Resources From Our Recent Theme: What Is Holding Me Back in My Work?
Resources from The High Calling for ambitious Christians who want to serve others and glorify God through their work.
What's your story? What is holding you back in your work? What can you do to break free and move forward? The High Calling offers the following resources to help you reflect on what is holding you back in your work:
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You could be held back at work by being difficult to work with or not meeting deadlines. You could be held back due to making mistakes that were never forgotten or by not changing with the times (needing to learn new technology or adapt to the ways your company evolves).
Perhaps your own inner struggles are holding you back: sin, perfectionism, feeling inadequate for the job, fear (fear of failure, fear of success, fear of pain that comes from rejection and hard work), self-doubt, insecurity, ego, career sabotage (sabotaging yourself to avoid success, thinking you’re not worth it or other reasons).
You could be held back by outside circumstances such as other people (variety of reasons--sabotaging your career to further themselves, to hold you back out of spite, as a control move), a company buyout or economic decisions that eliminate your job.
What's your story? What is holding you back in your work? What can you do to break free and move forward?
Just when I started to build my own business back in the mid-1990s, I found out I was expecting our first child. Corporate clients didn’t seem keen on hiring a pregnant lady to write their brochures or newsletters—worried, perhaps, that I wouldn’t finish their project before the baby arrived. When our second child was born 18 months after our first, I found myself knee-deep in motherhood, too overwhelmed to set up appointments and interviews. Consequently, my freelance work dried up. I adored my babies but felt frustrated that family was holding me back in my work.
I shifted the bulk of my attention and energy to parenthood, resigning myself to give up on my business. Besides, family had become my work. I tried to embrace this new role, this new calling, yet I continued to cling to my dreams: I wanted to write and be the mom I envisioned. I felt somewhat comforted knowing I was not alone in my frustration when I discovered this in Madeleine L’Engle’s Crosswicks Journals:
During the long drag of years before our youngest child went to school, my love for my family and my need to write were in acute conflict. The problem was really that I put two things first. My husband and children came first. So did my writing. Bump. (A Circle of Quiet, p. 19)
That point of conflict is where I felt held back—family was slamming against my work. For someone else, the bumping, bruising conflict that holds him or her back can be almost anything, whether internal (like insecurity, fear, or ego) or external (like a micromanaging supervisor or jealous co-worker).
In “How Others' Fears and Insecurities Can Hold You Back in Your Work,” Glynn Young identifies external conflict stemming from colleagues and bosses who responded with insecurity or incredulity to his seemingly radical recommendations. He offers encouraging ideas for moving past these obstacles and winning people to your point of view.
As Jennifer Dukes Lee’s daughter struggles with a decision, Jennifer reveals personal, internal conflict stemming from her need for “approval ratings” from others and how that tendency held her back over the years. She reminds her daughter—and all of us—“How Your Need for Approval Can Hold You Back in Your Work."
Robert Amaya’s interview shows how stereotypes associated with race and culture as well as his early approach to faith could potentially hold him back—and how he avoided it by incorporating a touch of humor toward stereotypes and a strong stance on matters of faith and film.
Countless articles online address the question of what holds us back in our work. Internal issues seem to be common and provide tough challenges:
- Gladys Edmunds wrote in the December 25, 2013 issue of USA Today that fear of success can hold back a person or business.
- Lewis Howes writing for Entrepreneur presents five fears that can affect entrepreneurs.
- Fast Company’s 2012 article by Anjali Mullany suggests perfectionism holds back individuals from achieving their goals.
- Psychology Today author Lynn Taylor explores signs that we’re sabotaging our own careers in her May 26, 2013 piece.
- Another Psychology Today article by Dr. Susan Biali offers “8 Mistakes That Hold You Back from the Life You Want,” such as waiting for the perfect time, assuming you know how things are going to work out, and listening to the negative voice.
- Gabe Nies on Lifehack expands on this idea of negative thinking. We can begin to break free from this career-paralyzing tendency, he says, by letting go of such things as routine, anger, and the need to be right.
- An October 2013 Business Insider article touches on “8 Common Ego Traps That Could Be Holding You Back,” like ignoring feedback that you don’t like, only surrounding yourself with people like you, and not letting go of control.
Internal issues aren’t the only things holding us back—outside circumstances and external problems are just as challenging:
- In a February 2, 2013, article in Forbes, Jacquelyn Smith points out that we can be held back by coworkers sabotaging our career. When a coworker consistently withholds critical information, publicly shoots down your ideas, starts rumors, or refuses to offer assistance or advice, watch your back. “Something ugly is happening,” the article warns.
- Simple, practical things can hold us back in our work, as well, such as body language orthe way we lead phone meetings.
- And speaking of phones, Kevin Kruse in a Forbes article warns that cell phone use in meetings holds you back by showing colleagues and supervisors your lack of respect, lack of power, lack of attention and lack of listening.
Sometimes the thing that holds you back can be overcome or even funneled into something positive. For instance, until I began to truly see family as a calling—a high calling—I felt the strain. After I fully embraced this perceived hurdle, however, I relaxed, no longer fighting it, allowing parenthood to mature and humble me, transforming me into a person ready to support the work of others and identify with their struggles. I developed outstanding project management and administrative skills as the work of family richly informed my writing life and prepared me for the way I would step into others’ lives as an editor and writing coach.
Don’t despair if you’re feeling held back. You can move past it, you can change, or occasionally you might even find that the very thing holding you back in your work can be turned to an advantage. In time.
"Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
When one agrees to become an employee or start their own business they say Yes to many things. Yesto the invitation to be present at the workplace. Yes to the hours. Yes to the salary. Yes to work with the people employed there. Yes to being capable and willing to do the tasks of the employment. We may not know every detail when we agree to a place of employment, but we say Yes to the things we know.
But, what do you do when what you agreed to becomes more than you bargained for? What do you do when you feel trapped, held back, or even downright misled?
Moses agrees, however reluctantly, in Exodus 3-4 to lead God’s people, Israel, out of captivity in Egypt and into the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In doing so he said Yes to confronting pharaoh, going back to land he abandoned, being a representative of Yahweh, and the public voice of God through his brother Aaron.
Yet Moses often felt trapped and bogged down by his calling. He felt overwhelmed by the needs of the people. Moses asks God a few times why he makes him work with this people. This wilderness walking is not what he signed up for. Israel was a stiff-necked people who constantly put Moses in stressful positions and God in a place of merciful forgiveness.
So, Moses appeals to God in Exodus 33 to once again go before him and the people. Moses knows God has an intimate relationship with him when he acknowledges that God “knows his name.” So he asks God, “Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” Moses asks God to teach him God’s ways so that he can lead the people who are God's nation.
God promises to be present with both Moses and the nation, so that “In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”
When we feel overwhelmed, trapped, or held back in our workplaces, we should—like Moses—call out to God and, once again, remind ourselves that he knows us intimately. He knows your name. We should ask God to once again go before us so that he might be uniquely present in our lives and workplace.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What have you said "Yes" to that you now complain about at work? Do you complain about the hours, salary, coworkers, or tasks? How would inviting God to be present at work make a difference in your work environment and relationships? Do you feel "called" to this line of work?
Prayer: Lord God, just as you called Moses, so too you have called me to this work, at this time, in this place, with these people. It is hard work. It is stressful. It is sometimes more than I bargained for. I sometimes want to simply walk away. Help me do what you have called and equipped me to do, in the place you have called me to do it, with the people you have called me to labor with. If this is not the place for me, help me transition with grace, honoring the old and welcoming the new. If I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways and go before me. Amen.
But I’ve been called a radical. Conscientious objector. Crazy person. A radical in sheep’s clothing. Someone who will cause the organization’s IT systems to collapse and bring down Western civilization with it. And the worst phrase of all: not a team player.
How I Became Labeled a Workplace Radical
- I proposed we do an employee email newsletter, back in the days when most employees didn’t have email. I had to wait three months, and finally moved when I realized I didn’t need approval to use the email system.
- I said I needed help to do the company’s first corporate website, at a time when many thought the Web was a mere flash in the pan (like “eight-track tapes,” one expert told me as he refused to help). The idea got held up for four months, until I hired an outside contractor.
- I said let’s add outside news reports to the organization’s intranet, so that employees could see and understand what the outside world thought about us. (That idea literally shocked some people, as if employees had never heard of Google and couldn’t find the stories on their own.) The idea was held up for only a few weeks; the people objecting didn’t visit the intranet and missed what we were doing.
- I said social media was going to change everything and profoundly transform how organizations communicated at a time when the almighty (and traditional) press release reigned supreme. I was not a prophet. I was simply stating what I thought was obvious. A likeminded colleague quietly registered corporate accounts and a few months later we started using them.
Being a Workplace Radical Makes Others Fearful and Insecure
Stating the obvious frightens people. It can be threatening. And when people are threatened, they can hold you back in your work. In 1995, telling an IT expert you needed help with a website felt threatening, especially when the IT person had built a programming empire. I didn’t need hundreds of programmers to do a website, so my request made him fear that his job would be devalued. And blogging platforms—which first appeared three years later—made it worse. You don’t need any programmers to do a blog. This time I didn’t ask; I just did it.
As conservative as I might be, I’ve always loved playing at the edges of work, looking for new ways to do things, change things, improve things, and perhaps even transform things. If something’s not working, or not working efficiently, well, let’s fix it. Or if a crisis is looming, let’s deal with it. In that sense, I suppose I am something of a workplace radical. And that has held me back sometimes, as others responded in various ways, often delaying my projects.
Reactions to Radical Ideas
People generally have five kinds of reactions, all of which can hold me back in my work:
- They genuinely think you’re “not quite all there.” And I have to admit this is a possibility. Sometimes, it’s almost as if you speak a different language, and people are sincerely puzzled of confused. And they may not see a situation in the same way you do.
- You’re threatening a carefully constructed status quo. This is more common than I first realized. Every workplace is political. Workplaces are created by people, to get certain kinds of work done. We humans are a territorial lot, and we like boundaries. We don’t like people stepping all over them. And suggesting a significant change will upset any number of individualized status quos.
- People believe that what you’re proposing means more work for them, and they’re already stressed to max. But sometimes it’s less work. And, more often than not, it’s different work, and new things have to be learned.
- What you’re proposing simply can’t be imagined. It seems preposterous or ridiculous. “An email newsletter going to all employees will crash the system!” “I’m supposed to worry about something call tweeting? Are you serious?”
- Some people, usually only a few at first, will instinctively grasp what you’re saying. They get it. They understand it and see the obvious sense of it. And they embrace it.
Even with allies, you may have to take things slow to keep them on your side—that’s how you can eventually move ahead instead of being held back in your work. You take risks to demonstrate how something will work on a larger scale—sometimes big risks, and though your job may not be on the line, your future career certainly is. To move forward, you do a lot of explaining, over and over again, often to the same people. You develop patience and understanding. You look for ways to make your points.
