"Connecting the Dots Between Faith & Work : Forgiveness"

Katherine Alsdorf filled the room at our April Forum. She shared about the importance of forgiveness in both our personal and professional lives no matter hard that can be. To see a clip from her talk, please click on the video below.

In a broken world, in which even work itself (the very work God gives us to do) is cursed, there are many invitations to become angry (or its opposite: apathy and withdrawal). The gospel offers “a more excellent way.” 

There are many triggers, or “invitations” to anger in our work life.  We know from the Biblical story that starts with Genesis 1, 2 and 3 that we were made to work and that, because of man’s sin, our work would be hard – filled with thorns and thistles. Painful labor will be involved in giving birth to children and painful toil will be required to bring forth food from the land. By the sweat of our brow, we will eke out our existence. Nonetheless, most of us – those of us in this privileged, educated, American society – come into the professional, working part of our lives with expectations of fruitfulness.

Furthermore, we live in an individualistic culture which believes that our entire identity is ours to create. It’s up to us to forge the identity that we want. We do that through our activities, the people we hang out with, and largely – through our work.  

So, between our expectations that we should be able to carve out a life that minimizes any pain and suffering AND the huge burden we carry of trying to attain our own identity – we’re pretty well set up for disaster! So many things can go wrong and interrupt this delusional picture. I’ll call those “invitations to anger.” 

Let’s talk for a moment about the specific invitations to us as working women – whether we work in the business world or non-profit or arts or the church. Sometimes the deck seems stacked against us.

I’ve often been the first woman or one of only a few women in the various places I worked. Early on I worked in aerospace economics – there weren’t many women there in the late 70s. It was an era of girly calendars on men’s cubicle walls. Lots of derogatory comments I can’t repeat. There has been, and continues to be, harassment and maybe even abuse. Or there’s simply comments that throw you into a tizzy.

Secondly there’s marginalization… I hear so much conversation about this lately: “She was in a meeting and shared a great idea… no one seemed to hear it. 10 minutes later a colleague presented the same idea and it was cheered on as brilliant.” I suspect many of you have your version of this one.  

All this is to acknowledge that work itself has many triggers to: hurt, anger, fear, vulnerability, detachment. And that, as working women, we have our own unique set of them.  

How do we respond? Often there are two faces to our response: anger and/or apathy.

Both seem to be prompted by some deeper emotions like fear or vulnerability.

One of my realizations in the last couple years has been that as a professional I had to control my responses to these triggers, at least in public. My anger was rarely something that my colleagues saw. But over time, one angry or hurt or resentful response piled on top of the other, until the whole pile was fueling lots of my behavior.  I used to say, but that’s just who I am – a passionate person who gets angry when things are wrong. Others learned to respond by detaching; a response that leads to apathy and meaninglessness.

But then we encounter the gospel and a promise that the gospel can change anything: our hearts, our community, the world. The gospel offers a more excellent way.

In 1 Cor 12: 31 – Paul says, “And I will show you a still more excellent way,” as a preface to 1 Cor 13 – which is about love. The more excellent way is love. What does the gospel tell us about how to move from anger to love? It’s not anger-management or better self-control. The gospel promises spirit-led change – deep in our hearts. We want to be changed by the power of the holy spirit working in our hearts.

First, we need to put off the old self – a dying to self. We need to dig deep into the roots of our worldly desires and uncover the hurts and fears that have been buried under the façade of anger. We need to confess our misplaced expectations – of a comfortable life of work. We need to confess the many ways we’ve built our identity and value around the work that we do and the recognition that we get from it. We need to open ourselves up to the hurt inside.  

And then we need to take it to Jesus in prayer.  We need to go to scripture to remember our true identity. The words of scripture can move me from feeling like an orphan to believing that I’m a beloved daughter. That helps me to forgive because I’ve been forgiven.

Forgiving is hard. But it’s the only way for hurts and resentments and angers not to build up. There’s a difference from moving on from a wound to forgiving the person who inflicted it.

I worry in this cultural moment about the growing anger at men – especially white men in power.  Yes, there have been injustices – injustices that need to be corrected in the name of human dignity and flourishing. But I don’t think that nurturing our anger is good for any of us. We need to forgive and give grace in this broken world and then go about being people of love and justice.  

Self-control – over things like anger and fear and hurt and apathy – is a fruit of the holy spirit working in us as it takes us from orphans to adopted children of God. It’s not the result of our human effort, which for me isn’t near enough, but a heart that has been humbled by God’s mercy and love.