Our Work Today: Finding Joy at the Bottom
The journal entry we are publishing today reflects the real inner thoughts and struggles of a current congressional staffer. We have examined what Abraham Lincoln had to say about needing a new definition for liberty, and what George Washington had to say about avoiding the “spirit of party”. Now we have to recognize what we are up against in our political culture today, and the real internal struggle of those who live and work on Capitol Hill as current thought leaders - hence the decision of LIBERATUS to publish it as a conclusion to our series on thought leaders. As the writer notes, Congress does operate within a hierarchical structure, so engrained that even people with the best of intentions and ideals find they can barely make a difference.
The writer’s story is similar to my own. After working on Capitol Hill for two years, I realized that I was not at all happy. During the next two years, I had to completely reset my motives for work. I had to learn to see it not as an identity and a constant quest for advancement, but as a calling, born not out of a search for approval but rather out of a deep knowledge that I had already received approval. During that time, the vision for LIBERATUS was born, and with it a radically changed perspective on what political engagement could and should look like. My hope is that over time, whether you’re a follower of Jesus too, struggling to believe his words more deeply, or only an observer of his teachings, that we can begin to re-center ourselves on the creative pursuit of Truth and Beauty. My hope is also that you can then move – as today’s writer has – beyond the façade of seeing work as glamorous or not glamorous, renewing a spirit of creativity and truth and beauty wherever we are, and wherever we work. I honestly believe the change it would bring to our work culture, our political communication, and our personal well-being would be dramatic.
—Caleb Paxton, LIBERATUS Founder
In places of power, there is a territorial struggle for power.
Few places hold as much power as Capitol Hill, and perhaps few places are as hierarchical. Let’s face it: if you are drawn to work on Capitol Hill, you most likely want to change the world. People don’t fly across the country, take significant risks with unlikely or deferred payoff, or jump through all the hoops required if they are content with the status quo. The people who work on Capitol Hill are there because they are ambitious. They are the dreamers and the doers. They want to make a difference. They have either deeply held convictions, or just love the game. Maybe both. Most likely, the people who work on Capitol Hill made that decision at some point because they wanted their work to have meaning.
This is why many can feel disillusioned to discover that working on Capitol Hill is glorified customer service. Working on Capitol Hill is not glamorous.
I am currently a Staff Assistant in my office. This role would be at the very bottom of the totem pole if we did not have interns. The responsibilities are not flashy.
This is one of the many reasons Capitol Hill experiences constant turn-over. Those who enter on the bottom won’t stick it out very long: they either move up or move out. Being on the bottom is not fun. It’s hard to connect your daily responsibilities to the ideals you are passionate about, especially when those responsibilities include scheduling tours and fulfilling flag requests.
How can we as believers endure when our callings take us into seasons that are unfulfilling?
On the days when work is really hard, these are principles I preach to myself that have helped me be faithful where God has called me.
You are a Mask of God
Martin Luther referred to those who work as the “masks of God,” pulling from Psalm 147 where David writes, “God strengthens the bars of your gates.” Luther wrote that God strengthens our cities through “lawmakers, police officers, and those working in government and politics…So God cares for our civic needs through the work of others, whom he calls to that work.” Luther goes on to state that “… the most modest jobs — like plowing a field or digging a ditch — (are) the ‘masks’ through which God cares for us.” Even the most menial tasks, God working through you to bless others, and God himself would not shirk your work to love others well. If the Savior of the world was born in a stable, your desk job is not too humble for our God.
Get over Yourself
The purpose of your work is not fulfillment. In fact, your work is not even really about you at all. It is about living your life—all of it—as an act of worship that makes much of our God. It is about worshiping God, and loving other people.
In Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller writes “A job is a vocation only if someone else calls you to do it for them rather than for yourself. And so our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person.”
I’ve noticed a significant change when I shift my focus from asking “how is my current work challenging me and preparing me for my next career move” to instead ask “how can I serve the other people in my office and the people I touch each day?” By taking notice of what is helpful, we create value and bless others. If we focus less on ourselves, we can focus more on serving others. On those days, I find deeper joy.
You Work for an Audience of One
Don’t do your job for the approval of others. If you work for that, your worth will yo-yo with the ups and downs of feedback. In Colossians 3:23-24 Paul writes, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.”
When I have had a rough day, when I have been yelled at and or even cussed out, when my hard work is criticized, it’s helpful for me remember this verse. I visualize a stage with one person, my God, in the audience. At the end of a day of work, was Jesus pleased with me? Was he pleased with my tone towards my colleague? Did I respond to criticism in humility? Was he pleased with how I asked him for comfort in the midst of a trial? If my boss is happy, but I didn’t reflect the character of Jesus to others, I have failed in my mission to work as an act of worship.
You serve a different power structure
When two disciples quibbled over their seating order in heaven, Jesus was pretty honest. The first will be last, and the last will be first. While we don’t know precisely how that will manifest itself in heaven, we know Jesus treated people in places of power here on earth. The beggars received his healing touch; the rich received his admonition. It’s hard to swim against the tide and not adopt the culture of the hierarchical environment where we work. When your job is in a building that functions as a temple to worldly power, remember that Jesus turned this world upside down. If Jesus were on Capitol Hill, I bet he would be chatting it up in the basement with the janitors, not treasuring the pomp and circumstance of the Speaker’s balcony.
The Meek will Inherit the Earth
Meekness. That word is so misunderstood. Meekness is confused with weakness. Because our God is all-powerful, and because he is good, we can work with quiet confidence, knowing that the outcome is in his hands. We know the author of time and he promises to work it out for his glory and the good of those who love him and are called according to his plan. God himself told the Israelites “the Lord will fight for you, you need only be still.” Sometimes God told his people to suit up and pull those swords out, sometimes he asked his people to just be still and that is still what he asks of us sometimes. Either way, we know our God is in control, and because of his unwavering attributes, we can rest. We can work out of acceptance, and not for it.
In closing, I want to humbly suggest a new thought: what if disillusionment with our work is a hidden blessing? What if this dark season causes our idols to crash down around us? What if the difficulty burns away our impure intentions? What if it draws us to seek out deeper joys than a vocation can provide? If it causes us to press into our Savior and seek ultimate satisfaction in eternal things, the pain must be worth it. Bishop Handley Moule wrote, “Circumstances are the expression of God’s will.” Whatever the difficulty of your current work situation, our good and sovereign God has willed it for a purpose. May the soil of our hearts be fertile ground for his lessons to take root and yield fruit.
The writer is a Staff Assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives.
ISSUE 006: THOUGHT LEADERS, PART 3