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Meet Tom Petersen

Tom Petersen works at a company in the Midwest, where he processes e-mail, attends meetings and recalibrates management expectations. His book of essays on work and faith is currently lurking outside of publishers’ back doors, trying to meet a naïve editor. Contact him at www.HisWorkInProgress.com.

 
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Ya gotta laugh

Thanks for Struggling with Me

By Tom Petersen
www.HisWorkInProgress.com

CBNMoney.comI really do try to be a good Christian at work.

I try to follow the teachings of Jesus. I try to model humility, kindness and compassion. I try to be generous to people asking for spare change. I try to buy a box of Thin Mints every time a Girl Scout parent/co-worker asks. I try to live in a way that makes people say, “Wow, I want whatever he has!”

But I continually fall short of that ideal. I struggle because every day I feel conflicted between the demands of work and the tenets of my faith.

It’s pretty clear where the two differ. Where my faith focuses on Almighty God, work points me to the almighty dollar. Where my faith tells me to think first of others, my work signals that only the selfish can get ahead. Where my faith tells me to walk humbly with my God, work tells me to take credit for all my good works (and maybe even some extra works that aren’t mine).

It doesn’t matter that I like my job. The work/world tells me I should always want more; a bigger title, more money and a better parking spot. (Don’t take my word for it – look it up. It’s in the Book of Expectations, Chapter 11.) Sometimes subtly, sometimes blatantly, the world says that work should define my stature, my self-esteem, and my very identity.

That’s ridiculous, I know. My identity is in Christ Jesus. Paul says so in Romans 6, Ephesians 4, Colossians 3, and all over the place. And yet, there are days when work is so pressing, so insistent – so obnoxious – that it’s hard to find a balance.

Now I know there are people who can successfully balance faith and work. They lead with integrity. They demonstrate wisdom when facing insurmountable problems. They bring people to Christ while exceeding this year’s sales projections. John Maxwell describes them in his books.

But I am not one of those people. You won’t find me written up in Hebrews (or John Maxwell’s books, for that matter) as a great paragon of faith. I’m probably more like Peter when he’s accused of being a follower of Jesus.

I fold.

See, my basic problem is that I’m a sinner. I’m judgmental and critical, selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. (I spend a lot of time thinking about myself, too.) I demonstrate it weekly, daily, even hourly. I hear a Sunday sermon on Jesus’ message of love, and I’m yelling at my kids before I’ve left the church narthex. I volunteer at the local soup kitchen but forget to call my parents on their anniversary. I anonymously give to a local charity, and then vow never to give again because my name didn’t appear in the glossy donor appreciation brochure. Paul took the words right out of my mouth when he wrote, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. (Romans 7:19 NASB)

And nowhere does that paradox confound me more than at work. I mean, how do you bring glory to God when you think your officemate is a jerk? (Not that mine is, mind you… but I know other people who think their officemates are jerks.)  How do you constantly speak blessings when the customer is yelling at you? How do you stay focused on the eternal when the job says, “Do this right now!”

This is an important conundrum, because I want to live out my faith and do well at work. But it’s hard to do both. So I get spun tighter and tighter, one foot in each world, trying to balance the two.

How do I cope with this struggle? I laugh.

For me, laughter is the only appropriate response. I think that the work/faith paradox is stressful enough. You only add to your stress if you take the potential conflict too seriously. It’s a bit foolish to get too serious about work in this world when your destiny resides in another. So see the humor in it and laugh.

For me, humor is a universal, portable “problem-put-er-in-perspective.” Like Excalibur, it allows me to slay whatever dragon – the performance review, the monthly sales quota, the boss’ favor – wants to consume me. If you can laugh at it, Bill Cosby once said, you can overcome it. And I need help overcoming work.

Some men take cars too seriously. Some men take sports too seriously. (You know who you are, with your Green Bay Packers green and gold toilet seat.) Me, I take work too seriously. I want to do well because I’m a responsible guy who thinks doing my best serves others and brings glory to God. But if I let it, work would take control and push my faith off the ledge. So I use laughter to keep work in perspective.

When I talk with other Christians in the workplace, it’s clear that I am not alone in my struggle. Few of us have mastered this balance. So when the fine folks at CBN.com begged me to write this column (at least that’s the way I remember it), I jumped at the chance. Because I think laughing at work is best when it’s a social activity. When I can help other people see the foolish ways that work tries to subvert their faith values, I feel like I’m helping them find balance, too.

I don’t have the gift of encouragement. (In fact, my gifts seem to be more along the lines of greed, envy, sloth… or maybe that’s another list.) But maybe sharing these observations will encourage you.

I hope that future columns will remind you that there is much good about work. But also remember that sometimes work simply acts as a pretender to the throne rightly held by Jesus. 

We should be joyful at work because we share the divine knowledge that there is more to this life than work. And we should be joyful because the world desperately needs men and women of faith – and humor – at work.

Be encouraged. We’re not alone. We have Jesus, and we have each other. Together, they make even annual performance reviews seem a lot less menacing.

Is balancing your work and faith a challenge for you? How have you successfully managed the challenge? Send Tom an e-mail at www.HisWorkInProgress.com and let us know.

Tom Petersen works at a company in the Midwest, where he processes e-mail, attends meetings and recalibrates management expectations. His book of essays on work and faith is currently lurking outside of publishers’ back doors, trying to meet a naïve editor. Contact him at www.HisWorkInProgress.com.

 

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