Though I’ve often been held back by others’ fears and insecurities, I’ve learned to do what I can to win people to my ideas in a non-threatening, respectful, rational way. It’s not a formula. It’s trial and error, and learning by mistake. And it’s remembering that atheists—the people who are adamantly opposed to my ideas—may end up becoming the best evangelists. In time.
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.”
There is a big difference between a well and a spring. In a well, you have to go get the water and draw it out of the depths of the earth. A spring is different. Spring water comes from the earth just as well water, but it has found a place to surface. It is there for all to enjoy. Spring water has been filtered by the earth and permeable rocks before breaking forth from the earth, so it is very clean and drinkable.
Jesus is saying that the life he gives is not like a well. We do not have to go and get it. Instead the life Jesus gives is a “spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” It comes from Christ and resides in us and gushes up to eternal life.
We can easily be bogged down or feel held back in our work. Sometimes this comes from a place of life imbalance. We have gone to the well and found it dry. We are operating from positions of burnout, expectation, or responsibility. Instead, Dr. Kirk Byron Jones suggests we work from these three areas; awareness, silence, and playfulness.
Awareness of our surroundings and the people we work with. In work, this may also mean being aware of current trends by pursuing continuing education and having a good network. It means being sensitive to the needs of those we work with.
Silence: Howard Thurman once said, “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” Drawing away from everything from time to time is a good thing. Take time each day, if for only a few moments, and be silent before God.
Playfulness: God created the Sabbath for a reason. We all need rest. But we also need to play more. Play is one of those things we are created for. Jesus said we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven unless we come as little children. Who plays better than children? When you take Sabbath rest and enjoy playfulness more you will discover yourself starting your week with rest and fun instead of grinding away, “working for the weekend.”
Awareness, silence, and playfulness are important. If are able to implement these areas in your life and work with balance, you will discover life springing out of you. You will not constantly be going to a well to be renewed because whole life will be spring up from within you.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: How can you help ensure you are driven by a spring gushing up from inside you, rather than having to always go to the well? What is the difference between working out of a place of rest (Sabbath), versus working to the point of exhaustion and needing the weekend to recover? In order to live more balanced, to which area might you give more focus: awareness, silence, or playfulness?
Prayer: Lord Jesus, Son of God. I want a life of balance. Help me be more aware, find times of silence, and enjoy playfulness more. Do not let me be consumed by my job, but let me imprint my job with the individual uniqueness you created in me. Help me be what you created me to be. Amen.
You can find this and other High Calling Short Films over at our YouTube Channel.
Then again, she didn’t.
I watched my daughter from across the kitchen table, while our waffles grew cold. The sign-up sheet and a ballpoint pen sat between us, next to the syrup bottle.
“It would be fun—sooo much fun, Mom!” Her face lit up like a flashing LED display. “And my best friends will be on the team, and they’ll help me work on my serve.” With a swoop of the arm, she knocked over the syrup bottle.
“But…” That one word. But.
Her whole face went dark, like there was some sort of internal power outage in her small self.
I set the syrup bottle back up while she continued. “But…what if I mess up? What will everyone think? And what if they laugh at my serve?”
I rolled the pen toward her, while her questions hung in the air. I didn’t say a word. She had heard me say it all, a hundred times before.
I’ve told her, “Daughter, this one question might ring in your ears all of your days on earth: ‘What will people think of me?’ The longer you let that question rule you, the truer it will become in your life.”
I know what happens with the words we tell ourselves as a kid. Unchecked, they amplify with age.
Suddenly, you’re a 21-year-old journalism student, afraid to compete for a news-writing award because you fear that the judges will disapprove of your work.
You’re 25. And when you’re applying for a promotion as a columnist in the metro newsroom, you give the editors what you think they want, rather than writing from that sweet spot that is uniquely you. You don’t get the job; it goes to the woman who was never afraid to be herself.
You’re 30 years old, and you’re afraid to stand up to the office bully, because you “don’t want to rock the boat.”
If you aren’t careful, you become both master and slave: a master at reinventing yourself in the image of your boss, and a slave chained to your own approval rating. And you can see, on the playback, the places in your own history where your need for someone’s approval held you back in your work—and in your whole life. You see how it made you miserable at times, how it kept you awake at 3 a.m. with worry.
I’ve told my daughter how junior-high scoreboards can morph into corporate tally sheets. People grow up thinking they want to be a modern-day Solomon, that wise guy with a sky-high approval rating and an abundance of accomplishments. Had he lived in 2014, Solomon could have tabulated his worth by degrees and plaques and Twitter followers. Time magazine may well have slapped his Photoshopped face on a glossy cover, dubbing him “Person of the Year.”
But in the end, what did he count it as? “Meaningless, meaningless.”
I’m in my middle years now, sitting with my daughter at the breakfast table, and I’m silently thanking the good Lord that He’s been patient. I know where my true identity lies. It’s a long story, but approval ratings no longer have the hold over me that they once did.
But I can’t make this decision for my child. I can’t be her courage. She’s got to dig deep and decide for herself if she’s going to be held back by the need for approval, of if she’s going to move past it.
My daughter and I both stare at the ballpoint pen. And I say two words:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking.
So far, in our close reading of Ephesians 4:17, we have seen that full Christianity is a matter of doing, of walking in God's ways while avoiding the ways of the world. Today, our focus turns to thinking. Ephesians 4:17 shows that the Christian life is not just a matter of how we act. It has everything to do with how we think as well. This verse assumes that our thinking influences our actions. If we think wrongly, then we will act wrongly. By implication, if we think rightly, we will act rightly.
