by Michaela O’Donnell
Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership
© Copyright 2021 De Pree Center. All rights reserved.
Table of Contents
Part 1: Name What You’re Wrestling With (Genesis 32:24-25)
Part 2: Go Ahead and Feel all the Feels (Psalm 46:1-2)
Part 3: Practice Empathy Along the Way (Luke 10:33)
Part 4: Ask “What If?” (Luke 5:18-19)
Part 5: Take Next Doable Risks (Luke 10:35)
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Scripture—Genesis 32:24-25 (NRSV)
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
Seasons of wrestling in our work and life are often opportunities to make meaning and be transformed by God. What are you wresting with in this season?
This is part one of a five-part devotional series adapted from my new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World.
I have sat with hundreds of people over the past few years that have something in common: they are in a season of wrestling with their work. Some are explicitly in transition while others are just feeling all the effects of change around them. As a whole, we’re dealing with a lot. We’re working through all that we notice that’s broken, and all that we hope for going forward. I’m thinking of the new mom wrestling with the work of motherhood, and the executive thinking about a professional change, and about the small business owner wrestling with the gap between what their business looks like and what they wished it looked like.
I’ve come to believe that wrestling is core to what it means to be human. And, that wrestling is often the breeding ground for God’s transformation. And for that, we need to recognize how holy the process of wrestling might be.
When I think of wrestling, I can’t help but think of Jacob. Jacob has always felt to me like such a beautifully complex person. On the one hand, God calls him to a life of leadership before he’s even born. On the other hand, Jacob lives a life of conflict, especially with his brother. In a way, Jacob’s entire story seems to be marked by wrestling, a theme that comes into focus when he literally wrestles a stranger in the middle of the night (Genesis 32). There are many theories on who that stranger might be.
Just before daylight, Jacob seems to have the upper hand on the stranger and literally demands a blessing in order to let his sparring partner free (again, Jacob is a beautifully complicated human being). But the stranger does not bless him—at least not in the way Jacob might have been hoping for. Instead, the stranger gives Jacob a new name. No longer will he be called Jacob, which means “trickster.” His new name is Israel, which means “God rules or preserves.” God’s presence in the holy wrestling transforms Jacob’s identity and quite literally how he walks through the world. His assurance on the way forward is that God is with him, naming him and calling him into the future.
We too can expect that holy wrestling might transform us. It might change how we think about our work or our leadership, or even how we understand God. What we learn in seasons of wrestling will likely change how we “walk” through the world as leaders and workers and friends. For in wrestling, just like with Jacob, God names us and calls us and promises to be with us on the road forward. We are changed by God’s with-ness.
I wonder what you’re wrestling with, whether it is at work or at home, or somewhere else. We’re usually always wrestling with something. Maybe you’re having a hard time with a colleague or trying to encourage a spouse in their own work. Maybe you’re wrestling with how to start something new just as other folks are thinking about retiring, or worried about your kids. Whatever it is, what if you saw it as an opportunity to focus on how God might be forming you, and transforming you for the way forward?
When in your life have you felt like you were in a season of wrestling?
How did that season transform you?
Large or small—what are you wrestling with in this season of your life and work?
Ask someone you respect and/or love about what seasons of wrestling have looked like for them and how they have been transformed by them. Share with them about your own journey.
Oh God, thank you that you help us to know that wrestling can indeed be a holy act of worship. Meet me in my own wrestling, helping me to know what it is I need to let go of and how I might emerge from this season more dependent on your direction and guidance. Amen.
Scripture—Psalm 46:1-2 (NRSV)
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.
We often feel deeply about our work. Whether you’re excited or exhausted by this current season of work, God promises to be with you, caring for you and directing you in this time.
This is part two of a series that is adapted from my new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World. Part one invited you to name what you’re wrestling with in your work.
Today’s devotion is all about recognizing and making space to feel whatever feelings you’ve got about your work. I don’t know about you, but I’ve observed that a lot of us have fairly complicated and pronounced feelings about work. We love what we do. We hate what we do. We’re tired. We’re hopeful. We’re burnt out. We’re curious. Consider your own feelings about work in this season.
I’ll also say that our collective relationship with work is well, rather complicated. Societal messages lead us to believe that work will be the place where we make sense of ourselves—the central vehicle that helps us know about our giftings, our passions, and our potential. So, if work isn’t going well, or we don’t have paid work, we wonder about who we are. Turns out, that’s a lot of pressure to put on work and it isn’t exactly biblical. Plus, it negates all the other contexts and relationships through which God is actively forming us for the work of God in the world.
