Whatever your religion, if you’re serious about it, sooner or later it becomes part of your core identity.
You no longer think of yourself as just an American, or a woman, or a Republican, or a Wildcats fan, or an accountant, or whatever your primary identity used to be.
You start to think of yourself equally, perhaps mainly, as a Catholic. Or a Muslim. Or a Mormon. Or an Orthodox Jew.
When that happens, a question may arise: How do I take this faith with me into my workplace?
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Unless you’re nuts, you have no desire to thrash your coworkers about the face and head with your prayer beads. You don’t want to get written up by human resources for transgressing your company’s rules on harassment.
Yet, you probably spend more time at your job than at your home. You shouldn’t have to silence that central part of you.
Well, you don’t have to keep mum, of course. You can even witness in the workplace, if your religion impels you to do that. It’s all about your approach.
The problem is in striking a balance. You want to acknowledge this key part of your life without giving others who don’t share your beliefs unwarranted offense.
Here are a few suggestions:
▪ Try not to form a holy clique. If you’re a Christian, especially here in the Bible Belt, you’ll easily find colleagues who think much the same as you do. Don’t stand off in corners together testifying to each other in stage whispers or high-fiving as you watch a worship-music video on someone’s phone. This creates the impression you’re setting yourselves up as superior and creates divisions.
▪ Go easy on the paraphernalia. Try not to wallpaper your cubicle with Sacred Heart prayer cards or wear a six-inch sparkly cross around your neck or crowd your desktop with your menorah collection or install a giant photo of your guru as a screensaver. Less is more. Good taste, people. Good taste.
▪ Model integrity. Do you hope to witness about God’s power? Then be above-board in your business transactions. Speak honestly with everyone. Follow through on your promises, even when it puts you at a disadvantage. When you make mistakes, accept responsibility.
▪ Be kind. Whether you’re dealing with the CEO or the cafeteria lady, smile and be polite. Forgive others’ errors without yelling or pouting. Given the least opportunity, say something encouraging. Help someone who’s struggling with an assignment. Don’t be a jerk.
▪ Refuse to gossip or gripe. Never hang around the breakroom bad-mouthing your manager. If someone starts griping about the boss, say, “Well, I’m sure she’s doing the best she can, probably under circumstances that are harder than we can know from where we sit.” If someone starts telling a tale about who in purchasing is having an affair with that guy in the warehouse, glance at your phone, excuse yourself and leave.
▪ Do your work as unto the Lord. Quit jockeying for raises or promotions or to keep the surly supervisor off your back. Instead, imagine God alone is your supervisor and every project you tackle is for him. Cut no corners. Always give your best effort, whether or not anyone’s watching.
▪ Learn to love your coworkers. Pray that when they see you coming they’ll see right past you and find themselves looking eyeball-to-eyeball into the Lord’s grace. Love those who share your beliefs. Love those who despise your beliefs. Love those who practice lifestyles you admire. Love those whose lifestyles you abhor. Love those who give you promotions. Love those who dock your pay.
▪ Remember Joe. Forty years ago, I worked at a grocery with a guy named Joe. I don’t recall his last name, but he changed my life. He manifested all the traits I’ve described above.
When our store manager yelled at me one day for no good reason, I went into my default redneck mode and offered to whip his butt. When he yelled at Joe, Joe smiled, apologized and continued merrily on his way. When a particularly annoying coworker needed a ride home, I invented a lie about why I couldn’t take her. When she asked Joe, he smiled and said, “Sure, I’ll give you a ride.” On and on this went. For months.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it. I said something like, “Joe, you’re the nicest guy I’ve ever met. I can’t do what you do. It’s not in me. What the heck have you got that I don’t?”
That’s when, smiling as always, he told me about the difference Jesus had made in him, and about the power of the Holy Spirit to give us peace, joy and patience despite ourselves.
I never was the same after I went home and asked God to give me what Joe had. I never became as virtuous as Joe, but I’ve certainly made strides from where I once was.
Joe was the model of how you take your faith into the workplace. You don’t wave it on a banner. You carry it in your heart.
You don’t take it to the job so you can force it on others. You take it because it’s part of who you are.
Do that and you offend no one. Others may seek you out to discover what you’ve got.
Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.