But, once again, the emphasis in verse 17 is upon the negative character of life apart from God (4:18). Gentiles are caught "in the futility of their thinking." The KJV speaks of "the vanity of their mind," whereas contemporary translations prefer "futility" (NIV, ESV, NRSV). The Greek word behind this translation is mataoites, which means "emptiness, futility, worthlessness, vanity, purposelessness." In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, this word shows up 39 times in Ecclesiastes, beginning with the second verse, " 'Meaningless! Meaningless!' says the Teacher. 'Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.' " (Eccles. 1:2, where mataoites is translated as "meaningless"). The Message captures the sense of mataoites in Ephesians 4:17 by speaking of "the empty-headed, mindless crowd."
What might be an example of futile thinking that Christians ought to reject? Consider, for example, the common notion that happiness is to be found in the accumulation of massive amounts of stuff. In our culture, we find it natural to believe that the more things we have, the happier we will be. This way of thinking is popularized in the media and reinforced by hundreds of ads that bombard our consciousness each day. But, even apart from biblical teaching, academic research shows that happiness is not correlated with more possessions after one has the basics of life. It's easy to see how the "more stuff = more happiness" way of thinking leads to behaviors that lead us far away from a life of wholeness. We exhaust ourselves trying to earn more money to buy more things, reducing time for precious activities, such as engaging with family and friends. We miss out on the joy of giving to others because we hold tightly to our possessions.
The "more stuff = more happiness" mindset is just one example of empty thinking that pervades our culture. You might want to take time to consider others kinds of futile thought that influence you. Ephesians 4:17 urges us to reject ways of thinking that lead us to empty living. Rather, by God's grace at work in our lives, we will learn to think in new ways, ways that guide us to live fully and meaningfully as God's people.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Where do you see "futile thinking" in our world today? How has empty "futile" thinking held you back in your work? How has the "more stuff = more happiness" mentality held you back in your work? How have you been influenced to think in this way? What helps you to think in the ways of God?
PRAYER: Gracious God, I expect I am not even aware of many of the ways I engage in futile thinking. It feels normal to think in the ways of the world. Yet, I recognize that if I'm going to experience the new life in Christ, I need to put aside such patterns of thought and to learn to think as you do. Help me, Lord, to reject empty thought and to adopt your ways of thinking. Shape my mind, my values, my assumptions by your truth. Amen.
In 2011, in a little category buster of a film called Courageous, actor Robert Amaya played Javier, an out-of-work Mexican laborer with a young family. Javier at last lands a factory job and settles into good work . . . until his bosses take him aside to offer a raise and a promotion. Small side note, they mention to him that he’ll need to fudge a few reports. Despairing of what he stands to lose, he gets no sleep, and in the meeting the next morning, he tells his bosses if he cheats he can’t face God. And around the world, Latino audiences exhale. For once the best man on the screen looks like them. Courageous would score $34.5 million at the box office, sell a staggering number of DVDs, and spawn a movement (in the lead storyline, Javier is one of four men signing a vow together to be “courageous” fathers).
Javier has put Amaya, who is not Mexican but Cuban/El Salvadoran, on the map and sent him flying across it as a spokesperson. In May this year, his marquee factor takes a great leap forward as he joins Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin and Trace Adkins in Moms' Night Out, a family comedy about the harried lives of three young moms.
Off screen, and off the road, Robert shares a real estate business with his father and takes the home shift with their daughter while his wife, a singer, performs. He’s a 21st century American: multiple cultures, multiple roles and, in his case, with a maturing perspective on what holds the pieces together.
The High Calling (THC): Robert, start by telling us a little about your Cuban background.
Robert Amaya (RA): Well, I’m not just Cuban, really; I’m a Latino hybrid. My father is actually from El Salvador, and my mother from Cuba. She came to the US when she was 16; my dad was three years older. They both ended up in California, and my mother was studying and my dad was out working, doing everything to survive in the new country. He would sometimes take a bus, and he saw my mom at a bus stop, and she caught his eye, and they fell in love.
[My sister and I] grew up really, really family oriented. Early after he moved here, my dad’s father, my grandfather back in El Salvador, who I never met, was caught in the crossfire by radicals, in a case of mistaken identity. And early on it pushed my dad to say, “I want to make sure I’m around and I teach my children how important family is and keeping the family unit together.” On my other side, Cubans are exceptionally tight, and the Cuban culture is more dominant. Even my dad will joke and say he’s been Cubanized over the years.
THC: But California has few Cubans.
RA: California is predominantly Central American, the Mexican culture in general, not a lot of Cubans per se. When I was 11, my mother had enough of the earthquakes, and we moved to Miami and got hit by Hurricane Andrew. Miami is where I started growing up. Even then, it’s such a melting pot. You find, especially today, such an influence of so many Latin cultures coming together. You’ll still have your Calle Ocho [Little Havana]; it’s a hybrid of so many, and it’s beautiful.
THC: Latino? Hispanic? Which do you consider yourself, and what do you think of those terms?
RA: When I grew up, you were white, black, Hispanic or “other.” My parents were never offended by generalities like that. I came to understand some people have issues around it. I consider myself a Latino; that’s the better word. In many ways I represent a group of people in everything I do and the way I feel, my upbringing. I feel something beyond Cuban per se. I’m a Latino.
THC: Your heritage is a mix. Your work is a mix. And you’re a Christian mixing several worlds at once. Do you ever hit pause and say, “Who am I?” Can you even say what is the core of your identity? Is that a fair question?
