Workplace Gifts and Ice Cream Flavors

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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When I first began to practice the life of prayer in a very intentional way, I was working in a major advertising agency in New York City. You probably wouldn't have thought about it as a spiritual place, but it took up a large segment of my life. And a very creative life it was too. I loved my job in spite of the anxieties I often felt. I had to meet deadlines, satisfy expectations, and convince other people to choose the best of several campaigns I was proposing.

At that time, I was eager for a closer relationship to God. I did small things—and large things—to come closer to the life of grace. I prayed. I looked for times of solitude and silence. I went to church often. Sometimes I made retreats. Daily I read favorite Bible passages, especially from the Psalms and the Gospels.

At one point, I came across the notion of spiritual gifts. Some are described in Galatians 5:22: "the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Later in the same passage I read, "let us be guided by the Spirit." Earlier in the Scriptures, in Isaiah 11, I found a description of the spirit of the Lord: "the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord." I was struck by these two lists, which seemed like descriptions of the transformed person. I wrote them down on a three-by-five card and kept it with me as a reminder. These were the qualities I wanted to have. My husband referred to them as my Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors.

I loved his light remark. But I understand that these qualities can't be ordered by the scoop. They really are gifts. We don't acquire them. They come to us by grace.

Even so, I think we can sometimes spot these gifts in the workplace. Possibly it isn't so easy to see them in ourselves, as in the fellow workers or managers that we admire. One of the most inspiring figures in my own work-life was my mother, Helen Russell Dietrich. She founded and ran three different companies—relatively small ones—and she always envisioned her work in terms of the benefit to others and not to herself. One of the things I noticed about her was her humanity in dealing with members of her staff. When an older woman applied for a job, my mother would sometimes create a job that suited her particular talents. And this was the way she behaved with staffing over time. She noticed another person's talents and tried to make space for them. I had a chance to observe her warm personal style at close range. I worked as a consultant to her firms through much of my adult life, and directly under her, as Executive Vice President, for two years. I knew many of her coworkers and members of her staff. I knew how much they admired her and how she influenced them in positive ways.

My mother rarely talked about her faith. She would probably never have made a Baskin-Robbins list of spiritual gifts. Yet the warmth of her personality told me something about how she relied on God for everything. She often turned to the Bible in difficult moments or when hard decisions had to be made. I don't think she saw her spiritual gifts as a result of her faithfulness. No. It was the other way around. God gave her generous scoops of his grace. And she expressed her thanks whenever she opened the Bible to a passage she loved.