The most difficult period in my nearly 38-year career at a Fortune 50 organization came about 25 years into it. I touched on this period briefly a few years ago in my article “Looking Back at Life Through the Lens of Romans 8:28”. It started with a regular monthly meeting with a team member, a team member who was not a good performer (and later terminated by another manager). The team member was a homosexual, a detail that is important to this story. But I always love to see people turn their performance around. That is one of the most satisfying aspects of being a leader.
During the course of the meeting, I remember him pointing out a small George W. Bush bumper sticker that I had placed near the bottom of a bookcase in the corner of the office, out of the sight of most. I’m sure he had put me in a mental box as being a conservative in all things, which was probably not an inaccurate assessment. But then he said “I bet I wouldn’t even be welcome in your church”. I was taken aback by his jumping to this, but I knew fully what he meant. I replied, “Yes, you would be welcome…..but, we would want you to change”. As I recall, we shortly got back to discussing business and the meeting ended fine. But within a day or two, I was called to my leader’s office and told that the employee had filed a complaint against me.
In retrospect, I firmly believe I was set up, and I fell for the bait “hook, line and sinker”. But the damage was done. I never disputed what I said. Would I answer the same way again today? No, I would be much wiser. I would be as wise as a serpent, and innocent as a dove. (Matthew 10:16).
During this period, I didn’t know what was going to happen. It was a very difficult time. I knew that there would be consequences, up to losing my job. I reached out for counsel from my pastor, talked to my brother-in-law, who is also a good friend, contacted a Christian legal services organization and confidentially reached out to the one leader whom I felt I could trust in my organization. I was summoned to a meeting in Human Resources where I was berated for what I had said. In the end, I had a disciplinary memo put in my record, was required to complete diversity training and it impacted my performance review and compensation reward.
We are all going to experience difficulties and failures in life. The key will be whether we learn anything from them. Here’s what I learned.
I learned that I had made somewhat of a “god” out of my job and the organization I worked at. At that time, it was the place to work in town, and I was proud to work there, too proud. I had always felt comfortable and supported there. But the way that I demonstrated my faith at work as a leader was unacceptable and incomprehensible. I no longer felt comfortable or supported. It would take years, and working with a few wonderful leaders, for that to happen again.
That experience, though difficult to live through, resulted in something wonderful taking place, a fulfillment of the promise of Romans 8:28.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
This painful experienced, coupled with reading John Piper’s book Don’t Waste Your Life for the first time, prompted me to return to Covenant Seminary. I had attended Covenant Seminary through distance learning classes held at my church in 1995 and 1996, until my Mom died suddenly that July, accumulating 10 hours of credit. I would return to Covenant Seminary, eventually graduating in May, 2014.
One of my final courses was “Calling, Vocation and Work”, which radically transformed how I integrated my faith and work. In my final class, “Spiritual and Ministry Formation” I read Os Guinness’ classic book The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, still the best book on calling that I have read. Without the painful experience at work, I never would have gained a newfound passion for faith and work, helping me to better do my work for God’s glory, not being overly proud of the organization I worked at, but giving God glory for any good that I would do. I would never have had the opportunity to take two wonderful classes with Scotty Smith and other classes that have made a significant impact on me.
How have you learned from a painful experience?