Today, we are living through a unique season of feelings about work—a season in which many people are thinking about or are actively quitting their jobs. Experts are calling this season The Great Resignation. Even if you’re not thinking about quitting, the overall shifts can feel pretty turbulent. The image that comes to mind is that of an earthquake. An earthquake comes, often unexpected, and we don’t quite know when it will end or what kind of damage will occur.
The good news is that God is very clear about where God is when things feel unstable. The psalmist says that God is a very present help in times of trouble. In this changing world of work, and especially in seasons of individual wrestling, God promises to be near to you. To hold you and love you. In this, we are sustained by the with-ness of God. And, because God promises to be near to us, fear doesn’t have to consume us. We can bring our fear, or any other big feelings we might have about work or about change, straight to God.
Pursuing meaning in a changing world of work requires that we get really honest about our own feelings. And the safest, surest place to get honest about our feelings is with God, who draws near to us in times of need. Yes, there are times when the ground shifts beneath us. And, yes, there are times when our experiences don’t match our expectations. There are times when we flat out fail and all we feel is the tension between where we are now and where we want to be. But, in it all, making space for the big feelings we naturally have is central to the path forward with God.
What are three feeling words that describe how are you feeling about your work in this season?
Think about a time in your work when you were feeling really differently than you are right now—why do you think that time felt so different?
Identify three people you know who deal with feelings well. Try and have a conversation with one of them this week, sharing your own feelings about work and asking them questions about their own season of life and/or leadership.
God, thank you that you indeed show up in times of trouble, and when I’ve got a lot of big feelings. It is amazing that you, the God of all Creation, promise to be with me in my feelings about work and the rest of life. Thank you. Amen.
Scripture—Luke 10:33 (MSG)
A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him.
Much of the meaningful work we desire to do can be traced back to empathy. How might God be inviting you to practice empathy along the way in this season of work?
This is part three of a five-part devotional series adapted from my new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World. The first two devotions were about naming what you’re wrestling with in this season of work and making space to feel whatever feelings come with this season—both part of making meaning in our changing world. Today’s devotion is about letting whatever is going on inside of you, be a catalyst that helps you empathize with others.
I am convinced that our very best and most meaningful work can almost always be traced back to empathy. This is certainly true when it comes to product development and breakthrough inventions. But it’s also true in our more ordinary, daily work as humans: the way we give feedback to one another, how we treat those on our delivery routes, the technical systems we build together.
What we work on, how we work on, and how we pay attention to each other in our work—they all shape us. In other words, our doing shapes our being. And then our being shapes our doing.
In our age of change and noise, this kind of daily empathy might feel a bit counterintuitive. When the narrative that we are in our own solo ship casts us as the heroes (or potentially failures) in our individual pursuits of success, we can end up making decisions about how to spend our time on a rubric rooted in self-centeredness, preoccupation, and overstimulation.
Empathy often interrupts. That’s what happens in this story of the Good Samaritan. A man is lying hurt on the side of the road. Others are passing him by. But the Samaritan—who was presumably en route from some sort of point a to point b—lets the needs of this stranger interrupt him. He moves toward the man in need. He practices empathy along the way of where he was already going. His empathy leads to a series of decisions about using his resources—his oil, donkey, time, money—in pursuit of joining this man in his moment of need.
Consider those you are already traveling alongside in your work—the people you engage on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis as part of what you do (paid or unpaid). Consider what it might look like if you opened yourself up to consider them as you look for opportunities to practice empathy along the way.
Are you interruptible?
How might practicing empathy along the way reorient aspects of your work?
Make a list of the people you regularly engage in your work. Spend some time praying over the list, asking God to help you attune to specific people through the practice of empathy.
Thank you that you are a God who cares for us. Hebrews 4:15-16 says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Help me to root my move toward others in the reality that you first move toward me in grace. Amen.
Scripture – Luke 5:18-19 (NRSV)
Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.
Part of work in a changing world is to think outside the box and to take seriously God’s invitation to imagine what is possible.
This is part four of a five-part devotional series adapted from my new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World. The first three devotions were about wrestling with our work, making space to feel and practicing empathy along the way.
I’ve always been drawn to the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man—not only because Jesus completely disrupts his hearers’ imaginations, but because of the persistence and creativity of the friends in the story. Everyone has come to hear Jesus. In Luke 5:18-19, we read that a man who can’t walk is trying to get to Jesus. He’s lying on a mat, carried by some friends. The men do their best to get through the crowd.
