It’s Monday morning and on the commute to work, I read a prayer email from a friend working for a Christian charity overseas. She tells me how the project is progressing (baby feeding centre now fully operational, first antenatal class a great success), what she is learning (spiritualised myths around AIDS cures are widespread) and how she is seeing God at work. She also gives me the latest gossip on team dynamics (Roger still only looking out for number one – found a stash of Cadburys under his bed yesterday – what a weasel!), how her health is (nasty bout of diarrhoea thanks to a dodgy goat curry, but all better now), and what I can pray for. She signs off with a gorgeous photo from the local carnival and the line “Hope you’re well, do send me your news”.
I go to hit reply, but suddenly stop. What am I going to write? I know deep down that my job is just as valuable in God’s eyes, but let’s face it – it’s just not as glamorous. I spent most of last week analysing data and editing web copy. She can’t want to hear about that. Let’s see… I could tell her what I’ve been learning; but frankly, after such a busy weekend I haven’t had a moment to stop and think, never mind process the deep learning going on in my soul. As for team dynamics, I can hardly tell her about the way my husband and I bickered about the washing up for most of the weekend. And, well, it would surely go against every British social convention to tell her about the diarrhoea I had before my big presentation last week.
As I change tube lines and squeeze into the last square foot of space on the train, I realise I am actually feeling quite resentful. Why do overseas workers get all the attention? My friend teaching at a rough secondary school in inner-city London faces just as many challenges as my friend teaching in Nairobi, but we never seem to pray for her at the front of church. And the amazing holiday snaps don’t help… adventuring on top of an elephant couldn’t be further from the sweaty game of commuter-sardines I am playing here!
At lunchtime I hunt out a few of the passionate group emails I sent when I was on a gap year in Africa aged 18. I smile at my poetic tendencies and inflated sense of importance in the world, but also come to appreciate that writing the emails, in fact, aided my spiritual walk. Perhaps these three practises could help all workers, even those of us in humble England!
1. Taking time to reflect. There is a real discipline in writing a weekly evaluation; one that demands we carve space in our doing in order to be still and review. This is not a shallow one-sentence response to ‘How was your week?’ at cell group, but one that takes the time to express how our week has affected us as a whole person: emotionally, physically and spiritually. It’s rather like a modern-day version of the Ignatian Prayer of Examen shared with a group. Through this we reflect on what we are doing that is exciting because it is joining in with God’s building of the Kingdom… even in data analysis.
2. Being consciously missional. The reflection process helps us to keep in mind that we are working with and for the Lord. With a refreshed mind-set, work should become less about our own achievements, but about what the Lord is doing through us. With an increased awareness of God at work we can see more clearly the opportunities to act and speak for Jesus in our everyday. In these types of emails, asking for prayer is not only for times of crises, but a weekly default. There is an expectancy that prayer will make a tangible difference and that we will share the stories when prayers are answered. I’d love a bit more of that in my work, wouldn’t you?
3. Valuing the community of believers. The best prayer emails are an honest sharing of where we are at. They don’t just point to the highs of the week, but also confess when things are tough, breeding a natural accountability. The emails tell of a reliance on others – for provision, for prayer, for encouragement. When read with an open heart, these sorts of emails are a reminder that mission is not something we do on our own, but as a community of believers. There is a bigger picture, a common cause that we share, whatever our day job.
With a fresh perspective I resolve to respond with an equally holistic reflection from my end. I take a deep breath and hit reply, ‘Diarrhoea, tell me about it!’
Sarah-Jane is currently conducting a survey asking young adults about their experiences of being a Christian in the working world. She would love it if you could take part.