RA: It’s quite humorous. About two years ago—this is after Courageous had come out, about 2012—I was on a plane. I had already spent a year traveling and speaking because of Courageous, in churches, businesses, universities. I was on a return flight when a young lady asked me what I do. Until then I’d said, “I’m a realtor” (I hold a license) or “I’m just an actor.” But I’d never stopped and thought about it.
She asked why I wasn’t responding. I realized I had transitioned from being just a businessperson or just an actor to a representative of a greater message. I realized I’d become a minister in the full biblical sense. We’re all called to ministry. In every line of work we do all things unto Christ, as if we were working for the Lord. In business or acting or delivering the gospel, I found my identity was rooted in the fact that that I’m a minster in all these areas of my life—a minster of God.
Working In The Movie Industry
THC: You mention Courageous, and you’ve been in a couple of well-received movies—along with October Baby. May 9, you're in a big comedy with Patricia Heaton, Sean Astin, and Trace Adkins: Moms' Night Out. These aren’t all “Christian” films, but they share something.
RA: One of the things my career has demanded from me is to start to navigate what direction I want to go. Taking into account my identity, I wanted to do projects on screen that I can take my daughter to, and my family. Just last year, in 2013, on Mother’s Day, my wife was off work and I had my daughter and mom and in-laws. I thought, “Let’s go see a movie,” and there was nothing I could take them to. Everything was PG -13 or higher because of language or other issues. It invigorates me to be part of film projects that bring that feeling back of families enjoying themselves and not constantly having to read into the ratings. You think, “That actor is in it, and I want to see it.” If I carry that reputation, it would be a service to everyone, I think: my fans and people looking for that kind of film.
Moms’ Night Out is a multi-cultural cast in a beautiful way. You get to see how cultures come together and deal with the same thing. We all still have to change diapers, deal with rowdy kids—it’s another demonstration of how, beyond culture, we are people that love our families.
THC: What do you think you may know that the “average” American misses?
RA: That’s a great question. As I think about how all these different titles I carry overlap each other, as I meet more and more people, and my work takes me across the country and the globe, what’s surprising is that across all cultures we all fundamentally want the same things. We want to be loved. We want to have family we can love. We want to feel secure. We want to feel capable. [The emphasis] varies from person to person, but all those things, I’ve realized, come together in Christianity, in God, in Jesus.
Without sounding like a preacher, I’ve realized if I work, I represent God In everything I do. When I sell a house, I know someone wants to feel cared for, safe, able to provide. I want to find someone a place they can flourish, a good business decision that serves where they are in life.
The movies? Same thing. Every film has a message. People see Courageous and still to this day I’m inundated by men who have said, “That movie has inspired me to make these changes. My family’s happier. I’m happier. I feel empowered to love and have been given direction and a roadmap to love my family.”
The Impact of Work on Faith
THC: So you hear feedback about what happens to other people’s faith. What about yours? How has your work both tested your faith and maybe deepened it?
RA: Courageous was my first movie, and obviously a big one. It did well in theaters, even greater in DVD; it plays throughout the world. That machine, so to speak, began to go to work and it got me a lot of attention. I played a humorous and beloved character. Then a lot of offers came in. Alex Kendrick told me: “You’ve got to pray and be careful what you agree to do and don’t, what roles you take on. The world will tempt you with roles and money, and you have to be true to who you are and how God made you.”
Back then it was easy to say, “Absolutely.” Then you see offers on paper to do certain things or be a part of a film with a message that goes completely contrary to what you believe. There’s a point where you have to weigh that. It’s not that I’m opposed, as an actor, to both secular and Christian. I’ve done a lot of stage work; it’s not that every show has to be Christian, but worldview is a big deal.
THC: What shapes your worldview?
RA: My father was a pastor for some years, and I grew up in a Christian home. Every morning I saw my dad praying before we start the day. I used to sing; I played drums and eventually lead worship. I even evangelized and helped bring people to Christ. All this to say that I became a professional Christian; I did all this work for God but I honestly failed to know him.
So I’m one of those people Jesus talks about in Matthew: “I did this in your name but depart from me I never knew you.” He’d say, “I never knew you. Who are you?” Right before Courageous, in January 2010, I really came to know my Creator. It’s the first time the gospel was brought to life in me, and I had a clear understanding and I’d started to read David Platt’s Radical. It blew me away, what Christians were doing across the globe. When I started to get involved and read Operation World, where we could see what’s going across the globe in Christian persecution, I thought I could call myself a Christian because I showed up at church. Yet people out there secretly hold services and their lives are in threat just to honor their Savior, which they can’t keep quiet about. That opened my eyes.
THC: Final question: how do you respond to stereotypes—cultural, Christian, anything?
RA: An element of racism comes from not knowing or not being exposed, and the way I deal with it is to make fun of it. For example, sometimes I say to some of the directors I work with, if they’re talking about projects, “If you need a gardener or lawn mower expert, I’m around,” and they laugh at the stereotype. Anger serves no purpose.
Courageous is still a huge deal in the Latin culture. I still hear about it, how happy they were I wasn’t a drug dealer or a bad guy in the movie. My character was the most upstanding person in the entire film, it could be argued—a different perspective on the Latino. The more we expose the error of stereotypes by laughing and demonstrating how inaccurate it is, we’ll see greater changes yet.
It’s a beautiful thing to expose people to how rich this side of another culture is.
Editor's Note: The following article by Christin Ditchfield was chosen as the "Best Of" the Community voices on the topic of What Holds You Back in Your Work. We pray it encourages you.
I sat staring at my laptop, paralyzed by fear.
