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.
His work in progress
Trying to Duck My Duty
I shared a coffee break with my friend and accountability partner, Joe, recently when I broke a vent valve.
“I’ve had it with work. I’m frustrated. I feel like I’ve been struggling to maintain my faith and hold work at bay, and I don’t want to fight anymore. The crazy things at work are just bigger than I am. I just want to throw in the towel. If I were a salmon swimming upstream, I’d turn fin and go with the current.” I looked up at the ceiling in a dramatic gesture. “God, is it OK if I just shut down?”
Joe, who often believes he speaks on God’s behalf (which is just one of his many endearing qualities), answered for God. “No.”
“Why not? I fought the good fight. I tried to be a light in the darkness, a shining example to others, but it’s too hard.”
“No,” Joe said.
I tried a different tactic. Negotiation.
“How about if I just slack off a bit, maybe just coast for awhile? I’ll still be moving forward, you know, but just not as fast. If I can do that for a while, say a year or two, then I’ll be ready to hit it hard by, say, 2009. Whaddya say?”
Joe paused while taking a sip of his coffee. “No.”
Back to whining.
“Awww, why not? It’s too hard! I can’t be ‘on’ all the time. Work is hard. People are mean. Meetings are painful. The coffee is bitter. Things are messed up. I don’t want to be salt or leaven in a world that doesn’t want either. Why should I keep doing this when no one seems to want it?”
Joe’s logic was impeccable. “You need to keep doing it precisely because the world doesn’t want it. The world never wants what’s good for it.”
“Why can’t someone else do it?”
At this point Joe made that clucking sound that he often makes when he has to explain obvious things to me. I assume it’s the same sound he would make if he ever has to explain to small children that the glowing red coil on the stove is hot.
“First,” he said, holding up this finger under my nose to make his point, “someone else has already done this. It started with Jesus and continues through Paul, and millions of other faithful servants throughout history, up to this present time. Many of them have made sacrifices far beyond what you’re giving.”
Joe may be right, I remember thinking, but that doesn’t overcome the fact that he could suck the fun out of a birthday party.
“Second, this is what you were meant to do. You are an infantryman in a war. You were trained, prepared, educated, equipped, and directed to do this. You were put in the middle of your job, in your company, in your city for a purpose. You were meant to be a beacon of hope to others.”
He was on a roll now.
“Where does the army tend to place its soldiers when there is a war to be won?” he asked.
“Uh, in a recliner in front of a plasma TV?” I knew where he was going, but I didn’t want to make it easy on him. I thought a little humor might break the tension I was feeling. But Joe didn’t break his stride.
“They put soldiers in the midst of the battle, where they can engage the enemy, defend their territory, and eventually push back the assault. Their ultimate goal is to take control of the territory. That’s what you’re expected to do. It’s no coincidence that work is hard and doesn’t want to hear your message. That’s where the battle is. You’ve got two choices. Either keep up the fight, or surrender and be prepared to face the consequences.”
At that point, I started trying to remember why I had asked Joe to be my accountability partner in the first place. Oh, yeah, because he was good at it. And because, when I asked him, I didn’t honestly think I would ever need someone to hold me accountable. It wasn’t like I was planning to rob a bank or commit a crime. But from Joe’s perspective, I’m sure he felt it was just a matter of time before I got there, given the path I was on.
“OK, OK, I get it. You made your point. I’m supposed to stand firm. Can I still whine about it?”
“Fine. Just don’t do it where either God or I can hear you.”
Now he’d gone too far.
“Hey, God says He wants to hear my problems. He’s willing to help me and strengthen me when the going gets tough!”
Joe clucked again. “That’s because God has way more patience with you than I do. Now quit your sniveling and get back there and be hope and encouragement for a world that desperately needs it.”
I reluctantly gathered up my stuff and started to get up when a thought came to me.
“Hey, what about furlough? Soldiers get furlough. Can I just take a furlough for a couple weeks? I’ll come back. I promise.”
Joe clucked really loudly.
“Soldiers get furlough after they’ve been in battle, not while the battle is still going on. As soon as you’ve won a skirmish, you can take furlough.”
I shuffled off. Maybe Joe was right. Maybe I could spend more time being salt and light and less time whining. I would try.
But first I wanted to see if I could get a medical deferment. Joe said I have something called “chronic gelatinous spine.” I don’t know what it is, but I bet it could get me out of work for a week or so.
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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