Continued from Part 2… here are more ways our actions can speak louder than words in the workplace.
Joy in Tribulations
One of my favorite stories in scripture is in Acts chapter 5. The apostles are hauled in front of the Sanhedrin, accused of preaching the gospel. For their troubles, they were flogged. Flogged! Then scripture tells us the most astonishing thing.
They left rejoicing.
Rejoicing! Can you imagine? “So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer for the sake of the name.” (Acts 5:41) It’s incredible. The way the apostles accepted hardship offers a huge challenge – and opportunity – for us today.
It’s not likely that we’ll be flogged in our workplace anytime soon (although I’ve certainly witnessed verbal floggings here and there). At the same time, there are lots of opportunities for us to accept the smaller hardships with grace and good humor. Coffee spill on our white shirt? Friction with a coworker? Problem on a big project? Our handling of difficulties speaks to others without us speaking about faith at all.
There’s an even bigger opportunity. When it comes to fertile ground for the gospel, there is perhaps no greater example than that of an individual going through serious problems in their life. This is where we are able to be Christ in the life of someone who needs it. Not for manipulative purposes, of course – out of sincere respect, compassion and love.
As parents of eight children, my wife and I were once in the position where we had four teenagers at home simultaneously. Along with keeping up with a gigantic food bill every month, I really struggled with the concept of freewill. Couldn’t God have provided an exemption for teens?
Of course, this was an opportunity for my sanctification, even though it sure was tough at the time. Despite challenges to parental authority, lack of respect, and various other obstacles, I began to see how freewill is an utterly necessary component of conversion. This culminated in a re-reading of John chapter 6, where Jesus allowed people to walk away when he began speaking of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He didn’t chase after them. He honored their freewill. Perhaps some of them reconsidered later, we don’t know.
The scriptural admonishment not to judge makes all the sense in the world when we apply it to the judgment that is uniquely God’s job – that of judging hearts. Of course, we are able to see actions and see that they can be good or evil. That’s why we have laws against ax murderers, but think it’s good to help the poor.
Our coworkers also have the benefit of freewill. This is why we should never seek to manipulate. Rather, we should have a radical respect for the conscience and freedom of others – even when their consciences aren’t properly formed. They’re not stupid, they have unique personal experiences and the path to challenge them positively is through what my friend Dan Burke calls the “apologetics of extraordinary love.” In other words, to reach them, we must love them, and then “love becomes the bridge over which truth can pass.” Love first, then truth.
The model Christ left for us, quite explicitly, was one of service. We are meant, like Him, “not… to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). When we have a heart for service, we recognize the importance of loving others in practical, everyday terms. This is how positive relationships are built, and provides us with credibility that our own freewill is being used in an attractive manner.
We plant seeds in hearts first by who we are, by what we’re fired up about, by what we don’t care about, by what we do, and by what we don’t do. Remember, planting seeds is our job. We can challenge people here and there when necessary, but this generally shouldn’t be our lead strategy.
Instead, one of the best things we can do, once we’ve done everything we can to act in accordance with the gospel message, is to embrace that “gift of self” so often referenced by St. John Paul II. We give ourselves to others, through the sacrifice of time, talents and treasure. In the workplace, so often the right gift is that of time.
Tell Your Story
If the faith changes us, we have a story to tell. Among the privileges of my professional life is hearing the stories of the many converts and “reverts” to the faith on the Journey Home program each week at The Coming Home Network. These stories are amazing in their potency; they resonate in ways only the Holy Spirit can provoke.
Our stories are important. We can share mistakes we’ve made, triumphs, perspectives on how to handle situations, encouragement… the possibilities are endless. Of course, this involves words. Thankfully, even if our lives and actions haven’t been perfect, we can still build others up with words – even sharing our mistakes – when necessary.
Head for the Entrance
It’s important to remember that most of us probably won’t undergo a martyr’s death. The way we’ll exercise the above virtues will be most notable, and perhaps most powerful, in the little everyday things that aren’t, well – noteworthy or powerful. We will always be utterly reliant on the power of the Holy Spirit to change hearts, and that’s the bottom line. We can encourage others to head for the entrance rather than the exit.
A friend of mine once said that his goal was to be successful, and never know it. By trusting in the Lord, and leaving the real heavy lifting of evangelization to the Holy Spirit, we’ll learn to be better workers – and better Catholics.
Note: Many thanks to Catholic Answers magazine for publishing this article in their July/August 2014 issue.