For more than twenty years, I had been speaking at conferences and retreats, and many times the theme had been “fear”—facing our fear, finding God in the midst of our fear, choosing faith instead of fear. It had been such a huge part of my own story, my own spiritual journey. I was thrilled when a publisher finally asked me to write about it.
And then, with a deadline looming, I found myself coming up with all kinds of creative ways to avoid getting to work on it. I’d never enjoyed doing laundry or dishes more.
Eventually I realized: I was afraid to write the book. (Talk about ironic!)
I was afraid I might not do the topic justice. I was afraid I might focus too much on one aspect of fear and not enough on another. I might accidentally leave something really important out. I was afraid (okay, I knew) that it’s not possible to address from every angle every aspect of fear that every reader faces in one book—and I didn’t want anyone to walk away without finding the help they needed.
I knew I needed to share more of my own story in this book than in any I’d ever written—and that scared me, too. I wanted readers to know that I know what it feels like to face fear—I’ve really lived all of this. But it was hard to know what to share and how much. I was afraid I might not get it right. I wanted to be real and relatable. What if I just sounded paranoid and pathetic?
I’ve had the privilege of writing a number of books now. It’s always a blessing whenever I hear that God has used something I’ve written to touch someone’s heart or life. At the same time, I’ve learned there will always be people who don’t like what I’ve written, people who twist things and take them out of context, people who misjudge or misunderstand me. Ultimately I know I write for an audience of One. God sees my heart. He knows the truth. That’s what matters.
But honestly, there are days when I’ve been afraid of the ugly words I might find in my inbox or in an online review. Days when I have allowed myself to get tied up in knots trying to anticipate every possible criticism—and keep it from coming by writing every sentence in such a way that no one could possibly find fault. Hah!
Days when the fear was so crippling I couldn’t write at all.
But as the deadline drew closer, I had to do something. A lot of somethings, actually.
I had to face my fears – each one of them – and overcome them.
I pulled back the chair from my desk, and sat down at the computer screen. I remembered the verses from Hebrews, where God promised: “I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support… I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down or relax My hold on you.” I knew I had to put into practice all the things God had been teaching me through the years, through His Word, and through the wise counsel and example of Christian friends and mentors.
The same things I wanted to share with my readers.
I had to remember that when it comes to facing fear, no matter what our feelings tell us, no matter what our circumstances tell us, no matter what the enemy tells us, we are not alone. We are never alone.
Three months and 40,000 words later, I sat down again—this time to send a completed manuscript to my editor.
Did I hear her right?
With the phone at my ear, my pulse quickened as she voiced her request: "Would you lead an ensemble at the Women’s Tea?"
I think I began to drool. Of all things music, ensemble singing is my favorite. I listened to the details she gave me, but my mind had already started making arrangements—whom to ask, which websites to search for sheet music, when and where and how often to rehearse. It was going to be beautiful.
But even as I mentally planned, I knew: God wanted me to say no.
"I’ll get back to you," I answered. For the next 36 hours I resisted God, rationalizing:
It’s only one night—not a regular commitment.
I can fit in rehearsals after home school.
We can rehearse at my house so I wouldn’t have to drive.
This is a golden opportunity! How could I not say yes?
At another time, our church was seeking a new music director. The previous year, I had planned several worship services while the regular guy was busy or on vacation, so I already knew our church's song selections, easily navigated around the church office, and even knew precisely which photocopier buttons to push. I can photocopy music scores with great deftness and agility, let me tell you. It was a perfect fit, a great opportunity. Golden.
Those weren't the only times I'd been tempted to say "yes" when God said "no." I was asked to write a weekly column for one of my favorite websites, on a topic I was already passionate about. Saying yes would require reordering my priorities, but I was willing to do that. After all, this was beyond golden. It was a platinum opportunity.
Several years ago a mentor told me, "Potential does not equal calling."
"It doesn't?" I replied, puzzled. Because if I'm not supposed to take on a new task, why did God give me the ability? Why all these golden opportunities if I'm just supposed to say no?
She then gave Jesus as an example, as she did in her book Between Walden and the Whirlwind:When people tried to take Jesus by force and make him king, he dodged them. He could have healed everyone, but, she wrote:
"Jesus did not heal everyone. He did not meet the needs of all the poor, or cast out all demons. I cannot meet every need I'm aware of. I cannot exploit every opportunity. . . . The goal of much that is written about life management is to enable us to do more in less time. But is this necessarily a desirable goal? Perhaps we need to get less done, but the right things."
Apparently, just because I can do something doesn't mean I should. When I try to operate at maximum capacity, I dilute my effectiveness, like sweet strawberry jam that you can't taste because it's spread too thin.
Ironically, it's not any reins but the lack of reins that holds me back in the work God calls me to. Calling me "Renaissance woman" wouldn't be a compliment but a finger pointing at my weakness. I need guided, controlled limits to keep me from doing everything, so I can be free to do my best work in the right places.
Today, in my primary role of home educator, I'll grade an Algebra 2 problem set and read about an 18th-century Chinese emperor. After school, I might write a chapter of my top-priority writing project. Yesterday I declined coordinating a new church ministry and resisted the temptation to write a song for someone. It felt good to get less done.
An email arrived recently from a professional acquaintance. He was forwarding a job listing from his workplace.
“Interested?” he wondered.
The job sounded great and also fit the direction I wanted for my journalism career. As soon as those happy thoughts crossed my mind, though, they were chased off by another thought: I’d have to reenter the fray.