There’s just one problem: there are a lot of other people trying to get to Jesus as well. I suppose the friends could have been discouraged and given up. But they don’t. Instead of giving up or pushing at the back of the crowd, they find another way. They decide to take the man up to the roof and lower him down in to see Jesus. Can’t you just imagine one of them saying, “What if we got up onto the roof of the house? What if we lowered him in? What if we could get him right in front of the healer! Jesus would have to heal him then!”
The friends were able to imagine beyond the initial options presented to them.
So much of our work life in a changing world requires us to learn to see beyond the traditional options. Sometimes we experience this inability to see as stressful; other times it might feel exciting. In fact, you may even feel both stressed and excited at exactly the same time.
Just as is true with the man on the mat, a lot of good came come when we imagine “what if?” As you think about your work in this season, consider where God might be inviting you to ask “what if?” Maybe it’s on a project or with a coworker, or more generally about your own vocational discernment. Even if you are inclined to naturally worry, go ahead and imagine what good might come if you think differently or outside the box. And consider who you’d be willing to “go up on the roof” for–and who might be willing to “go up the roof” for you.
When was the last time in your work you came up against an obstacle and had to imagine another way?
What happened? How did what happened shape your sense of what’s possible going forward?
Do something that is good for your creative being. Go on a walk in nature or to an art museum or cook a meal without a recipe. Let yourself enjoy the act of creating!
God, thank you for being God the Creator, the One who helps and sustains our imagination. Help me to know where in my work I might open myself up to new possibilities and imagine new ways of doing things for the sake of your kingdom. Amen.
Scripture – Luke 10:35 (NRSV)
The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’
Wherever we are on our journey of vocation, God invites us to take next doable risks as we pursue meaning in our work. What next doable risk might God be inviting you toward today?
This is part five of a five-part devotional series adapted from my new book, Make Work Matter: Your Guide to Meaningful Work in a Changing World. Yesterday’s devotion was about imagining. Today’s is about taking next doable risks.
If imagination sounds like what if?, risk-taking sounds like let’s try. Our “let’s trys” can take all kinds of shapes—from a conversation with a recruiter to testing a new budgeting system at work. We saw it in yesterday’s devotion when the friends lowered their friend through the roof of a house in order to get to Jesus. And we see it here, as the Good Samaritan enters into an open-ended financial relationship with an innkeeper he’s never met. It’s quite remarkable, actually.
There is a solid chance that the Samaritan will be exploited. There’s a possibility that this risk will really cost him. Yet, he does it anyway. He’s already let empathy interrupt him, he’s already tied his way forward with this stranger, and so he takes the next doable risk by getting him to an inn and promising to cover the guy’s bill.
Consider your natural relationship with risk. Does it come easily to you or do you sort of have to work at it? How about when it comes to work and the people you work alongside?
Contrary to large, life-altering risks, next doable risks are risks that you already have the resources—time, money, or relationships—to do in the near term. Risks that are in fact, doable. Deciding to ask someone you respect for coffee. Or trying out a new way of leading a meeting. Sending an email to someone you have conflict with.
But what if your next doable risk doesn’t feel as concrete? What if it’s hard to know exactly what you should do? It can help to link your next doable risks to whatever work in empathy and imagination you’ve done. What came up when you moved toward other people or let yourself imagine? How might what came up speak into your sense of next doable risk?
If risk is scary to you, remember that we are a people grafted into the Resurrection. Because God has the final say over death, we have the assurance that failure will never have the final word or define us.
If you think you’re not a natural risk-taker, reconsider what it means to take a risk. If you have ever truly practiced empathy, you have already taken a risk. If you have ever looked someone in the face and let their joy spark your joy or their sorrow bring you to your knees, you have already risked so much. You have risked the kind of closeness that yields unpredictable, uncontrollable, human outcomes. And if you’ve ever let yourself dream, if you’ve ever let yourself linger on the question “what if?”—then you’ve already taken a risk, because you’ve let yourself hope.
Do you consider yourself a risk taker?
Reflect on a time when you took a risk and it didn’t work out very well. What did God teach you through that?
Reflect on a time when you took a risk and it worked out well. What did God teach you through that?
Find and do a next doable risk in your work sometime over the next week.
God, thank you for being a God that gifts us with the assurance that failure will never define us, and that because of that I can bravely take risks as I seek to join in your work of redemption and restoration in this world. Amen.
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