Faith In The Face Of Limitations: Workplace Wisdom From Zina Pierre
Zina Pierre was at News Channel 8 in Virginia when her life changed forever. It was 1993, the government was in a shutdown, and she was escorting several visitors from the Clinton administration through the station.
“Do you need a media person?” she asked in passing. Turns out she’d just asked the director of communications for the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM).
From the OPM, this mentee of Civil Rights legend Dorothy Height moved to the Labor Department to help educate women on workplace rights. Next, running the President’s Small Business Welfare-to-Work initiative, she helped a staff of majority-white older field directors move people from the dole to the dignity of a paycheck.
There’s more. As special assistant to President Clinton, Zina was liaison to mayors and city leaders across the country. “In a position of access, you’re responsible to open that door to as many people as you can,” she says.
Now Zina heads her own business, Washington Linkage Group, which directly links people to the resources and opportunities they need to do better. She also owns a sustainable energy business called Green Solve. Meanwhile, as the first woman pastor in her church (and starting another) she’s a faith-work hybrid with strong opinions and rich insights into God in the workplace.
The High Calling (THC): Zina, your resume doesn’t take a breath. What do you say about all you’ve done?
Zina Pierre (ZP): I say when you make yourself available to God he makes your dreams possible. And when he makes your desires and interests possible, it’s not just for you—it’s for others to be blessed.
My dream was to work in the White House, to serve the President of the United States. However, I knew I was there for a purpose beyond being able to brag about working in the White House. I took it seriously as a ministry.
THC: What does that mean, “I took it seriously as a ministry”?
ZP: It means I didn’t get the big head. I anointed my office, and I kept holy oil in it. I discretely prayed for other people. When adversarial experience threatened, I prayed and brought people in my office so we could talk reasonably.
THC: Especially in the government, I’d think, there are strong lines about religion in the workplace.
ZP: God moves over a lot of things. I wasn’t in there forcing the bible over someone, but if someone comes to me and wants me to pray for them, that’s my responsibility as a minister of the gospel.
THC: This is the tension for most Christians at work—that line between overt faith and just living it.
ZP: When it came to work in a government building, if someone came to me and said they could use my prayers, they’d get prayer. If someone said, “Do you have any scripture to share?” I shared scripture. There was a network of folk I was sending words of encouragement and scripture to. In places like that you need the power of God to sustain you and get you to the next level, to get you through the day.
The workplace is a quirky situation. So many people are struggling and need to hear a word of encouragement. Take time with that person regardless of how snarly they may be. You never know what they’re going through when they leave that office. If you know God and have a relationship, we must look beyond a person’s behavior.
THC: How does your faith affect how you manage problems and limitations at work?
ZP: First, it’s assurance of who you are even when folk question your abilities. He gives you peace that passes all understanding. You can appropriately respond to adversity without allowing your flesh to overtake you with emotions. Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your request be made known to God.” He’s just a prayer away.
I prepare myself before I get into my workplace. Before I go in, I pray and study the word of God. I listen to worship music on the drive in. To focus, to have a clear mind, I have to be on top of my game. When things go awry, I have a peace in knowing there’s nothing too hard for God.
THC: What are the places at work you find yourself needing God most?
ZP: You need him all the time. There’s no cookie cutter approach in the things of God.
Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” You’ve got to get to a place where you find yourself content. So first of all, don’t complain. Thank God for employment. Paul was saying, “I don’t care what’s going on around me. It might be hurtful and painful, I have to be content knowing God and fix this.”
THC: Contentment at work can be a tall order, especially in a bad economy. You may feel as if you have to stay in work you don’t like.
ZP: You can stay at any level or position at work, but how do you sustain and retain that position until God releases you to the next? Not because you’re complaining. You’re telling God you’re not grateful. And “thank you,” to Him, makes room for more.
THC: That puts a lot of weight on your faith.
ZP: It’s true, and mind you, Jeremiah lamented to God. Jeremiah lamented that the people of God were not doing what he’d instructed. He was carrying the burden of their behavior. But he thought about God’s goodness and his language switched to hope: “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed. Great is thy faithfulness.”
I can tell you this much: Wherever you are...at some point there will be challenges—you’ll need something to hold and keep you in a frame of mind that won’t cause you to break. And that’s your faith. Your faith sustains you. It upholds you. It gets you through when you don’t have words to pray with and you’re in a place you can’t pray for yourself. Your faith will say, “This is in your hands, God. You fix it. I’m grateful to you. I’m thankful for the opportunity to work here. Show me what I need to build on.”
Who would have thought a little black girl with blue-collar parents would work in the White House? Or be the first African-American to win the Democratic primary for mayor in the 300-year history of Annapolis? Or the first woman licensed to preach in my childhood church?
Divine opportunity is always inconvenient. It’s never so easy. So when you have opportunities to get into a workplace position, it’s a given it won’t always be convenient, but it’s God. When He sets it up, you just be thankful.
Coming to Terms With Our Limitations
This article is part of a series at The High Calling on Coming to Terms with Our Limitations. Not a super-fun topic, I suppose, but certainly a reality that all of us must face sooner or later in our lives: the lack of living up to our dreams; the struggle to accept our not-so-glamorous circumstances; redefining of our perception of success. Are you dealing with this in your professional life? Do you know someone who is frustrated and could use a reassuring Christian perspective? Why not share some encouragement with those folks by sending these articles around via email or social media?