I dreaded reentering a phase where my husband and I both worked full-time jobs away from home. This arrangement had worked fine until we had our first child. After those first bleary-eyed but joyful weeks of maternity leave, I returned to my job a little reluctantly but also somewhat happy to be back.
Then, however, we entered a world where any sign of sickness from our much-adored son sent my husband and I into a predictable argument over who had the more critical meeting at work that day, or whose project was the most behind. My husband had a higher paying job, and he felt we should make his career the first priority. But I had taken the maximum allowed period for maternity leave and felt I “owed” my company perfect attendance for a few months.
It made me sad and angry that we had these arguments. How would our son feel if he were old enough to understand?
Within nine months, I shifted to part-time with the newspaper where I worked. Within 2 1/2 years, I had decided—as the birth of our second child neared—to give up on working away from home entirely.
It was a decision I made for two reasons: First, I wanted to end those sick-day debates. Secondly, it would give me the chance to be with my kids while trying to do my own journalism work. I was fortunate that my husband made enough money to allow me to make this choice.
And I loved it. Well, most days anyway.
Fast forward through hundreds of sweet days, tiring days, giggling days, frustrating days and try-to-write-during-naps days. Now, here I am with our third child having just headed off to kindergarten a few months ago.
I had known that I would somewhat miss having a little one tagging along with me all day, but I also looked forward to focusing more on my career. But then I listened, nodding in agreement, when a stay-at-home mom friend suggested giving myself a year before committing to anything new. After all, my book, documentary and the app I had created all could use some of the attention that I’d lavished on my children. I decided to take her advice, and I kindly passed when professional contacts asked if I might want to apply for some job or other.
I see now that I was avoiding a change for other reasons: I didn’t want to step out of my comfort zone.
But then that job listing was placed under my nose—an appealing six-month gig at 30 hours a week. Perfect.
I imagined, though, the five of us being thrust back into those days where my husband and I had to negotiate over who would meet our kids’ needs when something came up during that 9-to-5 window.
It was only when I remembered how hesitant I was to leave my old job behind years earlier that I became more open to the possibilities for this job. I remembered how it had been hard to walk away from a job I’d loved for the family I loved even more. That internal struggle was just another time when I’d not wanted to leave my comfort zone. But I had taken the step. In doing so, I’d gained those wonderful years with my two sons and daughter as my constant companions throughout the day.
I would spend four days thinking it over but finally responded to the email saying I’d send my resume to the right person.
I started a month later at my new job.
And, so far, it looks like this step outside my comfort zone just might be as fun as my last one, though, hopefully, with a little less crying and whining involved.
We all love the story of a treasure that hides in plain view until being recognized for what it is. In fact, PBS has mined our love for this narrative to create seasons of Antiques Roadshow. The hour-long episodes are based on the premise that humble Farmer Joe, who brought in what he thought was a painting of his step-aunt’s dog, is actually the owner of a million-dollar, fine-art rendering by Matisse--created in the era known as his “furry years.”
However, I tend to find much less exquisite realities in places I was never looking.
It is often within the context of my job that what I say I believe stumbles upon what I do. This may, at first, seem obvious. We all know that a competitive work place can be prone to make us show our teeth a bit. It becomes a bit more interesting when noted that I work within contexts that most would not see in any way competitive. And some of the biggest foes I have battled are the ones within myself.
My job has run the gamut from pastor, writer, consultant and, currently, executive director. As you can infer from the list, I have gravitated away from roles that are typified by language reserved for battle. I even forewent lawyer jobs after law school.
In a more naïve time, I must have thought that by avoiding what I considered stressful jobs, I could avoid stress. This has not been the case.
Because no matter the position, tension has come. My job constantly reminds me that I am not who I want to be, nor who I formulate myself to be when all is right and working splendidly. I guess all worthy endeavors I have been called to share this unfortunate trait.
Our work environment is where dreams of self go to die. I am exposed in my weakness, though I do not go down without a fight to act otherwise.
Having founded an organization that brings awareness and action to the plight of individuals with disability globally, you may think that I would have a grasp on the worth of individuals. However, I am besieged with daily reminders within my job that I must endow humanity and worth to all whom I encounter at work, not just the ones I work on behalf of.
I tend to forego the humanity of some in order to fight for recognition of the humanity of others. It is work alone that has forced me to confront the shallow paradox I am attempting to live. And though I still harbor grand hopes of million-dollar dog paintings, for this find, I am most thankful.
For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. (Romans 7:19)
EDITOR’S NOTE: Some of the names, people and relationships in this story have been changed in order to protect people's identities. We share this story with High Calling readers because so many of us find ourselves in the same place as "Paul."
A new position opened recently, and my husband was uber qualified to fill it.
But it was out of state and involved a lot of travel. I wearied of weighing all the options of what life could look like should he apply and be accepted. Would I move with him? Or would I stay here?
I fretted over how this would affect our extended family, how it would affect our marriage. But in the end, I didn’t want to be the one to hold him back. I simply had to let it all go, support his decision to apply, and wait for the next step.
You know, let God have it.
We talked about that the other morning over oatmeal, about the mixture of disappointment and relief because a decision had been made. Our thoughts trailed here and there like toast crumbs across the counter, and ended in a conversation about our friend Paul.
Paul didn’t believe he had the qualifications to apply for a promotion, and so he let an application deadline slide.
A new guy, Roger, got the job, becoming Paul's boss. But Roger definitely wasn’t qualified. He lacked several skills, including how to manage a budget and how to deal with people. He did, however, excel at storytelling and scapegoating.
Roger told tales about his past educational experience and extracurricular activities that proved to be untrue. And when things went awry at the office, he was adept at shifting the blame.
