Work Meditations - Series Title Image

The Work Monster

A Poem for the Wounded

Still bleeding, the Shepherd King
Stumbles into the crag.
We scramble for a bandage,
Keep our ears alert. But he says:
“Post the watch, and sleep soundly.”

Work Can Beat You Up

I’ve known work as a refuge. In a time of family crisis, when things at home were anything but steady, work was a sanctuary. In my personal life, I felt scared that I wouldn’t find my way. But at the office, I felt secure, competent, effective.

I’ve also known work as a monster. I was in over my head, and each day when I powered on the computer, it felt like something was getting ready to pounce on me. It wasn’t a question of if the Next Terrible Thing would happen, but when.

Like a school bully who you know you’ll run into at some point during the day, the Work Monster doesn’t have to be sly or strategic. It just throws its weight around.

It’s the long hours. It’s the unclear expectations. It’s the all-too-clear but impossible demands. It’s the meaninglessness of it all.

This week we continue our series of Work Meditations. Check out our other posts on faith and work for more resources on living an integrated Christian life. Subscribe to get the next post in the series in your inbox.]

The Work Monster can beat you up. You come to the end of the day exhausted. Defeated. Alone.

You want to quit.

But you can’t bring yourself to choose the abyss of unemployment. The Work Monster is, at least, the devil you know.

Being Made a Weakling

Everyone faces their monsters differently. For me, shame is my shadow in moments of weakness. Work shouldn’t be this hard, I tell myself. I have what it takes.

But the Work Monster makes a weakling of me. If work is really this hard, then I don’t have what it takes. I’m too weak.

That’s where the terror really is: The feeling I can’t shake that something is wrong, not with my job, but with me. I shy away from being transparent about just how badly I’m doing, even with friends.

The irony is that I pay lip service to vulnerability. Don’t we all? We want to be the kind of people others can trust with their weaknesses.

The vulnerability of baring my own weaknesses is another matter. Some of them are just too embarrassing. Maybe if my job was a little more intense, a little harder, a little more unusual, I could admit what it was doing to me.

But it’s just a normal job. If I can’t handle this . . . what can I handle?

A Shield

Let me share a specific Work Monster story.

There was a time that I received a promotion. I was excited about it. It seemed like the Right Next Thing.

I went to a prayer event at church a couple days later. I was paired up with a pastor who asked what was going on in my life. I mentioned my anticipation about the new work role. As we prayed, this pastor shared an image: There was a shield in front of me, protecting me.

It was an unexpected image, as I wasn’t feeling particularly in need of protection.

But in the weeks that followed, as I got deeper into the new work role, the Work Monster reared its head. I was simply inadequate for the responsibilities I had been entrusted with. I didn’t know enough to make the right calls, but knew enough to see that my project was falling behind. Every day, I felt so exposed.

Depression, its own beast, also snuck up on me. It was partly situational as my new job overwhelmed me, partly seasonal in a stern Chicago winter, partly brain chemistry. But whatever its causes, its effects were bleak. When my alarm went off in the morning, I just wanted to pull the covers over my head and hide from the world. Sometimes I did.

As the Work Monster and the Depression Beast double-teamed me, that prayer image of a shield came back to me. In the Psalms, David prays, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped” (Psalm 28:7 ESV).

In another place David uses the metaphor again: “the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him” (Psalm 18:30 ESV).

On days when I had to drag myself to the office, I started imagining a giant shield in front of my office door.

Protection in Practical Terms

But what does it mean for God to shield us?

Sometimes, God slays the Work Monster. David sang the words of Psalm 18 “on the day when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul” (ESV). A moment of victory can feel like heaven breaking into earth. God makes the change that we so desperately need.

Eventually, that’s what happened for me. Four months after getting the promotion, I asked for a demotion, and got it. I was grateful. The new role was a much healthier fit.

We need help to discern what change we need. Sometimes we feel weak without the need for shifting roles. If we’re burning out, we likely need to shift something

But even if we need a change, we don’t know how soon heaven will break through with a victory. David had to go through quite a few sleepless nights before his day of deliverance. For us, God doesn’t always prevent painful situations at work. He doesn’t always provide a clear way out. We know that much from experience.

For however long the Work Monster is still baring its fangs at us, God shields us with another kind of change: A change in us.

Owning Our Weakness

There’s nothing wrong with being strong. If you’re experiencing work as a place of competence where you can play to your strengths, that’s a beautiful gift.

But psalms like David’s assume that we will often be in a more vulnerable position. We’ll need help. Adversaries will come against us, and we’ll need a place to take refuge. We’ll be under attack, and we’ll need a shield. We’ll be weak, and we’ll need someone else to be our strength.

The good news is that help is there for the taking. It turns out it’s okay to be weak. God delights to be our strength, to shield us from the enemy, to protect us from the beasts.

When the Work Monster has me in its clutches, I don’t have to assume that there’s something wrong with me. Instead of letting the voice of shame tell me that I’m a weakling, I can let the voice of God tell me, “Fear not, I am your shield” (Genesis 15:1).

To let that voice speak to me, I have to own the weakness that I do have. But in the safety of God’s presence, I feel the freedom to do just that without fear of judgment. The God who speaks unflinching truth does not name me as a weakling or a failure.

Strength that Covers Everything

As we learn to own our weaknesses, we begin to feel God’s strength.

For several years, I carried a short quote from St. Francis De Sales in my wallet on a scrap of paper: “Either He will shield you from suffering, or He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.”

On days when everything was just too much, I would pull out the scrap of paper and look at it. I love the simplicity of the quote, because it covers everything. We need God to either slay the monster, or to strengthen us as we face it in his presence.

De Sales continues with more words of comfort:

Be at peace, then, put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations, and say continually: The Lord is my strength and shield; my heart has trusted in Him and I am helped. He is not only with me, but in me and I in Him.

He is in me, and I am in him. No matter what monsters come my way, that’s enough.

Reflect and Practice

Have you ever faced your own Work Monster? 

What weaknesses do you feel at work that you can own?

Is there a place where you can imagine a great shield protecting you? Maybe the door at the threshold of your workplace or your home.

Imagine Jesus standing in front of you to protect you, and pray this prayer, as St. Francis De Sales counsels:

“The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped” (Psalm 28:7 ESV).

Series photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash.
Shield photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash.

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