir of life.” But how do we apply this in the workplace? How do we apply it, to quote Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, to Jesus “in distressing disguise?” When there are difficult relationships we face at work, it’s often a challenge to see Christ within others. Yet if we accept this as a challenge, pray for the other individual and commit to treating him or her with courtesy and respect, even the most difficult relationships can come around. I remember years ago, working to turn a soured referral source back into an advocate. It took time, patience, handwritten notes, a well-placed gift card and a couple of apologies, but it worked in the end by restoring a broken trust.
8. Be grateful
Gratitude is a powerful aspect of our faith. We can use it in unlikely circumstances, too. I remember being proselytized in the workplace by a somewhat obnoxious friend who wasn’t happy about my Catholic leanings prior to my eventual conversion. At first, I was upset about him beating me over the head with his Bible, figuratively speaking. But then I realized that he was attempting to offer me the most precious thing in his life. That changed my perspective, and our interactions, for the better. Here’s another rather shocking way to express gratitude in the workplace if you’re married: speak positively about your spouse. It’s so countercultural, people tend to be surprised when they hear it. But since we know marriage is a sacrament, it’s an institution we ought to treat with honor and reverence.
9. Be humble
There are no limits to the benefits of humility in the workplace. In fact, if we want strong teams, we need to play off the strengths of others, rather than their weaknesses. Guess what? This requires humility, because we’re recognizing that our own skill set isn’t the be-all and end-all. Part of humility is also to be vulnerable. My favorite part of executive meetings in my current place of employment is that we begin by going around the table and everyone shares what is going on in their personal lives, including challenges. It’s a way of making sure there is cohesiveness among the team based on mutual trust.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is pray for others we encounter in our work. I love the thought of intercessory prayer as being wildly, excessively, over-the-top effective — to the point where people are shocked to find themselves on their way to heaven after death. Our hope springs from the Lord, whose mercy is likened to the ocean. With our Catholic toolbox bulging with tools (the sacraments, prayers, devotions, the Rosary, Mass, etc.), we can always pray for others and know the Lord hears us.
So take heart; it is always possible to live out our faith in the workplace in ways that benefit ourselves, our employers and our co-workers, and help us draw closer to our Lord. Let’s resolve together to approach our daily work as a means of loving God, our neighbor or co-worker, and effectively serving our employer. Let’s pray for one another!
Wisdom from Francis
Pope Francis has spoken or written frequently about how Catholics should live their faith at all times — including at work. Here are a few examples:
During a May 18, 2013, speech: “Today’s world stands in great need of witnesses. … It’s not so much about speaking, but rather speaking with our whole lives: living consistently, the very consistency of our lives!”
In his homily during daily Mass on Jan. 26, 2015: “The spirit of timidity goes against the gift of faith; it doesn’t allow it to grow, to go forward, to become great. And shame is the sin of those who say: ‘Yes, I have faith, but I cover it up, so it isn’t plainly seen.’”
From Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of The Gospel”),No. 127: “Being a disciple means being constantly ready to bring the love of Jesus to others, and this can happen unexpectedly anyplace: on the street in a city, or during work, or in a city square, or on a journey.”
Source: https://www.osv.com/OSVNewsweekly.aspx Kevin Lowry is the author of “Faith at Work: Finding Purpose Beyond the Paycheck”.