If Roger was responsible for an incomplete job, he told his own boss he’d assigned it to someone else, but they’d failed. He magnified minute mistakes.
Paul had run in to one of Roger’s past co-workers who told him Roger never stayed longer than a year or two in any one place. “Watch out,” he’d said. “Heads will start to roll, and then Roger will be gone.”
First Roger fired Karen. Then Joe quit.
Paul was good at his job, so it never occurred to him he’d lose it. In fact, he told us he’d decided he was more qualified for Roger’s job than Roger, and he planned to apply for that position as soon as it opened up again.
But late one Friday afternoon, Roger called Paul into his office.
“This is your last day,” Roger said. “You’re done here."
Just. Like. That.
Someone from Human Resources walked Paul out the back door. He couldn’t even say goodbye or retrieve his things.
Paul’s attorney had told him there wasn’t much he could do except try to negotiate a larger severance package—which he did. He also told him he believed Paul would end up with a better job in the end. He’d seen it happen time and again. We all hoped he was right.
And, as it turned out, Paul was not unemployed for long.
He found work with a major, well-respected company and now holds a higher position that fits him like a well-tailored silk suit. It utilizes all his experience, expertise and gifts. He loves the company, and the company loves him.
I picked up our bowls. As I rinsed them under the faucet, I glanced out the window at the shed that used to house our chickens, and before that, my father-in-law’s peafowl. I realized that this would likely be my view for some time to come, because my husband didn't change jobs after all.
“You know,” I said, “if Paul had applied for that job, there’s no guarantee he would have gotten it anyway, and if he hadn’t gotten fired, he wouldn’t be where he is now.”
I scooped the toast crumbs strewn across the scratched counter into my hand. I remembered how everything fell into place when we returned to Michigan from out of state and were able to buy back the family home, and how I’d announced I’d be buried under the porch.
“And if you hadn’t found out that job didn’t really pay enough to justify a change, I wonder where we’d be now.” I smiled, then half-joked: “Maybe I could have had a new kitchen.”
For reflection: What has held you back in your work that ultimately pushed you forward? Have you ever felt responsible for holding someone else back?
A puppy once said to an older dog: "After some study, I have mastered philosophy. I have learned that happiness for a dog is in his tail. Therefore I chase my tail. And when I catch it, I shall have happiness!"
Upon hearing the puppy, the older dog said, "I too find happiness in my tail. I've noticed, however, that as I chase my tail, it runs from me. But when I go about my business, my tail follows me."
This is Howard Butt, Jr., of Laity Lodge. Don't we all know that puppy's logic? We chase happiness only to find ourselves going in circles. But in following a purpose, duty, or responsibility beyond ourselves, we turn and see that happiness follows us—in the high calling of our daily work.
Howard Butt, Jr., is president of the H. E. Butt Foundation, founder of The High Calling and Laity Lodge programs, which include Laity Lodge Retreat Center, Laity Lodge Youth Camp, Laity Lodge Family Camp, and Laity Lodge Leadership Initiative. Mr. Butt also serves as vice chairman of the H. E. Butt Grocery Company, one of the nation's largest independent supermarket chains.
Christin Ditchfield is an author and conference speaker and host of the internationally syndicated radio program, Take It To Heart! Her latest book is What Women Should Know About Facing Fear (Leafwood, 2013). Christin blogs at www.WhatWomenShouldKnow.org.
Jennifer Dukes Lee is a community editor at The High Calling. She writes at JenniferDukesLee.com and is author of the forthcoming book Love Idol: Letting Go of Your Need for Approval—and Seeing Yourself through God's Eyes (Tyndale Momentum 2014).
Nancy Lovell is a writer and principal in Lovell-Fairchild Communications.
Colleen Bradford Krantz is an author, documentary filmmaker and creator of the News Tutor app. She recently accepted a position as a producer for Iowa Public Television’s Market to Market in the Classroom. Learn more at www.ColleenBradfordKrantz.com.
Ann Kroeker is a content editor for The High Calling, freelance writing coach, and author of Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families. She and her husband along with their four kids are committed to living life at a sustainable pace. Connect with Ann at annkroeker.com, on Twitter @annkroeker, or on Facebook.
Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister of American Baptist Churches of Nebraska. He speaks, writes, leads training events, preaches, and participates in conversations regarding the missional church and church health with American Baptist Churches. Read more from Greg at Shaped By The Story.
Matthew Lyle Mooney is the author of A Story Unfinished which chronicles the life of his son, Eliot. He and his wife, Ginny, founded 99 Balloons, a non-profit organization that engages individuals with disability locally and globally. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he busies himself raising Eliot’s siblings—Hazel, Anders and Lena. You can find his blog at theatypicallife.com.
Mark Roberts is the Executive Director of Digital Media and the Theological and Cultural Steward for Foundations for Laity Renewal. He is the author of eight books, including No Holds Barred: Wrestling with God in Prayer. He lives in Boerne, Texas, with his wife, Linda. Their children spend most of the year away at college on the East Coast.
Monica Sharman is a home educator, freelance editor, and Assistant Editor at Tweetspeak Poetry. She shares what inspires her via twitter @monicasharman and writes children's fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.
J. B. Wood is Sr. Vice President for the Clemens Food Group. He has published and edited many articles for The High Calling over the years.
Glynn Young leads the social media team for a Fortune 500 company in the Midwest and is social media editor for The High Calling. The author of two novels, he’s also recently published the non-fiction book Poetry at Work. You can read more of Glynn at Faith, Fiction, and Friends.