“Iṣẹ́ loògùn ìṣẹ́.” (Work is the antidote for destitution.)
— a Yoruba Proverb
In Genesis 24 — the longest chapter in the Book of Genesis — is the story of how Abraham sent his eldest servant to go and find a wife for his son, Isaac. After asking a clarifying question, the servant set out on the mission and, indeed, returned with a wife for Isaac. When I read this passage in light of my secular work context (as a paralegal), I was fascinated by the different lessons I gleaned from the life of this servant which are applicable to my work context and, I reckon, to that of many others. I will share them below as “3 Questions for Christians in the Workplace.”
1. Do you know “your place” at work?
Servants in those days were likely to be foreigners and would not be considered a part of the family. As much as they saw and served their masters, they did not necessarily have a place at the table. Notwithstanding, as long as the servant and the boss understood their respective ‘places’ and stayed in their lanes, things went well. While we are not sure about the full dynamics of the relationship between this servant and Abraham, the narrative suggests some level of trust and intimacy between them. Abraham’s request for the servant to put his hand under his thigh, symbolic as it was in that culture, seemed intimate. (I wouldn’t want any random person to put his/her hand under my thigh!) It is therefore safe to conclude that the servant must have been familiar to Abraham in some ways. Notwithstanding, the familiarity did not change their status. The servant remained the servant and the master remained the master. Understandably, some of us spend more of our 24 hours each day at our workplace and, as such, have built friendships with our seniors or managers. However, we shouldn’t forget our place and begin to sulk when we are given tasks that remind us of our roles. Yes, be sociable and amiable with your colleagues and seniors or managers in an appropriate manner, but never lose sight of your place in your workplace.
Besides, the curious detail about Abraham’s servant ruling over ‘everything’ Abraham had — and at this point, Abraham was said to be well stricken in age — adds a dynamic to their relationship: the servant would be more conversant than Abraham. Some of us may relate to this. You may know the workings of your workplace better than your managers and bosses, but what should you make of that privilege? Rather than complain about our boss’ flaws or ignorance, we can try to put ourselves in the position of our bosses and empathise with them. As much as they could be harsh and unforgiving and thankless, they are people (like us), too — they are also dealing with pressures from home, work, deadlines, more senior bosses, etc. Instead of aiming to express your displeasure at them, why not strive to do your best? Why not live the changes you want by being the example?
- In your place of work, do you understand your place?
- Do you stay within your role or wish to have someone else’s?
- Do you fight for promotion at all cost or resort to cunning ways to get to the top?
- How diligent are you when no one sees the contributions you make at work?
- Do you give your best so that you can be seen or give it so that God is glorified?
- Do you go to work to get the best slice of the cake or contribute to the grand scheme of things?
2. Do you have someone to talk to about work stress?
Abraham’s servant was not a zombie; he queried the task put before him. In doing this, however, I like his choice of words. He said, “peradventure the woman he finds for Isaac won’t follow him, should he then bring Isaac to her?” The choice of words shows that he had considered Abraham’s request as being worthwhile, and then introduced a possibility that Abraham may not have considered. Rather than get overwhelmed in the eventuality of his task not going as envisaged, he discussed the possibility with his boss. Abraham’s response satisfied the servant and he proceeded to make an oath that he would find a wife for Isaac and bring her to him rather than take Isaac over there to meet her.
Personally, I have a tendency to get a bit agitated when a deadline is missed because my boss(es) failed to respond to my emails or calls prompting them to act ‘ASAP.’ At such points, I have a choice to make regarding my attitude to them. Thankfully, my husband often spots my attitudinal inclinations and offer me a safe space to rant or to learn as the case may be. We can’t do life alone — and that’s not applicable only to our spiritual life. We cannot do our career life alone. We all need people to be accountable to — people who would notice that you are ready to blow and calm you. You should have someone in your corner you can always talk to when you feel overwhelmed. This beats moving from one job to another. Being at a steady job for years and gradually moving up the ladder gives more awareness of the business than when you keep changing jobs every 3 years.
3. Does God have a place in the work you do?
Finally, in this story, the servant prayed as he waited for a maiden to arrive at the well; he prayed that God should show kindness to his master. It’s good practice to pray before each task at work — even the simple ones. Always begin with God. Check with the Holy Spirit before you hit ‘send’ to that email.
The servant also worshipped God when his task was completed. Do you notice that throughout the task, his name was not mentioned? (Some commentaries say he was Eliezer, the servant that was with Abraham before Ishmael was born, but throughout Genesis 24, his name was not mentioned as though God is drawing our attention to the ‘act’ rather than the ‘actor.’) Yet, he was proud of his role. He even introduced himself to Rebekkah’s family as “Abraham’s servant.” So please, don’t be sullen when your hard work is regarded as the team’s hard work as a whole. As much as we pour ourselves into our roles making sure we are blameless, it is also better to note that we are just a piece of the puzzle — our bosses, too — and each piece is doing their best; thus, the picture becomes clearer and more beautiful. After all, as believers, whatever we do, we do it “as unto the Lord” (Colossians 3:23).
The workplace is dynamic. Be real at work. Know your place. Ask questions nicely. (And remember to use your own applicable versions of ‘peradventure.’) Finally, go with God. As you do your best each day, remember to thank God for a good day at the end of the day. May we model Christ better at our workplaces in Jesus’ name.