I don’t know about you, but I sure hear a lot of people complaining about their jobs these days. Climbing the corporate ladder is taking its toll, especially when the climb stalls. It seems “respect” is something we often hear, but less seldom something experienced. Whether one is in sales, service or a research climate, the arguments seem to be the same: work is back to being a “four letter word.”
First of all, is that really so bad? “Work” is something we do. It enables us to generate an income that supports the valuable aspects of our lives. It should never be who we are. When our identities get reliant or mixed in with our jobs, we are in a dire situation. Others have too much say in controlling who we are. Our “public persona” masks our inner being. I often joke that I understand why people “rush home on Fridays. It is the rushing to work on Monday’s that I don’t understand.” I guess this feeling comes with a freedom that we often curtail until our “seasoned” years. Freedoms come from our self-awareness of a situation and wisely stopping to reflect on the path forward before acting. We sell out this freedom when we become slaves to our Outlook calendars. St. Paul says in that we are in a race but, in today’s society we are chasing the wrong prize. We are too busy to reflect on which of the two kingdoms that St. Ignatius reminds us to see that is governing our lives.
In the Meditation of the Two Kingdoms, Ignatius asks us to reflect upon which one we are currently focusing on – mine or God’s. This is also often referred to as the Kingdoms of God or the Enemy/Evil One. For Ignatius, the Enemy is Satan, but we can also visualize it as our ego, society, and the unhealthy cravings in our lives. In short, it is the negative influences that tug at us each day. Some like to minimize this actually being from Satan. However, I tend to include this Evil as well. Denying Satan’s existence may be an intellectual reality, but it is certainly not biblical or the teaching of the Church. Pope Francis often refers to the satanic influence in our society.
The kingdom that often dooms me at work is that of the Evil one. In this kingdom we crave and cling to our ideals of wealth. Honor and social/professional status draws our attention. We focus on our independence, sense of personal achievement and accomplishment. It is the kingdom of our egos. On a good day, when I am annoyed at work, I can stop and reflect whether the negative feelings I am experiencing are a bruise to my ego or something else. When my ego is involved, I am living in the wrong kingdom that day. I need to stop, refocus, and move back to the Kingdom of God.
God’s kingdom is a kingdom of true freedom. I quickly notice that the level of stress in my life diminishes when I arrive there. My challenge is not arriving in the kingdom, but staying there each day. God’s kingdom focusses on eternity, not the short term ROI of our daily grind. God’s kingdom is a kingdom of humility. We should always note that humility, as I heard on a radio show the other day, is “not thinking less of ourselves but, thinking of our selves less.” God’s kingdom is a community where we all have dignity and we all care for each other. This seeking good for others is a challenge for us today. It wants the schools in the inner city to be as good as the ones my kids went too. It wants for every child the dreams that I have for my own.
Looking at my feelings in terms of the two kingdoms is freeing in a world where we feel the weight of our lives continually pulling us down. Yet, I find this realization and reflection is not often enough. This Lenten season has allowed me to fill the gap I was missing.
When I feel belittled and have to deal with those whom I feel are “challenged by their jobs,” I reflect on Jesus dealing with the Pharisees. How often were those “experts” interpreting the law wrongly and accusing Jesus of being in error? How often were the people challenging Jesus and trying to entrap him to highlight his error? In those times when we feel we are not being taken seriously or professionally, rather than feeling down let us refocus on Jesus. He lived that world. He understands that world. In Jesus, we have an expert in dealing with those struggles. In prayer, we can talk to Jesus about this struggle and ask him for the grace to let these feelings go. In our faith, we can have the freedom to release these constraints from our emotions.
In our chase of wealth, we often get sidetracked and feel challenged by the wealth of others. We look at the wealth of others and diminish our own worth. Yet, the wealth of others is nothing we need to dwell upon or be jealous of. Such feelings are tugs from the Kingdom of Darkness. Imagine the creator of the universe carrying the cross past the homes of the wealthy. Think of Jesus being mocked and taunted by those who are well fed in food and drink. Those in authority lord it over our Lord. Yet, their power had no power over him. He took their best shot and brought salvation to us all. Those who try to diminish our worth have no supremacy in the Kingdom of God. Their temporal rewards should not be our goal.
Our faith gives us the freedom to overcome the challenges we place on ourselves at work. If we stop and reflect on the kingdom where our focus is, then we have a free choice to move. The Gospels show us that Christ, in his humanity, overcame struggles far worse than the challenges we are so stressed about. His focus needs to be our focus. God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7) Lent reminds us of the struggles faced by Jesus—for us! Let us live this spirit each day of our lives.